The use of chillies in Goan cuisine

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Goa, India’s smallest state, is located on the beautiful western coastline. It was occupied by the Portuguese for more than 500 years and as a result the cuisine of the area is particularly rich, as well as distinct. There’s a real mixture of east meets west.

Before the Portuguese arrived in the region, the majority of the population were Hindus and vegetarian. There’s an abundance of fish available in the area and, as the Portuguese aren’t traditionally vegetarian, fish quickly became a staple in most recipes.Prior to the invasion,the people of the region were unaware that chillies even existed. The most common way of adding flavour was to use cloves and peppers. There were two types of pepper: round pepper (black pepper) and long pepper (pippali). Peppers did add spice and some depth of flavour, but the effect they createwas very different to chillies. As a result, although the food was spicy it wouldn’t necessarily be described as fiery.

The Portuguese originally discovered chillies growing in South America, in the Amazon. They took the plant to Africa where it grew successfully before arriving in Goa with two varieties that had an almost explosive impact on the food of the area. At first, chillies were used alongside pippali, but as it’s easier to grow chillies, pippali soon became less commonly available. In modern Goan cooking chillies have now completely replaced pippali in everyday cooking. Along with chillies, the Portuguese also introduced cashew nuts and pineapple to Goa.

There are a number of wonderful Portuguese Goan recipes and most include fish, chillies, coconut milk, and vinegar. The chillies used are normally Kashmiri which have a distinctive red colour. They are smaller, rounder and less pungent than many other chillies and have a unique flavour. Although generally red, they are available in a range of different hues; the best are believed to be the most vibrant and are able to retain the intense colour during the cooking process.

One of the most popular Goan dishes to use chillies is the vindaloo. Perhaps interestingly, the word ‘vindaloo’ doesn’t come from India at all. In reality it comes from ‘vin d’alhos’- Portuguese for garlic and wine. However, upon arriving in Goa the Portuguese substituted the wine for palm sap (vinegar)and the locals added many traditional Indian spices, thus creating the vindaloo which is now a staple on the menus of many Indian restaurants all over the world. Kashmiri chillies are normally used which give the dish its trademark red colour. As they’re not as fiery as many other varieties, the heat comes from the combination of traditional Indian spices and chillies.

The original dish may vary from what you’ve previously experienced at your local curry house. The traditional vindaloo, created more than 500 years ago, is bursting with flavour and won’t over power your senses with heat. To experience this mouth-watering dish you don’t need to get on a plane to Goa; there are many authentic versions being served with contemporary flair at fine dining Indian restaurants, so discover one for yourself in the heart of London.

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