If you’re planning a trip to Goa, you might already have quite a fondness for the culture and cuisine of India. However, this stretch of the great country’s western coast has also been influenced by colonial history as much as its neighbours on the map, scattered across the Arabian Sea.
As such, Goa’s flavours and traditional meals are distinct from others you might find elsewhere in India. The coastal communities that make up Goa have made seafood a staple of local diets, yet there’s a good variety of food here that’s certain to pander to every palate. Read on for some recommendations of what to try on your trip.
Put that fish onto your dish
Even if you don’t think you’re a great lover of seafood, see if Goa can change your mind.
Fish dishes are prepared differently here, in the best possible way, with fish curries like humann and kadi showing off some flair for flavour. A lot of those traditional fish dishes have vegetarian alternatives though, such as udid methi. Although traditionally that tangy curry uses fresh mackerel, the vegetarian option instead uses hog plums or mangos to achieve the same distinctive zing on your tongue.
There are plenty of other ways that fish is prepared here to make for sublime recipes in the starters and sides departments too. Cutlets of fresh fish form the basis of a rich bowl of dangar, while dried fish is paired with onions and shredded coconut for kismur, which is a popular side.
Remember, Goa’s history includes some colonial tales that have given today’s menu some interesting twists. As far as seafood goes, India’s interactions with Portugal mean that Goa boasts some fantastic crab dishes, as well as balchao, which is a rich shrimp and prawn curry.
In Goa, there’s a tremendous spirit of living in harmony with nature, which means that many of the dishes you can try here take their cues from the riches of the earth. Perhaps one of the most versatile fruits used in food and drink here is the kokum, which is also used in medicine and even industrial applications.
The juice of kokum fruit goes into a variety of refreshing drinks, all of which benefit from a vibrant red colour that naturally comes out when the fruit is processed. The outer peel of kokum fruit is also handy in the preparation of dishes that need a smidgen of sourness to make their flavours distinct, such as curries or the traditional lentil soup known as dal.
Vegetables and nuts see a versatile number of uses in Goan cooking too, such as tondak – a savoury dish blending cashew nuts and beans for a rich and rustic taste. The sweeter side of the story is fulfilled with that great Asian staple, rice, in sanna, which is a rice cake that goes well with a hot tea on a lazy afternoon.
Don't skip dessert
You’ll find a wealth of dessert options open to you when you’re in Goa, but the local sweet treat to top them all is definitely bebenica cake. Although it’s a traditional Christmas cake in these parts, it’s available to enjoy all year round nowadays.
Bebenica cake comprises of egg, coconut milk, sugar and ghee whipped into a rich, tasty mixture. Each layer is crafted and baked individually, and therefore baking a good bebenica cake is considered an art that takes great patience. To successfully bake the perfect bebenica cake is the hallmark of a truly gifted chef, so if you need to see how talented your hosts are in the kitchen, this is a good way to test their mettle.