We are well aware about the uniqueness of Goan cuisine, like many other regional cuisines of the country. The fresh ingredients which are local and seasonal are the highlight of this cuisine, along with influences from other cuisines of the world.
However, along with this, there’s another reason that gives Goan food an edge and that’s its souring agents. There are the various fruits, or flavours, which give that sourness or tartness to Goan dishes.
It’s not just lime, or yoghurt, which we are talking about here, which are commonly used in other cuisines, too. Goa has a long list of souring agents, some of which are hyper local, and now rarely found.
1. TODDY VINEGAR
When speaking of souring agents in Goan cuisine, the first name simply has to be toddy vinegar. It is predominantly used in the cuisine of the Catholic community, and without it, dishes such as Pork Vindaloo and Sorpotel, would be incomplete. Toddy is a vinegar made from coconut toddy, and it is mainly used in meat-based dishes.
“Coconut toddy can be soured in several ways to produce vinegar. In Goa, vinegar is made at home. Some families have their own formula to obtain the desired level of acidity,” says Fatima da Silva Gracias in her book, Cozinha de Goa. She further mentions that a heated roof-tile or roasted paddy is dropped into the toddy, for acidity and required colour. It is then fermented for a month or so.
This vinegar is available in local weekly markets, especially at the Mapusa market on Fridays.
Another local ingredient that comes to my mind, which in many ways, defines summer in Goa, is the kokum fruit, and it is mainly found in forests of Western Ghats as it is endemic to this place.
This fruit has a lot of health and other benefits. The juice made from its fresh pulp is an ideal summer drink as it is full of antioxidants and vitamins.
Traditionally, this fruit is used as a souring agent in Goan cuisine. The outer skin of the fruit is sun-dried and then soaked in the juice of kokum, which is locally known as aagal. This procedure helps in retaining the flavour and moisture of the fruit. This dried and cured fruit skin is then used in cooking throughout the year. A couple of these, or more, are added to any curry to give it a tangy flavour.
“Kokum is added to all vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian preparations of Goan cuisine. It is added mainly to bhindi (ladyfinger) vegetable. As we know, this vegetable is slimy, and so the dried kokum is added to cut its sliminess,” says Anjana Amonkar, caterer and social media food reviewer.
It is also added to a vegetable made from colocasia leaves, and many tuber vegetables in Goa. These tubers have alkaline properties, and so, kokum is added to control throat and tongue irritation.
3. HOG PLUMS
Hog plums are also added as souring agents in these vegetables and also to curries, especially prawn curry.
This oval-shaped fruit, about the size of an egg, is heavily used as a souring agent. It has a nice tangy flavour, similar to raw mangoes. There are two varieties of this fruit in Goa. The sour fruit variety is the wild or the Indian variety – Spondias pinnata, and the sweet one which is fleshier, a little bigger in size, and more fibrous is the Spondias dulcis variety. It is also added to the local delicacy, Khatkhate, and the sweet-sour-spicy curry, known as Uddamethi. Both these dishes are part of the traditional cuisine, and are made during festive occasions such as Ganesh Chaturthi.
One of the most commonly used souring agents, not only in Goa but also throughout country, especially in South India, is tamarind. “Tamarind fruit pulp or aamtaan is used in all Goan curries. It is primarily used in Goan Hindu kitchens to make dishes such as Khatkhate, Chanyacho Ross, Moonga Gathi, etc. Tamarind pulp is applied to maadi slices, or the tuber of giant taro, as maadi is considered an itchy vegetable, and tamarind effectively removes the itchiness from it. It is also applied to fish as well, and is used in kismoor of dry prawns or dry mackerels,” adds Amonkar.
5. DRY MANGO
Another souring agent is dry mango, wherein raw mango slices are sun-dried and stored for months together. This is used to replace fresh raw mango, especially in fish curries. Sometimes, bimbla fruit is added to curries for that sweet-sour flavour.
6. THE UNCOMMON ONE
However, there’s another souring agent which is used in Goan cuisine, but is not much spoken about. It is also a sour fruit that actually belongs to the jackfruit family. It is the monkey jack tree (Artocarpus lakoocha), which is known as Ottamb. One can see this tree around forested areas of Goa.
“The raw fruit of ottamb is cut into thin slices and sun-dried, and these slices are called sola or saal. These are then sun-dried and preserved by adding salt to them. The dried ones can be directly used, or soaked in little water for few hours, to rehydrate them before using in recipes. They can be used for all dishes where tamarind is used. For eg Sungta sukhe tastes good with ottamb sola” says Neelam Dutta (Kamat Sambary) who lives in the USA and manages a page on Facebook, Ranchikood-Goan Kitchen. It is also considered a healthier option as it is less sour compared to other souring agents, and many locals prefer to use this.
Many a time, it is confused with kokum, and it is sometimes sold online as kokum flower. But, these two fruits are completely different even though they have similar usage in cooking.
This variety of souring agents speaks about the diversity of our cuisine and also of our biodiversity.