Lent is a time of fasting in the Christian world, and it is a custom among Goan Catholics, too. While some will fast on all Fridays in Lent, the vast majority will observe a strict fast on Good Friday. Traditionally, this is the day when Goans would have an ultra-simple meal of pez (gruel), made of boiled Goa rice, which was cooked in an earthen pot (modko) over a wooden fire, scooped up using a ladle made of a coconut shell, and finally served in bowls.
Pez (kanjee, conji, conjee, kanji) is bland and tasteless, and is best eaten with accompaniments (tondak) such as pickle, para, papad, dried fish etc.
WHY RICE IS NICE
A gruel made of cereal — ground oats, wheat, rye or rice — and cooked in water or milk, is consumed in innumerable parts of the world, including India, the Far East, Africa and America, and generally among people in the lower income strata.
In India, rice and water gruel is commonly found in the diets of Kerala, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, among other locations, albeit with a few local touches.
Regardless of the cereal used, gruel is a simple, affordable and easy-to-cook source of nutrition. The high water content helps to keep the body hydrated, while simultaneously aiding digestion, making it a popular option in times and places when nutrition is scarce.
The first reference to gruel in modern literature was in the 19th century. In Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens mentions a gruel consisting of small quantities of oatmeal, and cooked in large quantities of water. In 1912, aboard the Titanic, gruel was on the menu — for its third-class passengers.
THE GOA VARIANT
Back in the day, pez ie Goa's version of gruel, was prepared for anyone with a fever or diarrhoea. This pez was prepared with ukde tandul (local red rice), cooked in salted water until tender and served along with the cloudy stock. And, a small piece of raw water pickle was generally the tastemaker of choice for the patient.
The local rice, or Goa rice, is a reddish-streaked, par-boiled grain, containing less starch, and is therefore not as sticky as most varieties. For this reason, Goa rice is considered a suitable alternative for diabetics.
Pez was a nutrient-rich alternative to regular food, and was relished with the occasional accompaniments such as korom (sliced raw mango), chepnichi torra (raw mango water pickle), para (dry fish pickle), roasted papad, mole (fish/prawn pickle) and kalchi kodi (yesterday's thickened curry). The curry, left over from the previous day, when heated, would become nice and thick and was called kalchi kodi.
However, during Lent and Good Friday, korom, chepnichi torra and papad are the preferred dietary options among Goa’s Catholics.
Even today, many Goan families consume pez as a mid-morning ‘soup’. It is also given to babies as their first solid food.
A sweet dish, called Methianchi Pez, is prepared by adding various ingredients to the kanji base. It is claimed to have medicinal properties and is good for tummy ailments. The methi (fenugreek) adds an ayurvedic component to the gruel. The dish is served with or without jaggery.