Food Story: How Sorpotel travelled from Brazil to India

Designed to feed the working populace, popularised by traders, enjoyed by royals, these are today a part of culinary legacy.

Written by Madhulika Dash | New Delhi | Updated: January 30, 2015 3:49 pm
Sorpotel Sorpotel

Ever wondered how can blood and offal become a delicacy? Well, that’s the beauty of the Indian culinary ledger. For every exotic masterpiece registered in it, there is another stunning preparation that could have been easily considered wastage. Like Sorpotel. When the Portuguese traders took liking to this slightly sour yet spicy, thick gravy based pork dish in Brazil they rarely thought what went into this rather filling and rich dish. It was only later when they decided to take the dish along did they realise what went into this rich curry. Made by African slaves in Brazil, the dish had the tail, ear, intestines, tongue and a hint of blood. It was a filling, rich ode to Offal.

Gross? Not really. It was a fine dish that lasted long, and for sailors those days that meant more than how or with what it was made. In fact, the maturing taste – Sorpotel, much like mutton curry, gets better as it gets older – came as an added bonus as the pork loving Portuguese got it to India. Of course, what came to India was the version popular from Alentejo region of Portugal. To which the native Goan Christians and East Indians added their own little tricks to make it even more interesting. It is this variety that is available today.

While one added the toddy vinegar and liver to it, and introduced the technique of frying the pieces in ghee/fat first; the latter added tamarind to it. Such was the rise in the popularity of the dish after that, even with the Portuguese who settled in India, that Sorpotel that was devised by the African cooks to feed an army of workers; became a celebratory must. So much so that today any wedding feast is incomplete without the presence of this dish. And why is it such a significant dish? The beautiful taste aside, it is one of the exotic dishes made of liver, and of course has the blood, which has been a prized exotic ingredient in Portugal cooking. That aside, it is also a very delicate dish to master. Some of the best sorpotels are made in a kunnem.

Yet another blood-based Goan dish is Pork Cabidela. This traditional Portuguese curry is made of the blood collected in a metallic vessel to which palm vinegar is added immediately. This stops the blood from coagulating. Then the pork meat is rubbed with a mix of ginger, garlic, turmeric and red chilli powder, which is then left to braise in the blood over a slow wood fire. The result is a super-thick, dark, flavoursome curry that is nostalgic.

Interestingly, Indian culinary history is replete with such dishes that have had a rather lowly beginning before they rose to stately stature. Like the Chakna from Hyderabad. Said to be a Nizam House specialty, the Chakna, which doesn’t find much takers today, was also made of goat tripe, digestive organs, kidney and liver, and was renowned for its peculiar taste, which many say was developed in the kitchen of Asaf Jahi, who is credited for developing the real Hyderabadi cuisine and giving the Haleem its unmatched flair. There is also a story that the first Chakna came much in an accidental way when one of the cooks at the construction site added jowar ka atta in the stew to make it look thicker and richer. Liver, intestines and carcass meat those days were considered lowly and was the only kind of meat available to the poor. What started as an experiment turned out to be a delicious, rather spicy stew that became a regular meal. So much so that when the Nawab visited the site and ate the food, he decided to incorporate the dish into his royal kitchen. This perhaps would explain how Chakna reached the royal quarters. Did it make enough appearance in the royal tablet? There is a good chance that it may have.

Or else this particular incident made sure they did come to limelight. A common folklore is that one of the nawabs of Hyderabad, Nawab Musallam Jung, used to proudly boast about his unmatched epicurean feast. “A guest could dream of and it would be there.” But all that changed when he invited Nizam Mahboob Ali Khan, his suzerain.

Huge preparations were made to ensure that the entire Hyderabadi cuisine was prepared and kept ready. Incidentally, Jung wasn’t familiar with Ali Khan’s mischievous side, which came forth during the dinner when Ali Khan after looking at the spread enquired about Chakna, by then a decently popular dish among the labour class.

Understandably, Jung accepted defeat, but not before creating his own version of the Chakna, which had more spices and a tongue coating richness. Is it the same dish that is served today? Interestingly, in the few places it is made, it’s the original Jahi’s recipe.

The Goan Pork Sorpotel has its origins in Sarapatel, a dish from Alentejo, Portugal. The word ‘sarapatel’ literally means confusion, referring to the mish-mash of ingredients of pork heart, liver and even pork blood! However, in modern day version, blood is rarely used as now getting the pure blood is slightly difficult. But you can always buy it from the supermarket, where it comes commercially made.

2 kg Pork – shoulder (can include half kilo of pork liver)
20 nos Red Kashmiri chillies
1 tsp Peppercorns
18 nos Cloves
1 tsp Jeera (cumin)
6 inch stick Cinnamon
2 inches Ginger
5 nos Cardamom pods
2 tsp Haldi (turmeric)
2 no Garlic pods
4 nos large Onions
10 nos green chillies
1 cup Vinegar
1 cup Tamarind juice
150 ml Dark rum
Salt to taste

* Boil the pork in a cup of water with salt for 20 minutes and keep aside.
* Chop the ginger, garlic, green chillies and then the onions fine.
* Fry each separately until golden brown, remove and keep aside.
* Grind the rest of the masala (the spices) to a fine paste in a little water.
* Cut the boiled meat into small pieces and fry in a little ghee.
* Add the ground masala as well as the fried (ginger, garlic and green chillies)
* Fry and then add 3 cups of water and allow to cook on a low fire until tender.
* Stir in tamarind juice, vinegar, dark rum and check for salt. Simmer for about 20 minutes more.
* Goan pork sorpotel is usually cooked 3 – 4 days before it’s meant to be eaten as the taste improves by keeping. It’s also warmed up once a day during this period.

COURTESY: Chef Kapil Muchandi, Executive Chef, The Park, Calangute Goa

For all the latest Lifestyle News, download Indian Express App

  1. S
    Feb 23, 2017 at 11:21 pm
    V nice in4 on sorpotel and chakna😊
    1. Telef Fernandes
      Aug 26, 2016 at 1:27 pm
      Nice to hear the biography of 'Sorpatel'