If you ever dare complain about back pain to a Goan dad, be sure to get lectured on how they ate and lived a certain way that made them strong and immune to illnesses compared to the junk consumed today, that’s deteriorating the health of current generations. That would be enough to make one ponder on whether cooking methods and eating habits have changed for the better or the worse.
Back in the day food options were restricted to things that were locally available, but Goans never shied away from eating till their tummies were full. Elders often say they’d eat to work and worked hard to eat. They chose cookware made of clay, such as the modko, that took time to cook over a wood fire, but ensured a better taste and an increased shelf life.
Nowadays, along with a sedentary lifestyle, food reaches our doorsteps at our finger tips and the options almost seem unlimited. Processed foods have become synonymous to comfort foods and with unchecked levels of processing and additives involved, many have fallen prey to health problems.
So today, as we observe World Food Day, let’s take a look at nutritious food alternatives that were once widely consumed in Goa:
A BOWL OF TIZAN TO KEEP STRONG
Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz around millets and its health advantages. But something like ragi, or nachne as its locally known in Goa, was widely consumed in the past. And one such preparation made from nachne was tizan.
Sometimes, substituting regular porridge at breakfast or consumed at tea time, tizan was part of the diet during illness as it was believed to restore one’s health. Being high in protein and rich in fiber, it also helped regulate blood sugar levels and maintained bone health. No wonder you would often hear people in Goa say, ‘Ami tizan kahun ghot zaleam’.
A brown coloured bowl of tizan was almost an acquired taste and because coconut jaggery was used in its preparation, it was akin to relishing a sweet dish. It could and was also eaten when cooled to a pudding-like consistency.
FOR BREAKFAST OR LUNCH—IT WAS PEZ
Goans do love their staple fish, curry and rice. But an ever-humbling dish Goans have treasured is pez or kanji, made out of ukde rice that was once easily available. Back in the day, a bowl of pez was eaten even for breakfast or around mid-day, giving one enough energy to carry out the rest of the day’s work.
At times, when someone was unwell, who had lost their appetite and was advised to stay away from greasy food, in between those tizans, it was Goan kanji or pez that was served. Besides, preparing it was as simple as cooking rice, and when there were accompaniments like parra, pickled mango or atoleli kodi, nobody would restrict themselves just to one bowl.
Today, you’ll still find elders relishing pez, but youngsters hardly consume it when they are ill or during the lent season.
GOA'S HEALTHY OPTIONS—SANNA AND POIE
In any Goan village you’ll notice the bakers, or poders as they are locally known, with a variety of breads—that look and taste different. Among them is the popular and versatile, poie.
Earlier these were made using wheat flour and the raising agent was toddy or sur and was amongst the preferred bread choices for the ingredients, the softer texture and because it paired well with every Goan curry. But with changing preferences today, toddy has been replaced with baking soda, wheat flour with refined wheat flour (maida) and traditional furnaces with electrical ones—that aren’t doing favours for our health.
Another option that was preferred with all gravies was the steamed sannas, again prepared using simple ingredients like coconut, rice and toddy. These sannas today make an appearance only on special occasions or feasts eaten with some yummy pork sorpotel.
NATURAL COOLANTS, COCONUT WATER AND KOKUM
Come summer, the heat gets unbearable in Goa and while many of us today choose to unseal the bottle and gulp down a chilled soft drink, there was a time when coconut water and kokum juice were the preferred choices to rejuvenate the body.
Drinking coconut water helped hydrate and detoxify the body. Relishing on some tender coconut water was as simple as climbing one’s backyard coconut tree and plucking some tender coconuts. And while preparing curries, kids would wait for their share of coconut water as the coconut was carefully broken, saving every drop.
Another natural coolant was the red kokum juice which was believed to elevate one’s mood instantly. It’s in fact even consumed today and known for its digestive properties. You’ll usually find it served with your mid-day thali.
To conclude, as many realize the importance of balanced meals and eating right today, it’s very essential that we keep in mind the manner in which our ancestors kept their meals simple yet delicious.