Inside Karachi's only Goan food store
- Jayanthi Madhukar
Updated : October 15, 2021 12:10 IST
One wouldn’t associate Karachi with authentic Goan dishes such as sorpotel or bebinca. But that’s only if you haven’t heard of Amchem Goa, the Pakistani city’s only Goan store, run by the tight-knit Fernandes family—Assis, Luciana and their daughters, Donna and Stephanie.
The store, opened last October, caters to a large Goan community, some of whose members have been living in the city for well over three generations. The idea came to the family when a Muslim friend commented on the lack of authentic Goan eateries in Karachi. In just a year, Amchem Goa has emerged as the go-to place for typically Goan dishes and ingredients like coconut vinegar and kokum.
The dishes, prepared by Assis and Luciana, have been tweaked to suit Karachi’s palate and cultural norms. So, beef has replaced pork in the sorpotel. The chorizo maas too uses diced fatty beef, marinated in fiery spices, instead of pork. But some things have remained constant. “At Amchem Goa, we use powdered hing (asafoetida), an integral part of the sorpotel. Our recipes have been passed down from our grandparents,” says Luciana.
Now in her 60s, she speaks about how her parents, who came from Salcete, Goa, moved to this city. Her mother, Rita Braganza, came from a family of renowned chefs; some of the family is still in Goa. Her father’s family migrated from Goa to Karachi after Partition.
“My mother was 11 years old when she came to Karachi to work for a rich Parsi family. Around the same time, my father’s family had also migrated there. Karachi was the place to find jobs because there were rich Parsi and Hindu families living here who needed servants to look after their kids and for other household chores,” she explains. “My father (who was in his early 20s) got a job as an apprentice to a carpenter. My parents met and got married in Karachi and their love for the city spurred them to stay back and continue their life here.”
Assis’ parents, who came from Saipem village, moved to Karachi as newly-weds in search of better prospects, a few years before Partition. Growing up, both Assis and Luciana were exposed to a vibrant culture, immersed in Goan music, theatre and the Konkani language. Over time, though, many families moved away, to other countries.
Amchem Goa hopes to revive some of that culture. Certainly, its customers are happy to experiment with new and familiar flavours—ranging from the brinjal pickle, prawn balchão and mango korum to dodol and bolinhas, a Goan interpretation of the coconut macaroon. Stephanie lists sorpotel, crab curry, lime pickle and bebinca as their best-sellers. While the parents make the pickles and dishes, the daughters look after the desserts, marketing, and a side business of jewellery, on display at the store.
For many, the store embodies memories of a land left behind. Stephanie Nazareth, a Goan-origin customer who speaks warmly of her visits to Goa, where she still has family, talks of the nostalgia evoked by the dodol. Another customer, Valentina Fernandes, says the prawn caldine took her back to the time her father-in-law would make the dish.
A fourth-generation Karachi resident has summed up her feelings in an evocative note on the store’s review board: “As a Pakistani with Goan roots, we cook some of the Goan dishes on a regular basis at home alongside the Pakistani ones. But my Goan cooking has acquired a fusion feel. Finding real Goan food, which is just like what our grandmas used to cook, is a rarity. But not any more…”
The family is thrilled with all the word-of-mouth publicity. Even Bilal Hasan, a popular blogger from Karachi, put up a post on Amchem Goa, asking Luciana to name one thing she would like people to know about Goan culture. She replied, “Goan culture is a way of life, full of happiness, music and lots of good food.” And this is what Amchem Goa stands for.
Jayanthi Madhukar is a Bengaluru-based writer.