Goan cuisine has never been about complex ingredients. It’s about local spices, traditional home cooking and fresh produce. And all the three cuisines of Goa—Catholic Hindu, Saraswat and Muslim—exemplify this.
Breadfruit rawa fry (semolina-coated breadfruit fritters), sprouted moong gaatee (tangy curry of moong sprouts with dried chillies and cumin), vadiyon che ros (ash gourd dumpling rassa), prawn who-maan (spicy coconut prawn curry) and bangda uddamethi (mackerel cooked with brown coconut, fenugreek seeds and urad dal) are not dishes one can sample easily unless one gets lucky. Redolent with flavours of homemade masalas and part of the
vast repertoire of the cuisine of Goud Saraswat Brahmins of Goa, these dishes are not easily available—you may relish a tisrya hooman (spicy clams cooked in a tangy coconut curry) at a Saraswat wedding, enjoy the popular khatkhatem (mixed vegetable stew) on an invitation to a Saraswat home or, at best, find the dessert manganem (a Bengal gram sweet dish) on a restaurant menu in Goa.
Keen to fill this gap and popularise her cuisine, Goa-based marketing and brand specialist Vaishali Joshi (who is married into a Goud Saraswat Brahmin family and is an expert in this home-style cuisine) agreed to curate the elaborate Goud Saraswat Jay-Vun menu at Goan restaurant O’Pedro, Mumbai, recently when chef Hussain Shahzad approached her, giving gourmands an opportunity to taste some of the lesser-known hidden gems of the Hindu Goan cuisine. “We are merely serving a cuisine, which is authentic and unexplored, and are enhancing it by presenting it in a widely accepted format,” Shahzad said.
Indeed, from a moong saar (hot moong soup with black mustard and hing) and alsande bean tondak (pink beans cooked with brown coconut, fennel and tamarind) to vadi kismur (salad of crispy ash gourd dumplings), drumstick dal and bombil rawa fry, there were many delicacies to feast on. Shahzad said he was “certain that some of these Goud Saraswat Brahmin dishes would find a permanent place” on their menu later. Joshi, however, cautioned, “These dishes on the menu are only a few and it’s like scratching the surface of this vast cuisine.”
Goa Portuguesa restaurant in Mumbai, too, has been serving this cuisine since long. “I am proud to say we have brought these dishes out of traditional Saraswat kitchens and showcased them in our menu since the inception of our restaurant in 1988,” says chef Deepa Awchat of the restaurant.
Fresh flavours from local produce—lots of vegetables and seafood, mainly fish and prawns—typify the food of the Goud Saraswats, or Dakshinatya Saraswats, according to home chef Joshi. “Being a Maharashtrian by birth, I owe my knowledge of the Goud Saraswat Brahmin cuisine—its nuances, like removing the right proportion of spices for a dish, to the extent of roasting and grinding of masalas—to my late mother-in-law… she was a great cook.
I was under her tutelage after marriage and made a conscious effort to learn the cuisine for my husband who enjoys only this food,” Joshi shares.
Restricted to the realms of their homes till now, the versatile cuisine of the Goud Saraswat Brahmins—or Saraswati Teeraya Yasya Tey (people residing by the river Saraswati)—seamlessly unifies ingredients that are easily available locally with traditional homemade masalas. Tefal or tirphal (Sichuan pepper), bimli (a berry from the cucumber tree, which is used as a souring agent), bedgi chillies, tamarind, bidna (a summer fruit used for souring curries), ambade (hog plums) are some of the core ingredients that set this cuisine apart from other Goan cuisines. “Sourcing the right ingredients
and during the right season is half the battle won in terms of getting the flavour profile right for this cuisine,” Shahzad says.
Goud Saraswats have, however, always been somewhat possessive about their family recipes and it’s not often that one has access to this treasure-trove, which possibly explains why people are still relatively unfamiliar with the cuisine. Joshi concurs: “We have just not attempted to popularise our rich cuisine… thus, there is very little awareness about what it comprises. People don’t even know that the Hindu Goan cuisine offers such a vast variety of vegetarian dishes.”
Indeed, most gourmands are well-versed with the popular meat- and seafood-centric Goan Catholic cuisine, which is heavily influenced by the Portuguese and has been popularised by shacks and restaurants alike in Goa. However, not many are familiar with the bounty of the versatile Saraswat Hindu cuisine, which abounds in Shivrak or vegetarian fare along with seafood delicacies. Commercially unknown, except for a few sporadic dishes here and there in Goa or at Pangat in Mumbai, the Goud Saraswat Brahmin cuisine is now coming out of the home kitchens and wowing the palate of foodies.
Inspired by her mother’s passion for Goud Saraswat Brahmin cuisine, Rani Kamat Kenny in 2017 created a forum called Aaichi Ranchikud with a view to preserving ancient and traditional Saraswat cuisine recipes and even catering and supplying tiffins on a small scale in and around Panjim in Goa to enable more people to taste it.
Some enterprising Goud Saraswat Brahmins are documenting the recipes of their ancestors, while others are creating and selling authentic homemade masalas intrinsic to the cuisine. A few are even organising pop-ups to test waters about the acceptance of the cuisine. Shaeen Gomes, chairperson, Goa for Giving (a social services organisation that works for the betterment of Goa), recently organised the ‘Forgotten Recipes of Goa’ contest along with her husband Armando Gonsalves and Kenny of Aaichi Ranchikud, wherein entries were invited showcasing the forgotten and traditional recipes of Goa. “One of the many things distinctive to Goa is our food, which our ancestors prepared. Over the years, our food has been losing its authenticity for various reasons and these recipes are being forgotten. Our aim through this initiative is to revive those forgotten recipes,” says Gomes.
Goan cuisine has never been about complex ingredients. It’s about local spices, traditional home cooking and fresh produce. And interestingly, all the three cuisines of Goa—Catholic Hindu, Saraswat and Muslim—exemplify this. But even as the first is relatively popular and sought after, the other two unknown gems need to be served on people’s plates. The Goud Saraswats have already begun and taken a step in this direction.
Mini Ribeiro is a freelancer