There is nothing quite like the overpowering sensation of ‘belonging’ that hits me as soon as my train arrives into Karmali, a small, picturesque railway station located in the north of Goa. The earth is coloured a dusty kind of rouge, the sun beats down hard and the palms of the endless coconut trees delicately intrude upon the blue skyline.
Traditional Goan food cooked with love
Although I call Sydney home, Goa is my home away from home. That overwhelming sense of belonging, which arises from the simple fact that Goa is the land of my ancestors.
My mind wanders to how life was a struggle back in the old times - no electricity, no technology to keep them entertained, no Thermomixes and ultra-cool blenders to make icecream and smoothies. Despite the lack of all these ‘necessities’, I believe they probably led much more fulfilling, albeit humble, lives than I ever could.
The food was probably far tastier and fresher and free from the corruption of preservatives and pesticides. People would actually communicate with each other, rather than hiding behind a screen. Honest and physical labour in the homes and fields would keep them fit, rather than the shallow obsession we sometimes have with exercise as a means to fulfil society’s high standards of aesthetics. It is a world we may never know.
I would be lying if I said I returned to Goa regularly for the sole purpose of meeting and spending time with my family. While they are an important reason for returning home, it is the delights of Goan cuisine that keep me returning time after time. I must give particular mention to my aunty’s cooking, which will feature as the central focus of this post. Here are some of my favourite dishes that she lovingly prepared for me on my recent trip that elated my soul (in no particular order).
Sambaracche Kodi - I was lying around being lazy when my aunty prepared this somewhat complicated curry. I know it involved a lot of masala, fresh prawns and dried green mangoes (salaa is the term used in Konkani - the language of Goa).
First, garam masala is roasted on the tava along with dried red chillies. This roasted mixture is made into a powder in the mixer. Then a coconut is freshly grated. The grated coconut is mixed with a cup of water. This mixture is squeezed through a sieve and the thick juice is extracted. Another cup of water is added to the grated coconut and a thinner juice is saved in a separate bowl.
Onions are sautéed in oil til translucent. Then the thin juice, the fresh prawns and dried mangoes are added in with the spices ground earlier. Once the mangoes have softened, Goa jaggery (palm sugar) is added. Then the thick coconut juice is added and the salt adjusted to taste. The curry is then brought to the boil and it’s ready to eat!
Goan Roast Beef - This is literally my favourite roast ever. My aunty prepares the beef cut (any part that is soft and meaty) by cutting it into pieces to fit into the pan.
She rubs the meat with salt, vinegar, garam masala powder, haldi (turmeric) and jeera (cumin) powder. Shen then pricks the meat with a fork so that the flavours absorb and then puts it in the fridge to marinate overnight.
The next day, she heats a pressure cooker, adds oil and seals the roast (about 5 minutes) along with dried red kashmiri chillies. Then she adds the marinade, in which the roast was sitting overnight. She then puts the lid on and give the meat one whistle on high fire and then lowers the fire and simmers for 20 minutes. If you find that there is still a lot of water in the meat, after you open the lid, cook it on the fire (without the lid) until the water evaporates. Slice and enjoy in a sandwich or just on its own with a salad.
Raw Mango Carpe (Aamtto) - A mix between pudding and curry - thick, bright-yellow and the perfect balance of sweet and sour.
Peel raw mangoes (they shouldn’t be completely raw, perhaps 3-4 days away from their ripe state), slice them and apply salt and keep them for some time. Extract the thick and thin juice of the coconut (as explained above). Slice onion and saute, then add haldi, a tiny amount of garlic paste and jeera (cumin) powder.
To this mix add fresh prawns, the mangoes. thin coconut juice dried red chilli pieces. Let the mango cook and then add the thick coconut juice. Add sugar according to taste and salt.
Recheado Masala Prawns fried in Rava (semolina) - My aunty makes recheado at home. It is a wet masala made with around 10 different spices and has a tangy taste because vinegar is used to preserve it.
My aunty mixes the prawns in this masala and then coats them with semolina before frying. They become crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, not to mention the taste is fantastic. Prawns are my favourite dish and I can eat them with unceasing enthusiasm.
Mackerels Roasted in Hay - It is a given rule that fish tastes best when prepared simply. This method of cooking the mackerels involved gently coating them in olive oil and individually wrapping them in banana leaves, which acts as a buffer against the fire.
Hay, collected from the paddy field belonging to my aunty, is bundled together. The fish is placed on top and then more hay is used to cover it. We lit the hay until it began smoking and then waited for 10 minutes before flipping the fish over and lighting more hay so the other side could smoke. The result - perfectly soft, smoky and juicy mackerels, which we devoured with a dash of lemon on the side.
I should also comment on the fact that I travelled to Goa in May - which is literally the hottest and most humid month of the year. It’s when your sweat sweats, when showering thrice a day is acceptable and when lethargy and languidity are the only ways in which your body rolls.
However, all is forgiven because it also happens to be the period during which two of my favourite fruits are in season - mango (specifically Goa’s favourite mango - The Mankurad) and jackfruit. Now I could write an entire blog on just how much I love these two fruits and I how I consumed them in the kilos during my stay in Goa, but I won’t. However, if you happen to be in Goa during the month of May, you’ve been briefed - Mango and Jackfruit will sustain your soul, too.
My aunty packed a multitude of goodies for me for my return trip (I told her it was a short flight, but she still packed a tiffin of beef roast paos [Goan bread rolls] and jackfruits to sweeten the mouth). There were Goan sweets, mangoes, more jackfruit, home-made pickles and she even squeezed in a container of cooked prawns and more roast.
I realised at that moment my sense of belonging to Goa was inextricably linked with the comfort I feel when I eat her food, and the gratitude that envelopes me as both my tummy and soul experience contentment.