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Goan Food

Goa FoodIf you come across a group of locals eating in a village cafe or roadside dhaba (food stall), chances are they'll be tucking into a pile of fish curry and rice. Goa's national dish, eaten twice each day by most of its population, consists of a runny red-chilli sauce flavoured with dried fish or prawns, and served with a heap of fluffy white rice, a couple of small fried sardines and a blob of hot pickle. Cheap and filling, this is mixed into a manageable mush and shovelled down with your Fingers.- a technique that generally takes Westerners some time (and several messy faces) to master.

Outside the state, Goa is known primarily for its distinctive meat specialities. Derived from the region's hybrid Hindu. Muslim and Latin-Catholic heritage, these tend to be flavoured with the same stock ingredients of coconut oil and milk, blended with onions and a long list of spices, including Kashmiri red chillies. The most famous of all 6oan dishes, though, has to be pork vindaloo. whose very name epitomizes the way Konkani culture has, over time, absorbed and adapted the customs of its colonial overlords. The dish, misleadingly synonymous in Western countries with any "ultra-hot curry", evolved from a Portuguese pork stew that was originally seasoned with wine (vinho) vinegar and garlic (alho). To this vinhdalho sauce, the Goans added palm sap (roddi) vinegar and their characteristic sprinkling of spices. Pork was prohibited by the Muslims, but made a comeback under the Portuguese and now forms an integral part of the Goan diet, particularly on festive occasions such as Christmas, when Christian families prepare sorpatel: a rich stew made from the shoulders, neck, kidneys and ears of the pig. Another Portuguese-inspired pork speciality is leitao, or suckling pig, which is roasted and stuffed with chopped heart, liver, green chillies and parsley.

Goa FoodGoa is also one of the few places in India where beef is regularly eaten, although you're more likely to be offered chicken simmered in xacuti (pronounced "sha-Koo-tee") sauce. This eye-wateringly hot preparation, traditionally made to revive weary rice planters during the monsoon, was originally vegetarian (in Konkani, sha means "vegetable", and kootee "cut into small pieces"), but is nowadays more often used to spice up meat of various kinds.

Not surprisingly, seafood features prominently in coastal areas. Among the varieties of fish you'll encounter are shark, kingfish, pomfret (a kind of flounder), mackerel and sardines. These are lightly grilled over wood fires, fried, or baked in clay ovens (tandoors), often with a red hot paste smeared into slits on their sides. The same sauce, known as rechad, is used to cook squid (ambot tik). Shrimps, however, ate more traditionally baked in pies with rice-flour crusts (apas de camarao), while crab and lobster are steamed or boiled and served whole.

Finding authentic Goan food can be surprisingly difficult as it is essentially home cooking: no tourist restaurant can hope to match the attention to detail lavished on special feast day dishes by Goan housewives. However, an increasing number of restaurants tack a couple of token local specialities onto their menus, albeit ones that have been adapted for the sensitive Western palate, and these are worth a try.

The choicest seafood is beyond the reach of most Goans' pockets as the tourist industry has forced up prices, so the best places to eat fish are the resorts. For no-nonsense fish steak and fries, the state's ubiquitous palm-thatch beach cafes offer unbeatable value. Meals in these rough-and-ready places cost a fraction of what you'll pay in a hotel restaurant, and they are invariably fresh and safe, in spite of the signs posted outside many of the star resorts advising residents to steer clear of them - more because they poach custom than poison punters.

Goa FoodRice and Breads
In tourist restaurants, meat and seafood are generally served with fries and salad, but locally grown short-grain "red" rice is the main staple in the villages. In addition, the Portuguese introduced soft wheat-flour bread rolls, still made early each morning in local bakeries. Restaurateurs mistakenly assume foreign visitors prefer Western-style spongy square loaves, so if you want to try the infinitely tastier indigenous variety, make a point of asking for pao (or poee in Konkani).

