The soft, white fish flesh and bright red vinegary rechado masala in pomfret rechado fry is all it takes to makes any Goan go weak in the knees. It is a fact. Okay, maybe, the sight of a saffron-hued tangy prawn curry over a bed of steaming red rice, or a helping of glistening pork vindaloo with a side of warm tangy sannas could also do the trick. The permutations and combinations to get your mouth watering are plenty, and the promise of great meals is at your fingertips with a good cookbook. One of the most thumbed ones in Goan homes is The Essential Goa Cookbook by Maria Teresa Menezes (Penguin India, 2000).
The book holds over 100 recipes that span all culinary categories, such as soups, appetizers, mutton and beef, pork, fish, breads, sweets and desserts. The Portuguese names of the dishes roll on the tongue like decadent morsels, and make you check the fridge for prawns to make some Camarao com ebolas (prawns with onions) or rush off to the fish market to rustle up a Caldeirada (mild fish curry).
The highlight of the book is the lovely nostalgic introduction. Menezes, born in 1926, talks of the staple of her childhood. “Two fish curries, one mild and other piquant, fried fish, a meat entree and a couple of vegetables were the norm. The matriarch of the house, a delicate, exquisitely dressed lady, around 70 years old, would not come to the table unless there were a specified number of dishes.”
The other go-to book for Goan cuisine is 100 Easy-to-Make Goan Dishes by Jennifer Fernandes (Vikas Publishing House, 1978). As the name suggests, this is truly a handy book. The recipes titles are simple — sorpotel, meat curry, pork assad, salt meat, fish rissoles. The method, described in about a 100 words, follows a neat and tidy ingredient list and gives you confidence to make your own Goan repast.
Both books tip their hats to fresh fish, a fetish with Goans. As Menezes writes, “From infants to senior citizens, from labourers to landlords, even the Saraswat Brahmin, consider the meal incomplete without fish in some form.”
The famous poet Babkibab Borkar, addresses Yama, the god of death:
Please Sir, Mr God of Death
Don’t make it my turn today
There is fish curry for dinner.