Paul Noronha, the executive chef of Sheraton Chola, Chennai, stopped by the ITC Grand Central Mumbai, to showcase the cuisine of his home state, Goa. Over a meal which included aad maas—mutton on the bone in a rich, thick, tomato gravy studded with crunchy coriander seeds—he discussed sorpotel, feni and Goan sausages with Lounge. Edited excerpts:
What are your earliest memories of food?
I come from Goa. My maternal grandmother used to be a great cook. Whenever we used to have these large gatherings at home she would cook the food herself, as well as oversee the preparation. She was the matriarch of the house who ensured everyone was taken care of in terms of food. I used to wander around the house with her, and that’s how the fondness for cooking grew within me. She would tell me the nuances of how each dish is actually prepared. I have collected her recipes and built a database.
Mixed platter: (clockwise from above) Chef Noronha wants vegetarians to experience the food of his state; Caldinho-de-galhina, a traditional chicken dish; and fish curry with rice. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
What do you remember as your grandmother’s best dishes?
I still reminisce about her cooking. But the truth is my mother was a fabulous cook as well—if they had a competition, I really wonder who would win. Their best dish was the sorpotel. It was fantastic. It was generally prepared for a special occasion and made one day before the feast, with sannas—toddy- leavened breads. It is very difficult to replicate sorpotel the way they used to make it.
Does such a thing as Goan vegetarian food exist?
The Goan repertoire is not very elaborate and our strong point is non-vegetarian food; there’s not too much in the veg selection. But there are dishes such as foogath, which is tempered with coconut and green chillies. Traditionally, we only had two foogaths, a bean and a cabbage, but I make one with beetroot.
I have also attempted to create vegetarian dishes using the base of the non-vegetarian gravies. It doesn’t necessarily need to be very creative, but more of a blend. Vindaloos or xacutis normally have non-vegetarian associations. But you can have vegetarian option and it tastes as good. For example, I make a mushroom xacuti; it’s flavourful and people enjoy it. We can try similar experiments with a caldeen or an amotik, which is a hot and sour preparation.
Can you give us an example of the Portuguese influence in Goan food?
There is a definite Portuguese influence in Goan food. The most obvious example is the predominance of vinegar in Goan food. When you had traders coming in from the high seas, they had to preserve food. The best way of doing that was using vinegar—it’s a great preservative. Take for example Goan string sausages that are preserved in vinegar; you don’t have to refrigerate them, they will not get spoilt. So the predominance of vinegar in Goan cuisine comes from that.
What’s your favourite way to cook Goan sausages?
Just boil it and it’s ready to eat, it’s a very convenient food. Goan sausages have all the ingredients in them. Even a lay person will be able to easily eat them. If you want, you could add some potatoes and some green peas. We’re not a very complicated people, you see.
How has people’s focus on eating healthy impacted Goan cuisine?
People are weaning off pork, even though it’s a mainstay in Goan cuisine, not because they don’t like it any more, but because of health reasons. So they might not eat pork four times a week, but twice. I see people eating less red meat and more white meats such as chicken and fish. As for oil, that depends on the person making it. You just have to ensure that there’s less oil. Goans do not advocate oily food.
Tell us a bit about Goan breads.
The famous ones are sannas and poie. Talking of health food, poie is a health bread. It’s akin to pita bread, but it’s made of atta (unrefined flour) and there’s bran on top. It has a lot of roughage. Then there’s the kankan, which is a hard bread made in the shape of a bangle. And of course, there’s pau. Bread and rice are the two staples.
Do you cook with feni?
Feni is actually used in making sorpotel. After adding the feni, you are supposed to let the meat mature. The thing about Goan cooking is it is generally not eaten the day it’s made. It’s let to sit for a day or two, because the vinegar also needs time to mature. A good sorpotel ripens after two days. There’s a hell of a lot of difference between the day you make it and two days later. So whenever there’s an occasion, the matriarch of the house will get busy two days before that.
Do recipes for sorpotel still include blood?
No, not really. People are more health focused. But there are people who do still use it. Now what is blood? It’s nothing but a natural thickening agent. But not many people actually still do it. Then again, liver is also an ingredient, but some people don’t like liver either.
What are the most popular Goan dishes with non-Goans?
Most popular by and large is the Goan fish curry or the prawn curry. A guy who’s a bit adventurous and has been to Goa will ask for a vindaloo. A guy who has stayed there for a while will ask for a cafreal.
Staying dry in the monsoon
Leena Almeida’s family moved to Mumbai from Goa years ago, but the administrative assistant has stayed in touch with her culinary heritage by picking up tricks from her mother. Almeida explains that fish-loving Goans survive the monsoon by stocking up on dried fish such as Bombay Duck and salted mackerel. She buys dried fish from Mumbai’s Sewri or Marol markets, or any area where the Koliwada community lives. She shares her recipe for fish balchao.
Prawn/Bombay duck balchao
1kg small to medium-sized prawns (cleaned and deveined) or 20 dry Bombay Ducks (cut into ½-inch bits)
4 tbsp cooking oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
3 large tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
10-12 dry red chillies
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
2-inch stick of cinnamon
2 tbsp sugar
½ cup vinegar
Salt to taste
If using prawns, put them in a large bowl and sprinkle salt on them. Keep aside. Roast the dry red chillies, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cloves and cinnamon till they begin to release their aroma. Take off the fire and cool. Grind the ginger, garlic and roasted spices into a smooth paste using the vinegar. Heat the oil on a medium flame in a pan. Add the prawns and stir-fry till opaque. Remove from the pan and keep aside. If using dry Bombay Duck, fry them till crisp, and remove from the pan.
In the same pan, fry the onions till light brown. Add the tomato and fry till soft. Add the spice-vinegar paste, sugar and salt and fry till the oil begins to separate from the masala. Add the prawns or crisp Bombay Duck to this masala, mix well and cook till done. It can be kept in the fridge or eaten fresh.