What Have Been The Portuguese Influences On Indian Food?
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The Portuguese were the first to arrive and the last to leave. Arriving on the west coast of India in May 1948, Vasco da Gama paved the way for colonial influences, rule, and tyranny over the next five centuries. Portugal, in fact, ceded control of their last stronghold in India—Goa—in 1961.

It stands to reason then that some of what we consider "Indian" dishes, traditions, and ingredients may in fact have been a result of Portuguese influences. The most commonly cited examples are, of course, vindaloo, balchao, sorpotel, sausages, and sweet Goan wine. Vindaloo’s origin is all too well-known: what started as a vinegar and garlic-based stew made with pork or other meat got revamped with various spices and chillies when it came to India. Later, potatoes were added to the dish, and what was Carne de Vinhad’Alhos became vindaloo. The "alhos" became "aloo," and it was assumed that potatoes were an essential part of a vindaloo. Similar confusion exists about sorpotel, which literally means confusion, "probably referring to the mish-mash of ingredients in pork heart, liver, and even pork blood!" Of course, a lot of the New World fruits and vegetables—most importantly for us, tomatoes and chillies—were also brought over by the Portuguese.

What we may not often recognize is the Portuguese contribution to more basic things in Indian food and cooking techniques. Take the bread. Pav is the only kind of leavened bread that is widely available in India. And it was a Portuguese contribution (pao). They taught us how to culture yeast. Some culinary historians even suggest that the use of white flour in making luchis in Bengal was Portuguese influence at work. The smoking and curing of meats (think chorizo!) was yet another Portugues legacy. The Portuguese also introduced the concept of using wine and different kinds of vinegar in cooking. Speaking of vinegar, it is believed that the Portuguese may have introduced cheese-making to India. Of course, this is still a source of contention today. Some studies have shown that dairy products (including some form of curdled milk or soft cheese) may have been prevalent during Harappan times, but there are other researchers who attribute it to the Portuguese. Perhaps also because curdling or spouting milk was seen as an act of desecration by Aryans and early Hindus, cheese-making had to be "reintroduced" into India. And some scholars believe it was the Portuguese who did that. The Bandel Cheese introduced by the Portuguese was probably made by Mogh (Burmese) cooks under Portuguese supervision.

Among the commonest cooking oils used in India even today is peanut (groundnut) oil, and peanuts were a Portuguese introduction into India. The cashew nut may strike you as something that has always existed in our midst in the form of age-old barfis, but no, it was also brought over by the Portuguese. It is in fact a South American nut, where it is called acaju, from which we get our own kaju. What's more, it was the Portuguese who taught the local Goans how to turn it into feni!

Think fruits—pineapple, papaya, guava, avocado, and lychee—and they all made their way from the New World into India by way of Portugal. In fact, guava’s name in Western India, "peru," is after the country of its origin, Peru. Sarson da saag and makki ki roti may be thought of as a quintessentially Punjabi combination, but there would be no makki ki roti if makki had not been introduced by the Portuguese and popularized by the British. Malayalis and their tapioca love may seem timeless to us, but what we do not often realize is that tapioca is not indigenous to the subcontinent and was in fact brought over by, well, you guessed it, the Portuguese.

The more we look into what is "ours" and what is "theirs," the more we realize that nothing stays static. Just as empire affected the ways, traditions, techniques, cultures, and cuisines of the colonized, so did it affect the colonizers’ as well. While there can be no denying that the colonisers took (much much) more than they gave, it is perhaps fitting that we have turned what they believed was theirs into something so unmistakeably Indian as to be almost spiteful. What could be more Indian than a pav bhaji? And yet, tomato, potato, cilantro, and pao came to us from elsewhere, all via Portugal.