Goan Food: Although Indian food is found almost everywhere around the world today, Goan cuisine is a completely different subset and few Goan dishes are seen on typical Indian menus in the UK, USA etc. Although one of the most famous Goan dishes, vindaloo, might be well known, there are many others that are harder to find. In this foodie guide, what to eat in Goa, discover some of the best Goan cuisine!
There’s not too many big cities around the world that don’t have a couple of Indian restaurants offering a selection of curries, naans and poppadoms. But did you know that, until very recently, the food most of us know as ‘Indian’ in western countries was normally North Indian cuisine – to be more specific, Punjabi or Bangladeshi.
As amazing as North Indian food is, there are many different styles of Indian curry you might not have heard of. Moving between the different states in India, the vast countryside and change in produce and historical influences greatly affects the style of curries made and entirely new flavours come to light.
Goa is a state found on the West coast of India and was previously colonised by the Portuguese for about 450 years. Due to this Portuguese influence, you find that the curries of Goa are very unique and incredibly tasty.
Here we put together a compilation of some Goan Food – Try Before You Die dishes if you ever visit this tropical beach paradise.
UPDATE August 2019: Major updates of many more Goan dishes to explore. New Table Of Contents. Brief History & Ingredients guide.
Goan Food: Table Of Contents
Goan Cuisine: Brief History & Essential Ingredients
Goan cuisine is a rich combination of its history and environment. Being located in a tropical part of India, right along the coastline, you’ll find a lot of seafood, rice and coconuts. Its position on the Indian Sub-Continent, of course, leads to a tradition of curries and complicated combinations of a multitude of spices.
Goa’s colonial past, ruled by the Portuguese has created an exciting blending of east and west in the cuisine. On the whole, you’ll find curry style dishes, some of which have a Portuguese twist – such as using pork and vinegar. Some of which seem closer to south Indian cooking. Other Goan dishes are quite clearly adaptations of traditional Portuguese dishes using local Goan ingredients – such as Feijoada (A Pork & Bean Stew), and Goan sausage (Very similar to Portuguese Chourico).
Essential Goan Ingredients
To understand exactly what to eat in Goa, first learn about the ingredients that lend themselves to creating a local taste of Goa. These essential ingredients will be referenced throughout this Goan Food Guide.
Coconut. Coconut milk, pulp and any other way of using coconut flesh, is an essential part of Goan Cuisine.
Coconut Vinegar. Vinegar is made from what is easily abundant… Coconuts. It forms the sour element for a huge number of Goan dishes. Coconut vinegar is seen as a substitute for wine in most Portuguese influenced dishes.
Cashews. The Portuguese introduced cashews to Goa. Cashew paste is now an important element in Goan Food, and even the cashew flowers are used to make the local Goan spirit, Feni.
Kokum is a fruit related to the Mangosteen family. It has a distinctive sweet and sour flavor. It is often sun dried. It may be used in cooking or made into a juice.
Recheado Masala. A red Goan spice mix used to flavor curries and stuffings. The word “Racheiado” is Portuguese for “stuffing”, and the spice mix eventually gained its name due to how spices were used to make stuffing.
Tamarind is another tropical ingredient that can add tartness to Goan Cuisine. It’s a typical south Indian ingredient.
Tirphal or teflam seeds. A type of berry with a slight resemblance in culinary character to Sichuan peppercorns.
Jaggery. A concentrated, dense block of sugars made from a mix of cane sugar and palm sap from the local date palms in Goa. The sugars are boiled together to remove moisture. Then sold as a solid block of sweetness used as a culinary sweetener.
Goan Dishes: Curries
Some of the most popular and famous Goan Dishes are Curries. Spices blended with a liquid or pureed base to make a gravy. Each curry then contains either meat, fish/seafood, vegetables or legumes – or a mix of these.
Goan Food: Vindaloo
A spicy mix of vinegar, lots of garlic, chili & local spices.
This dish is a favourite on menus all over Goa and is even a favorite in the famous English curry scene (although it’s a much hotter dish in England). The name Vindaloo has some interesting origins with Vin – referring to “vinho”, meaning wine in Portuguese and Alho, meaning garlic in Portuguese, and some believe Vindalho is the original pronunciation. Others claim that with the addition of potato (Aloo in Hindi), which is common in most recipes, we get Vind-aloo which could be a corruption of vinegar and potatoes.
However, the Portuguese etymology seems more likely given the history of the region. With very little availability of wine in Goa, vinegar was an ideal substitute. In Portugal carne de vinha d’alhos – meat in wine and garlic – was already a popular dish before colonisation of Goa. Add a few Goan spices and you have a local adaptation of the Portuguese classic.
