The beaches and nightlife may draw visitors in, but one of Goa’s main attractions is its rich cuisine. Goan cuisine has been shaped by many influences, namely Portuguese, African, French, Konkan and even Chinese. It is also an amalgamation of influences from the different faith communities of Goa: the Christians, Hindus and Muslims. However, the major foreign influence on Goan cuisine remains that of the Portuguese. 

After Vasco De Gama reached Goa in 1498, the Portuguese established trade relations with India and brought chillies, other spices, cashew nuts, meat and bread with them. This led to the morphing of the local cuisine and dishes like vindaloo and balchao came into existence. There is also a distinction in how Goan Christians and Goan Hindus shaped the cuisine. Hindu Goan cuisine uses tamarind and kokum to add a touch of sourness, while Christian Goan food uses vinegar. 

If you haven’t tried Goan cuisine before, we recommend five dishes for you to start with:

Xacuti

Usually made with chicken, lamb or beef, xacuti (pronounced shaa-kooti) can also be vegetarian and use ingredients like mushrooms. It is a fiery dish that uses local spices and coconut, to which white poppy seeds are also added. The story goes that local fishermen used to make a gravy with spices like black pepper, chilli, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. They added coconut and white poppy seeds to hte mix and served it with freshly caught fish.

Cafreal

Image credit: Vritti Bansal

Mainly made using chicken, cafreal is a spicy dish that has its origins in the Portuguese colonies in Africa. The dish uses green chillies, fresh coriander, onions, spices and vinegar. Whole chicken legs are used to prepare the dish, which is a regular feature on menus across the state. In some parts of the world, chicken cafreal and chicken piri-piri are considered to be the same dish, but Goa sees both differently: the former being green and the latter red in colour.

Sorpotel

Also called sarapatel, sorpotel is a dish with Portuguese influence that is made by cooking pork in a spicy, vinegary sauce. ‘Sarapatel’ translates to confusion, which refers to the mix of ingredients that sometimes include pork heart, liver, tongue and even blood (although modern recipes tend to omit blood). Sorpotel is best enjoyed with sannas, a spongy steamed rice cake that Goans also eat with other curries like vindaloo.

Fish recheado 

Fish recheado is a very traditional Goan dish in which fish like mackerel is stuffed with recheado masala, which is spicy and tangy (in Portuguese, ‘recheado’ means stuffed). The main ingredient used in making recheado masala is dried Kashmiri red chillies; vinegar is also added, along with other spices. Each family has its own recipe for recheado masala, making it an elusive yet coveted spice mix. 

Bebinca

A popular Goan dessert, bebinca is like a layered cake made with flour, coconut milk, egg yolk, ghee and sugar. Especially prepared during Christmas, the dessert can be found all year round in Goa. With between seven to 16 layers, it is a great example of Indo-Portuguese cuisine and is best enjoyed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.