Last weekend, a friend’s wedding brought a bunch of us together in south Goa. The Punjabi-Tamil nuptials ensured we were more than well-fed—if it wasn’t lashings of pao bhaji, it was a lavish plantain-leaf saapaad. The resort plied us with dishes from a variety of cuisines too: we tucked into quesadillas and masala dosas, often within minutes of each other. But what’s a trip to Goa without at least one authentic Goan meal? A short walk led us to Martin’s Corner, a lively eatery in a converted bungalow that has become something of an institution in Betal Batim since it first started serving fresh local fare in 1989.
Soon, we were on our way to being truly sated—with helpings of masala pomfret, stuffed crabs, rawa-fried mussels and grilled prawns, all washed down with particularly strong cashew feni, and for the less adventurous, well-made Bloody Marys. The next day, still reeling from the excess, we snuck away from sangeet dance practice and headed right back. That’s when we got chatty with Joe Pereira, who runs the restaurant with his two brothers, and got him to give us the “101” on Goan food and eating out in the area (we’ve stored away tips for cooking adventures at home and for our next visit):
Ambotik: This one, says Pereira, is a favourite among locals. It’s a thin, sweet-sour gravy for fish or shark, made with tamarind. A light option because it contains no coconut.
Assad: A spicy Portuguese-influenced Goan-style roast, made with beef or trimmed pork. Great for a Sunday lunch with a twist.
Balchao: A favourite if you can’t get enough of a strong chilli burn. This masala, paired with prawns and seer fish, makes liberal use of toddy vinegar and should be ground to a chunky consistency. Pereira assures us it tastes better if it’s stored for a few days before cooking.
Cafreal: This is a thick green masala made with a sheaf of fresh coriander and lots of green chillies. It’s most commonly used to marinate a whole chicken, a few hours before roasting in the oven.
Caldin: The caldin is a good choice for those with a low spice tolerance. It’s a mild, yellow curry made with a generous pour of coconut milk.
Sorpotel: At home, a Goan sorpotel is a rich, heady gravy made with pig’s blood and spare parts. The pared down version served at restaurants is usually made only with pork, and might also contain heart and liver.
Vindaloo: Possibly Goa’s most famous culinary export, this is the dish that Pereira says is most often mis-pronounced by diners. It’s a sour, strongly flavoured masala that needs plenty of red chillies (but no green ones), generally used to prepare pork. And no, you won’t be getting any potatoes with that.
Xacuti: A fairly versatile coconut-based masala that can be used for any meat and even veggies. It’s the most aromatic of all Goan preparations, as it’s made with 32 different spices. Traditionally, Goan cooking doesn’t rely too heavily on turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, poppy seeds etc. This dish has them all.
If you’re looking to eat out in south Goa (we didn’t manage to venture past Martin’s Corner), Pereira recommends Nostalgia in Margaon, where one must order the prawn rissois, a deep-fried prawn-stuffed patty that’s a Portuguese specialty. There’s also Longuinho’s, a quaint restaurant in Margaon serving home-style Goan curries since 1950.
For those keen to take home a taste of the state (and this applies only to people who don’t mind the strong smell of dried fish), they should trawl supermarket shelves for para and kismur, two Goan specialties that are traditionally prepared in time for the monsoon, when fishing is restricted. Para is a spicy, sour tamarind pickle made with dried mackerel or salted seer fish, while kismur, usually made with dried prawns, is a crunchy, coconut-y accompaniment to rice meals.
Martin’s Corner peri peri masala
Makes ½ kg of masala
350g dried red chillies
100g garlic cloves
1 cup vinegar
Salt, to taste
Blend the ingredients together in a food processor till they form a paste. Use the masala to marinate seafood or chicken before frying. At Martin’s Corner, they use a lovely nose-crinkling-sour toddy vinegar prepared from scratch by Carafina Pereira (who started the restaurant in her home and named it after her husband). The rest of us will have to make do with the standard store-bought bottles.
This weekly series which appears on Tuesday looks at what’s new with food and drink and how we are interacting with it.