Pork is the most traditional meat for Goan Vindaloo. We also loved the version with prawns (pictured).
Goan Cuisine: Ambot Tik
Ambot Tik is a sour and spicy curry which combines red chilies and kokum (the sweet and sour fruit). Mix that with tomatoes, onions and masala powder to make the sauce. Fish is the most common protein, specifically, shark is sometimes used.
Goan Cuisine: Xacuti
This dish is usually made using either chicken or pork and has a complex sauce incorporating many different Indian spices including white poppy seeds, sliced or grated coconut and large dried red chillies. Crab may also be used as the protein. Sometimes the sauce is thickened with eggs.
As mentioned in our podcast below, we ate this dish and a few others on this list at Palolem Beach Resort Restaurant – we just kept going back to eat our way through the menu as they had an extensive selection of traditional Goan Food.
Xitti Kodi – Goan Fish Curry
A curry sauce is made with local spices, coconut and water. The fish is simmered in the sauce along with slices of raw mango. Not every recipe or restaurant version includes raw mango but the most traditional version is supposed to have it.
What To Eat In Goa: Balchao
This is a dish that will make your eyes water – it’s spicy! But it also has some interesting flavours as it is more of a vinegar based curry mixed with fresh local prawns. This is a particularly multi-cultural dish as the Portuguese brought the influence of Macau in China back through Goa on their way back to Europe.
Bangdyachi Uddamethi / Amlechi Uddamethi (Fenugreek based Curry)
A typical chili and coconut curry flavored with fenugreek. The Bangdyachi Uddamethi is with Mackerel. The Amlechi Uddamethi is with raw mango, as a vegetarian version.
Goan Dishes: Caldin (Or Caldeen)
Caldin is the mild yellow curry option which simply means ‘in gravy’. Often served with prawns but can incorporate any fish. We found it had a flavour with some similarity to a mild Thai curry. Made with coconut & kokum.
Offal for breakfast? Sorpotel is a mix of meat and offal (normally liver) in a rich spicy sauce which includes cinnamon, chili and cloves. It’s also an adaptation from Portuguese cuisine and you’ll find versions in Portugal and Brazil too.
What To Eat In Goa: Samarachi Kodi
A spicy coconut curry made with dried prawns, for when fresh prawns are less available – often during the monsoon season.
Goan Food Podcast
- What Is Goan Cuisine? We talk about the stories of some of the best dishes to try.
- A rich layered dessert with a Portuguese – Goan story behind it.
- Plus, Goa’s favourite hooch – Feni
Listen to our other food-travel podcast episodes using the links below:
Goan Dishes: Other Savory Dishes
Though Goan food features a lot of dishes in a gravy/curry sauce, that is not the only Goan food tradition. This next section features what to eat in goa when you want something non-curry style.
Goan Food: Goan Sausage
A spicy sausage quite similar to Chorizo in flavour and look – but closer, of course, to Portugues chouriço. Tastes great on pizza.
What To Eat In Goa: Fish Recheado
Fish stuffed with Recheado masala paste and grilled. The dish got its name from the word recheado which is Portuguese for “stuffed”. In fact, the recheado masala spice mix got its name because the blend was so often used for stuffing fish – so it became known as the stuffing masala.
Goan Cuisine: Cafrael
A tasty, spicy dish that uses whole chicken legs coated in local spices and then shallow fried. Cafrael is often huge and very filling so make sure you’re hungry if you order it!
Chamuça (Goan Samosas)
Fried dough pockets stuffed with a variety of meat or vegetables.
Similar to the Portuguese feijoada that inspired it, but as will all Goan cuisine which reflects Portugal, it’s been spiced up with local ingredients. You may find Goan feijoada to include coconut milk & tamarind along with the traditional pork and beans.
Goan Dessert & Goan Drinks
What to eat in Goa for Dessert and what to drink.
Feni is a clear spirit distilled from a ferment made with the flowers of cashew plants. Amazingly, having with ice and sprite/lemonade was a popular choice while we were there.
A non-alcoholic drink made from coconut milk and kokum.
Bebinca is considered to be Goa’s only truly original dessert (invented there). The dessert is believed to have been invented by Sister Bebiana a Portuguese nun in Santa Monica Convent in Old Goa. The layers, originally 7, were meant to represent the 7 hills of Lisbon. Over time, versions with different numbers of layers have been created. A popular dish at Christmas made with flour, coconut milk, sugar, butter ghee and eggs.
Flat rice cakes steamed inside turmeric leaves. Rice is mixed with jaggery and coconut, sometimes cardamon, before steaming.
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