A cornucopia of cultures and an ever-present “viva la vida” nature – Goa is the tropical heaven that brings India together into a happy place. Joyful travellers, narrow roads lined with green trees, ancient buildings that are too magnificent to miss – Exploring the state is truly a beautiful experience.
However, the most essential element that defines Goa the best is its age-old delectable cuisine. The food in Goa is a blend of Portuguese and native cultures, which is a lovely marriage between the freshest seafood, humble coconut and subtle hints of bay leaves and paprika.
The amalgamation of the different cultures in Goa heavily reflects on its aromatic recipes, which sets it apart from the rest of the Indian cuisines.
The one place that comes to mind when looking for the perfect introduction to the local produce and essence of Goa is the Mapusa market. A mosaic art piece, the Mapusa market, in true Goa fashion opens at an easy 9 am and closes down by early evening.
Here you will find sweet, ripe fruits, tropical vegetables for the stews, junk jewellery, handicrafts and everything under the sun.
Wandering here, look for the chatty Goan ladies at fish stalls getting the best deals on the prawns they are planning to make for lunch, make conversation with the local vendors for a good perspective and keep an eye out for the unique ingredients like dried fish and sweet seafood pickles.
The market sells a great variety of Goan chorizo, a native take of the Portuguese chourico which is a spiced pork sausage. As you go further into the market notice how the smells change with each little shop that you walk by.
To get to the roots and acquainted with the spices that make the local meals what it is, head out to the Tropical Spice Plantation in the lesser known village of Keri. The serene sounds of birds chirping, the trickling of a steady stream and the gush of wind waking up the sleepy leaves, make for the perfect first impression.
Stroll along the beetle nut plantations as the guide takes you along for an informative tour around the premise. The place has many of Goa’s traditional trees like cashew, jackfruit, papaya, pineapple and a variety of citrus fruits.
The Plantation also boasts a few coffee plants. Black pepper, coriander, vanilla, chillies, clove, nutmeg, and cardamom – The kinds of spices grown here are endless.
Having a look into the initial process of growing a complex tasting spice is really eye-opening, and even more so when you sit down for a delicious meal marinated and cooked with the same, fresh spices at the open-air restaurant within the area.
There are quite a few culinary workshops in Goa that are a perfect start to learning more about the history and philosophy of traditional and experimental Goan cuisine. One of which is Rita Shinde’s passion-project workshop – Rita’s Gourmet Goa.
Set in her beautiful summer house with a lovely garden, the workshop is a thorough journey from getting to know the ingredients at the market, blending in and making the right masalas and flavour profiles out of whole spices and at the end creating a wonderful, Goan-Portuguese meal from scratch.
In an evening, visit Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro in Panjim, which is one of the oldest bakeries in Goa. This sweet-smelling heaven of pastries is one of the best experiences!
Bite into a freshly baked dodo, an eggless cake made with rice flour, jaggery and coconut, get yourself the delicious multilayered cake and have a taste of their perfect bread and biscuits made by hand and baked in a wood-fired oven.
Last but not least, a true culinary exploration in Goa is quite incomplete without treating yourself to a meal at a local home. Experience what it is like to meet a Goan-Portuguese family and get to know their daily lives and the main ingredients in the food that they eat every day.
Learn to make a good mackerel pickle and the spicy, marinated fish fry for starters. From unique dishes like Suran Fodi, a semolina crusted yam and a gravy based dish made with fresh fish cooked in tamarind, coconut and chillies called Fish Hooman, to the sweet Mangane, a dessert made with coconut milk, jaggery and sago, the meals in the warm homes here are very different from the food you will find in shacks and restaurants.
The lovely conversation, the history behind a family and the food they share and intimately getting to know a lovely, home kitchen is what makes this a truly rich experience.
The world of Goan-Portuguese cuisine is much more than just the food on a plate. The flavours of Goa are a clear window into the interpersonal philosophy of the Goan good-life.
With such robust yet simplistic flavours, and passion for incorporating culture and togetherness in their recipes, no wonder why the seeking traveller ends up in this summer paradise!