Another delicious Goan bread to look out for is sanna, made from a batter of coconut milk and finely ground rice flour that is leavened with fermenting palm sap (toddi). These crumpet-like rolls are steamed and served with pork and other meat dishes because they are great for soaking up spicy Goan gravies.

Desserts and breakfasts
No serious splurge is considered complete without a slice of the state's favourite dessert. bebinca A festive speciality prepared for Christmas, this ten-layered cake, made with a rich mixture of coconut milk, sugar and egg yolks, is crammed with cholesterol, but an absolute must for fans of solid old-fashioned puddings. The same is true of batica, another sweet and stodgy coconut cake that is particularly mouthwatering when served straight out of the oven with a dollop of ice cream.

Breakfast usually consists of oily somelettes, but you could ask for an alebele a pancake stuffed with fresh coconut and syrup. A healthy tropical fruit salad, steeped in coconut milk and home-made set yoghurt (curd), is another great way to start the day. The crepe-like masala dosa, filled with spicy potato and nut, makes a great blow-out breakfast, although most early-rising Goans prefer to start the day with a lighter idli (steamed rice cake) or wada (doughnut-shaped deep-fried lentil cake) dipped in fiery sambar sauce and subje (white coconut chutney).

Goa FoodIndian food
If you get fed up with Goan-style fish and fries, Indian food is the next best option. Don't, however, expect the same kind of food you find in English-Indian curry houses. Curry is actually something of a misnomer. The word, which in India is used to describe one particular aromatic herb (the corn leaf), denotes a wide range of dishes, each made with its own characteristic blend of spices, or masala.
As in most parts of the world, different regions of the subcontinent have produced their own distinctive cuisines, and mid-range and upmarket restaurants in Goa invariably serve a representative cross section of these. In the town, you'll also come across a scattering of cheaper, smaller South Indian-style snack bars. Vegetarians, in particular, will find these udipi, or "tiffin" restaurants a welcome sight as the food they prepare is always "pure veg*. The quintessential South Indian snack is the masala dosa, a large crispy pancake made with rice flour and stuffed with a spicy potato concoction. It is usually dished up on large tin trays, together with a small splodge of chami (ground coconut and yoghurt flavoured with mustard seeds and tamarind) and sambar (a spicy, watery gravy). The same side dishes also accompany other popular South Indian snacks.

such as uttapams, thick, soft pancakes made from partially fermented rice flour, and parotta, wheat-flour dough rolled into spirals, flattened and then fried in hot oil. At breakfast time, tiffin canteens serve piping hot idlys, or steamed rice cakes, while in the afternoon you can usually order a range of deep-fried snacks such as pakoras, samosas or potato cakes called boon-da.

Served between 11.30am and 2.30pm, the main meal of the day, however, is called a thali, after the large stainless steel tray on which it is brought to your table. Thaiis comprise a large pile of rice, four to six different vegetable preparations served in small round cups, a couple of runny sauces or lentil-based dais, chapatis (unleavened wheat-flour bread cooked on a hot gridle), papadam and rate or yoghurt In the majority of tiffin restaurants, this filling meal will set you back around Rs3O-5O (70p/$l).

To sample North Indian food at its best, you'll have to head for the upscale hotels, or restaurants such as Delhi Durbar in Panjim (see p.76), where the menus are dominated by Mughlai cooking. Introduced to the subcontinent by the Persians, refined in the courts of the mighty Moghul emperor and now imitated in Indian restaurants all over the world, northern cuisine is known for its rich cream-based sauces, kebabs, naan breads and pulao rice dishes delicately flavoured with cloves, almonds, sultanas, cardamom and saffron.

The other popular northern style, elevated to an art form by the notoriously sybaritic Punjabis, is tandoori. The name refers to the deep clay oven {tandoor) in which the food is cooked. Tandoori chicken is marinated in yoghurt, herbs and spices before cooking. Boneless pieces of meat, marinated and cooked in the same way, are known as tikka, and may be served in a medium-strength masala, or in a thick butter sauce. They are generally accompanied by rotis or naan breads, also baked in the tandoor

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