The feel of the cool sand on my bare feet, the sound of the waves lapping the shore mingled with laughter and music, the smell of spices carried on a salty breeze and the taste of Goan fish curry on my lips. I have very fond memories of Goa and Goan cuisine, but my brief visit wasn’t nearly long enough to know it really well. Step in Mainak Biswas from the travel and photography blog Places in Pixel with this mini guide to Goan cuisine.
Guide to Goan cuisine
Goa, the smallest state in India, lies on the western coast, its shores lapped by the Arabian Sea. This former Portuguese territory was annexed by India in 1961 but the influence from over 450 years of colonisation remains, especially culturally and of course, in the delectable Goan cuisine.
Known for its tropical weather, never-ending sandy beaches dotted with beach shacks serving delicious food, water sports, churches, temples and happy-go-lucky people make it a popular tourist destination. Goa is every travellers’ delight, not least because of its cuisine – the food in Goa is sublime.
The uniqueness of Goan dishes is the beautiful merging and perfect balance of four elements: sweetness, sourness, spice and salt. Each dish is aromatic, with the abundant use of locally grown spices, however, beyond this there is a great a complexity of flavours. Spices are balanced exquisitely with the tanginess of kokum and tamarind or subdued by creamy coconut. Toddy vinegar and local wines used to marinate meats and fish, give an intense aroma and flavour to any dish. While a touch of sweetness is added from jaggery or palm sugar. Thus, a simple protein reaches a taste incomparable. Describing the food makes my mouth water and taste buds hunger for more. We strongly suggest you try some Goan dishes and discover it for yourselves. This distinct cuisine can only really be appreciated in person, as it awakens all our five senses!
above: Visiting a spice plantation in Goa, india
Local Goan Cuisine
Goan cuisine’s roots lie in the largely pescatarian-vegetarian Hindu Saraswat cuisine from the western coast of India. However, the long Portuguese rule and even the earlier century-long Muslim rule, have both left their mark. Add to this, the cooking style and spices of southern India which also play their part. With its tropical location, Goa is blessed with an abundance of vegetables and the perfect climate for growing spices. The result is a unique, rich and spicy, vegetable and mainly, but as we will see not entirely, fish-based cuisine.
Popular Ingredients in Goan Cuisine
Rice is a staple throughout India and it’s no surprise that it accompanies many dishes in Goan cuisine.
Seafood, fish and coconut, found in south Indian food, are also very common ingredients.
This small red-purple berry grows in the hills of the Western Ghats. It has a sweet-sour taste and can be used as a substitute for tamarind in curries and other dishes.
Introduced by the Portuguese, chilies, are one of the most important features of Goan cuisine.
Other Portuguese influenced ingredients
The Portuguese also brought with them potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples, guavas and cashews to Goa and subsequently India. And while beef and pork, are tabooed meats elsewhere in India, the Portuguese popularised them in Goa too.
Hindu versus Catholic Goan Cuisine
Goan cuisine is a magnificent combination of east and west and is essentially seafood based with fish curry as its signature dish. Curry is a common theme, made from a beautiful blend of liberally used spices and herbs with vegetables or any type of meat or seafood. Kingfish, a type of mackerel, is one of the most commonly used fish, followed by pomfret, tuna and sardines. Tiger prawns, crabs, lobsters, squid and mussels are common local shellfish. The unique blended recheado masala is a red spice mix used in preparing curries and seafood stuffing.
above: Crab Masala by Sudipto
Goan Hindu Cuisine
This mild cuisine based on Saraswat cooking heavily features seafood and dairy products. The use of tamarind and kokum for souring; and jaggery for sweetening is prominent in the dishes, which are cooked in coconut oil. Other common ingredients include onion and garlic along with spices like asafoetida, fenugreek, curry leaves and mustard seeds with seafood, vegetables and lentils. Fish curry and rice humann is popular with side dishes such as dangar, fish cutlets; bhaji, vegetable fritters in besan batter; fish suke, dry spicy fish; tondak, a dish with beans and cashews; and varan, a lentil preparation with coconut milk.
above: Masala Fish Fry by Mahesh
Goan Catholic Cuisine
This fusion of Goan Hindu and Portuguese cooking styles owes the major difference in its taste to the unique tanginess of the toddy vinegar commonly used in preparing the food. The most popular dishes are croquettes, fried minced beef rolls; ambot tik, a spicy and sour fish curry; and of course, feijoada,, a Portuguese Stew with meat, beans and cabbage. For dessert try bebinka, made with coconut milk. It’s particularly popular at Christmas.
