Gia Claudette Fernandes
May 02, 2015
Every summer I’m transported back to idyllic childhood vacations spent in Goa, redolent with the aroma of food and that peaceful easy feeling.
The smell of woodfires burning, sending up black soot to paint the walls. Huge pots bubbling atop the brick and cement stoves, boiled red rice slowly cooks, coconut curries simmer with prawns or fleshy white fish, mussels and clams and oysters sizzle in a mélange of chillies, garlic and palm vinegar.
In the corner, a 20-watt bulb throws dim light over a wire bracket spoon holder hanging precariously on the wall
Outside, the big stone grinder glistens in the sun, washed down after the marriage of fiery red chillies, milky white coconut, fragrant coriander and other spices on its grainy, pockmarked, black surface.
Further away, the big trough stands. Every few minutes, someone walks out of the kitchen and plonks stuff into it – leftover rice, the water drained after cooking today’s rice, vegetable peels, meat and fish scraps, half-eaten fruit.
Finally, and only one person does this, fistfuls of husk are thrown into it, followed by the calls to gather – “Yaw, yaw, yaw, yaw…” (come, come, come, come…) Quickly and obediently the little black pigs come trotting and, with low grunts and squeals of delight, lap it all up.
Sometimes, their tails get pulled, sometimes they’re left alone. Today’s pet, tomorrow’s main course.
The air outside is still. The weather is hot and humid but a magic box of fragrances mingle in the atmosphere. Ripe and heavy jackfruit, barely clinging to the trees, begging to be plucked.
The juicy, canary-yellow flesh under the prickly green exterior, bursts open the sweetness of jams and jellies and scented honey into your mouth with every greedy bite.
Don’t throw away the seeds, you are instructed, collect them in that tray. Later, they are skinned and dried, to be steamed for curries and vegetables or roasted in dry coconut shells for an evening snack.
From the jack to the king – taut, green mangoes dangle from groaning branches like the breasts of a nubile young thing in an Asterix comic.
You don’t cut these mangoes open. You nibble at the ends to bite them open, then suck on them like a hungry, newborn calf.
The moist, bright orange flesh leaving a guilty trail from your lips down to your elbows – sticky and sweet.
The days seem languid and long. There’s never enough to fill your hours with and yet you’re left longing for more when they come to an end.
There is always the customary ladainha (litany) at the cross. Giving thanks to the Virgin Mary, the children and the priest lead the procession. Hymns are sung, candles are lit, the rosary is said.
Then the snacks are passed around – anything and everything from boiled chickpeas with bits of fresh coconut to potato wafers and mutton “pattices” from the local bakery. Goldspot and Mangola to wash it all down with.
At night, white cottons keep your skin cool and the tart, fresh uraak does the same for your insides. Neat for the old timers, with a dash of lemonade for the newbies.
If the power doesn’t go out at least once, you wonder if everything is all right?
The aromas from the kitchen continue to spread – freshly baked poi (whole wheat bread), beef chilly fry, spicy choris (Goan pork sausages), and leftover fish curry from the afternoon or, better still, the day before to soak up with the bread.
Come Sunday and you’re off to the beach, coolers filled with beer and the family’s biggest handi (vessel) packed with steaming hot choris (sausage) pulao.
Everyone’s packed into a mini bus or a van – 7 adults, 16 children, and one dog who’s afraid of the water…
It’s summer in the late 70s and early 80s, and you’re at home, in the house that your great-grandfather built. Somewhere along the west coast, in a tiny little village, in a place called Goa.
Recipe for Tender Cashew Nut (Bibbe) Gravy
100 tender cashew nuts
2-3 flakes of garlic, crushed
½ tsp mustard seeds
A couple of sprigs of curry leaves
1 tbsp oil
A pinch of sugar
1 cup of water
Salt to taste
Make a paste of the following:
½ coconut, grated
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
3-4 light green chillies
A lime-sized ball of tamarind
1. Soak the cashew nuts in hot water for a few hours or overnight, and then carefully peel and split them into two.
2. Next, heat the oil in a pot or pan and throw in the crushed garlic, mustard seeds and curry leaves.
3. After a few seconds, add the cashew nuts, salt and a pinch of sugar, and stir well.
4. Pour in the cup of water and let the cashew nuts cook for 5-10 mins.
5. Next, add the coconut-spice paste and mix well. At this point, you may check the consistency of the gravy and add more water if you wish.
6. Let it simmer for 10-12 minutes. Check salt and seasoning and then turn off heat.
7. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve.
Photo credit: Gia Claudette Fernandes
Gia’s love for cooking goes back to idyllic summer vacations as a child, when she watched in fascination as her paternal grandmother plucked chickens, fried fish, stuffed sausages, pounded spices, and stirred huge cauldrons of aromatic curries over wood fires in their family home in Goa. She promises to decode the vast repertoire of Goan cuisine and culture for you, from revisiting popular favourites to unveiling the lesser-known gems.
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