A spread of spices.
Dr Mimi Silveira has not forgotten a fish. Many, many summers ago, when she was still in pigtails and pinafore, she stood in the kitchen watching her grandmother make a nutty fish. Egg yolks poached in hot sugar syrup and ground cashew nut cooked with loads of sugar. The sweet paste ladled as a fish on an oval plate, the yolk scales sedulously arranged on the fish back. The sweet beige fish with yellow scales is so Goan-Portuguese in its lineage. The fish that never got forgotten.
Wearing a chef’s cap and white apron, Dr Silveira, a pediatrician at Goa Medical College, was recreating her grandmother’s heirloom recipe in Park Hyatt Goa’s Casa Sarita restaurant. The air was heavy with the whiff of cashew. The cashew overload certainly not random. As part of the hotel’s annual Cashew Trail event, six home chefs had tied the apron strings for a heirloom recipe cook-off with cashew as an essential ingredient. Smita Shirsat was slicing fresh cashew apples for the vegetarian panchamrut dish, Nikita Prasad brought along her mother-in-law’s favourite kaju chicken starter recipe, while Vaishali Joshi was adding kasuri methi to diced chicken for a homestyle cashew-laden chicken gravy. Beating egg yolks, Dr Silveira tried raking time to carbon date the nutty fish recipe. “It certainly goes back two generations. Perhaps my grandmother picked it from her mother. All I know it that it was, and is, a favourite dessert for feasts,” added Dr Silveira, as her 89-year old mother sat in a corner watching her daughter rustle memories of a bygone era.
A touch of nostalgia
Chef Franco Canzano was certain that common will not be in. No xacuti (a complex mixture of spices including white poppy seeds, sliced or grated coconut and large dried red chilies). No vindaloo. No bebinca (a layered cake made of egg yolks, nutmeg, ghee, sugar). No recheado (traditional sweet, sour and spicy multi-purpose red spice paste). The cook-off was purported to bring nostalgia on the table for the gourmand.
At the Cashew Trail, cashew and heirloom recipes were having their glorious moment. On another table, Orty Soares, an architect, was perfecting the traditional Goan-Portuguese recipes — trying to bring them out of the thresholds of home kitchens into restaurants. As chef Edridge Vaz served piping hot caldoverde, a potato, onion, garlic, kale, olive oil soup, Soares emphasised on the importance of linguica (a finger-thick pork sausage) that lends the soup the essential zing. Important rule: never load the soup with oil, drizzle extra virgin olive oil at the table. I listened to Soares intently, she sure knows all about Goan-Portuguese food and culture — she is part of Semana da Cultura Indo Portuguesa (Goa), an organisation that is working towards keeping the Goan-Portuguese ties alive.
“The Goan cuisine is heavily influenced by nearly 450 years of Portuguese rule. The traditional dishes from Portugal did undergo variations in Goa, but the basic nuances and flavours remain the same. Sadly, a number of scrumptious recipes still remain within homes and are not served in restaurants and hotels. Most of the recipes were never documented by families; they remain an oral memory,” says Odette Mascrehnas, co-founder, Goa Culinary Club.
Back in Casa Sarita, I heard chef Vaz explain how heirloom recipes in Goan Saraswat Brahmin and Goan Christian homes are distinct. The Portuguese introduced the use of toddy as an yeast substitute and brought vinegar into the kitchen. Even after the arrival of the Portuguese, the Goan Hindu recipes never included vinegar or tomato in their food — they used kokum or tamarind. Legend has it that in the early 20th century, after a typhoid epidemic, doctors prescribed cod liver oil as an antidote. To beat the unpleasant taste of the oil, patients were advised to mix tomato juice with the oil. It was typhoid that coaxed the Hindus to use tomatoes. However, even today, heirloom festival recipes for ‘food for the gods’ does not include tomato, aubergine, radish and papaya.
After nearly 90 minutes of chopping, peeling, grinding, sautéing and plating, two heirloom recipes stood the test of time — Nikita Prasad’s kaju chicken and Vaishali Joshi’s kasuri methi kajukukkad. I, however, was eyeing the nutty fish. I picked the yolk scale off the fish. No fish has ever tasted so sweet. From the Park Hyatt Goa’s Cashew Trail, I brought home the century-old recipe. The heirloom will soon find a place in my kitchen.