Top 20 Goan Dishes
As a traveller to this beautiful state, it would be a complete injustice not to a taste of at least a few of their celebrated dishes.
- Goan Fish Curry ‘Xitti Kodi’: The staple diet of every Goan, is a traditional fish curry in a sauce cooked with local spices, coconut and mango. The main ingredient is pomfret or kingfish served along with rice.
- Xacuti: Chicken or pork with potatoes in a complex sauce made with spices along with poppy seeds, grated coconut and large dried red chillies.
above: Chicken Xacuti by Arnab
- Sannas: Also known as the Goan idlis, they have a sweet coconut flavour and are made with local rice. They can be served along with most Goan dishes.
above: Idly, also called Sannas
- Ambot Tik: A typical Goan fish curry, typically made from shark, prepared in onion tomato sauce with spices, but its uniqueness lies in the addition of red chillies and kokum, a locally grown sweet and sour fruit. The unique colour of kokum and the tangy-sweet flavour makes it special.
- Vindaloo: One of the most popular of Goan dishes is this spicy adaptation of a classic Portuguese dish. Pork is the most popular meat used in a firey mix of vinegar, onions, garlic, chillies, and local spices. The meat is mixed with all ingredients and marinated overnight before cooking on a low heat.
- Balchao: A very multicultural dish with Portuguese and Chinese influences, this very hot and spicy prawn curry is cooked in a vinegar-based sauce.
- Bangdyachi Uddamethi: A mackerel based dish with an authentic fenugreek-based sauce with chillies and coconut. The vegetarian version Amlechi Uddamethi is cooked with raw mangoes.
- Fish Racheado: Literally meaning stuffed, this dish is most often mad with pomfret . The fish is filled with tangy masala and onions then shallow fried and served with warm Goan bread.
- Feijoada: This stew is cooked with beans and pork with coconut milk added to give it a unique thick creamy flavour.
- Caldeen: A very mild prawn curry cooked with coconut and kokum. This yellow curry has close similarities to a Thai curry.
- Samarachi Kodi: A dish made with dried prawns in a spicy coconut curry with tamarind and onion tomatoes and served with rice. It is usually prepared during monsoons.
- Sorpotel: A mix of meats and liver in a rich spicy sauce of cinnamon, chillies and cloves inspired by Portuguese traditions it finds its presence in every Catholic household in Goa.
- Cafrael: Whole chicken legs are coated with local spices and green chillies then shallow fried.
- Goan Khatkhate: A typical Goan vegetable stew with Toor and Chana lentils added to a mix of vegetables like carrots, potatoes, green beans and drumsticks, a local hard green fruit. A spicy paste of spices with red chillies and coconut is added. Popular with the Konkani community it is best served with rice topped with some ghee.
- Fonna Kadhi: A gravy or kadhi made with coconut milk and kokum as the main ingredients is a humble vegetarian delight served with rice.
- Bebinka: The most loved and famous dessert of Goa, is a multilayered cake using coconut milk, sugar, eggs and flour. The dish uses caramelised sugar to give the dessert a rich flavour.
- Bolinha: Traditional butter coconut cookies usually found during Christmas.
above: Bolinha by Joegoauk Goa, Creatvie Commons
- Perad: The pulp of guava and sugar along with ghee is cooked till smooth and glossy, once it is set and cooled it is cut into pieces. This ‘Guava Cheese’ is a Christmas delicacy.
- Kulkul: A traditional Goan Christmas sweet, is deep-fried maida and semolina dough rolled into small shapes and dipped into sugar syrup.
- Chana Doce: An all occasion favourite, this sweet is prepared with chickpeas.
Goan Street Food
Just like the famous street-food of Delhi, Goa has its own very street specialities, which the local people and travellers alike adore. At night, the streets of Goa are lined with tiny stalls selling goodies to drool for. Miramar beach is the liveliest haunt of all for these brightly lit colourful carts. Goa is a non-vegetarian delight, but there are a few vegetarian options too available on the streets. Here’s our top ten must-try street foods in Goa.
- Ras Omelette: When in Goa, this delicious humble food, is a must. A fluffy omelette filled with onions and coriander is covered with a ladle full of spicy chicken xacuti gravy and served with the freshest Goan Pao bread, to soak in all the yummy goodness.
