Ganesh Chaturthi In Goa, Inside The Chovoth Kitchen
Image Credit: Suyos, Cone-Shaped Sannas

India is known as a land of festivals. Where bright colours, dance and music abound all year round. Diwali, Eid, and Christmas, all celebrations find a home in India and usually each state has its own favourites which take precedence. Goa however is a melting pot of cultures, where festivals are led more by community than religion. People come together to celebrate special occasions for many faiths, and one of the most beloved festivals for many is Ganesh Chaturthi. 

Known locally as Chovoth, Ganesh Chaturthi in Goa begins with Tai (or Tay), the first day of the celebrations dedicated to Ganesha’s mother Parvati or Gauri. As per tradition, on the 7th day of the festival, Guari and Ganpati are taken to the river, sea or other natural water body, and while Gauri is immersed, Ganpati is brought back home. 

Video Credits: Aisha's Cookery Kitchen

Tai is typically the day people head out to local markets to buy food and supplies for the festival and to decorate the Matoli (or Matovli), a wood-framed awning laden with seasonal flowers and produce that shelters the Ganesh idol and represents the symbiosis between people and the earth. But it isn’t all religious rituals, many parts of Chovoth are built from family traditions and for Abhishek Prabhudesai, that also meant stocking up on fireworks that would be distributed between him, his sister and his cousins, “It was like a battle who had better ones!” he says. 

The food prepared on Tay is thought to satiate the goddess’ pregnancy cravings. Patoli is one of Goa’s specialities, a rice flour pancake filled with coconut and jaggery and steamed between turmeric leaves. The Tai patoli however is made without salt and is often offered to the goddess without the filling. These are also eaten by married women who choose to fast on this day. 

“In Goa, Ganpati is celebrated like Diwali,” explains Ravi Mandrejkar, “ Usually on Diwali we have laddoos, chivda, karanji, in Goa, all these are made during Ganpati.” The second day is when Ganpati enters the house and after prayers is celebrated with a selection of faral items that include familiar items farson, chaklis, laddoos, shev plus sweet treats like patoli, neureos (nevri/nevryo), milk modaks and mangane. “Besan ladu and nevryo was my favourite, not to forget the different kinds of Modaks,” adds Abhishek. Neureos are Goa’s answer to karanji. Crescent-shaped treats are made with maida, atta, rave or sweet potato dough and stuffed with a mixture of dry coconut and jaggery, or sometimes khus khus and coconut to make Pitachem Nevri. Mangane is a type of kheer made from chana dal and sometimes made with tapioca pearls (sabudana). “One of my favourite memories was learning to make the sweets with all my cousins,” says Desiree, “I grew up celebrating festivals from both sides of my family, and Chovoth and Christmas were the only times when I’d get to see all my cousins and extended family together, so it was always fun.” 

Neureos ar Goa's answer to Karanji

Although Goa is known for its seafood, most people celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi observe Sawan and abstain from any non-vegetarian food during the Chovoth celebrations as well. The main menu follows suit and has a unique selection of items such as Khatkhate, a vegetable stew made with seasonal produce, Suyos (cone-shaped rice cakes also called sannas, similar to idli) dipped in coconut juice sweetened with jaggery, Varan Bhaat (dal and rice), Moogachi Ghati (moong dal and coconut curry), along with a selection of vegetable sabzis.

Dishes like Alu Chi Bhaji made with colocasia leaves and bkna (jackfruit seeds) are common, Ambade Sasav (hog plum curry), Chonyacho Ross (white peas in coconut curry), Bimblachem Sasav (a sweet and sour curry made from Bimbli, local Tree Sorrel). The curries are usually light or made with the addition of coconut, because as Abhishek jokes, “We Goans love to put coconut in everything like coconut milk grated coconut. Thats what makes Goan food different.” Bread is typically not eaten on these days and instead, there are usually Vadem (puris made from rice flour and urad dal) or Sannas.

At Ravi Mandrekar’s home, there are a series of music performances and prayers where the whole family gathers in the courtyard of their 300-year-old family home to join together in celebration. Unlike celebrations in Maharashtra and the rest of the country which, Goa’s celebration is centred on family. It’s a time when family members come from all over the world to contribute to the festival. “The older generation would be busy cooking or making faral items. The uncles and aunts would be running about getting the house cleaned and also decorating the house,” says Abhishek, “Kids would be busy making the Matovli right from cutting paper and running to the shop to buy more stuff to even decorating the Matovli. This is one time of the year that the entire family comes together and has a task.”

This festival is a time when the spirit of celebration is in the air. Irrespective of your religion, it’s a time for feasting and it’s said that nobody goes hungry during Chovoth. Non-Hindus visit their friends' homes to admire their Matolis and will leave laden with neureos and modaks. Families reach out to share with their neighbours and the tables of those who are unable to celebrate due to age or financial restrictions will also be overflowing. Covoth in Goa is truly an experience of family, celebrating nature and rejoicing in the warmth of community.