- Cutlet Pao: The Goan Pao is layered with home-style gravy, topped with shredded cabbage salad and a large chunk of crumb fried meat. Try it from the street carts at the church boundary of St Cruz, an evening meeting point for many locals.
above: Cutlet Pao by Sudipto
- Prawn and Mussel Rissois: A batter fried goodness not to be missed. These creamy on the inside, crisp Rawa fritters are best when freshly made. You will find many stalls at Old Margao.
above: Fried prawns by goanfishcurryrice3, Creatvie Commons
- Cutlets and Choris Pav: It is an aromatic cutlet bread with large rava fried beef or chicken fillet, marinated in vinegar and Goan spices then cooked to perfection.
Tip: For the best mouth-watering and super juicy flavoursome cutlets, a must-visit place is D’Silvas Fast Food at the Miramar Beach. They also serve excellent Beef Chilly Fry, Beef Croquettes and Pork Chops.
- Croquettes, Chops and Samosas: These easy pick-up snacks are available in a variety of chicken, mutton, beef and pork at many places in Vasco, Mapusa, Panjim and Margao.
- Chorizo Pav: A favourite breakfast item, these famous and real spicy smoky flavoured Goan sausages are served with Goan bread and onions. Men and women on bicycles sell Chorizo Pav as early as 7 am each morning. A must try to enjoy real local authentic flavours.
- Gadbad Ice cream: Meaning confusion in Hindi, this perfect hot summer delight, as the name suggests, it’s a colourful chaotic mixture of many flavours of ice creams, nuts and fruits served in a tall glass or bowl topped with jelly.
- Poi: This local Goan bread, made with rice husk is slightly sweet and fluffy. Its best eaten fresh as a snack with butter, or as an accompaniment to wipe out flavoursome gravies and sauces during meal times. Buy it from the bread men on bicycles selling poi bread in the early mornings and evenings from large baskets covered with a blue sheet.
- Fish Thali: This is a must-try for every traveller to Goa, for an authentic taste of local food. Available at each beach shack, small and big restaurants, they serve rice, chappatis, fish curry, a vegetable curry, and fried fish along with some pickles. It’s a complete soul-satisfying meal.
- Frankies: These bright red carts serve a variety of innovative, spicy and super delicious vegetarian and non-vegetarian rolls.
Tip: Thanks to the large number of domestic tourists, chaat stalls (food carts) are common especially near the beaches selling Pav Bhaaji, Misal Pav, Sev Puri, Paani Puri, Bhel Puri, Ragda Pav, to name but a few.
above: Pav Baaji by Amit, below: Chaat stalls decorated for a festival
Top 5 restaurants in Goa
Goa is popular destination for both domestic and international travellers, the resulting restaurant scene offers something to suit all tastes with all kinds of speciality restaurants to choose from. The choice can be a little overwhelming. To help guide you, here are a few that we particularly love.
1. Mum’s Kitchen | Goan
854, Martins Building, D. B. Street, Miramar, Panaji, Goa 403001
One of the best authentic Goan cuisine restaurant there is with a vast menu, Mum’s Kitchen much loved by the local community as well as visitors to Goa. This restaurant in Panaji offers the best pork vindaloo, seafood curries with pomfret, prawn and fish; peri peri prawn and sol kadi.
2. Calamari | Goan
Dando Beach in front of Santana Beach Resort, Candolim, Goa 403515
For some exquisite authentic Goan meals, it’s better not to miss out on having at least one meal at this restaurant at Candolim Beach. It is an ideal place for grabbing a quick bite, while enjoying a cold beer and the panoramic view of the setting sun. The food is completely fresh and ranges from seafoods to pizzas to soups and salads. But the must-try is the crispy onion rings, cheese stuffed mushrooms, fish fingers, pepper chicken and the special curry rice delicacies of Goa.
3. Thalassa | Greek
Plot No. 301, 1, Vaddy, Siolim, Goa 40351
Visit Thalassa at Vagator Beach for exquisite Greek cuisine in a beautiful hilltop setting overlooking the Arabian Sea. It boasts of the best sunset view in Goa. The must-haves include their meat platter, vegetable moussaka and baklava among other things.
above: The view from Thalassa
4. Tuscany Gardens | Italian
Fort Aguada Road, Near Kingfisher Villa, Candolim, Goa 403511
This family-run restaurant in Candolim and is known as the best Italian restaurant in Goa, with thin-crust pizzas and al dente pasta. The restaurant has a mesmerising ambience set in a alfresco courtyard setting.
5. The Black Sheep Bistro | European
1st Floor, Villa Braganca, Dr Braganza Pereira Rd, above Fab India Store, Panaji, Goa 403001
Considered to be the best place to eat in Goa, this beautiful and unique restaurant in Panaji serves European cuisine. With a farm to table philosophy, the tapas dishes, salads, pasta, seafood and lamb are all popular choices on their menu. The peanut crusted fish fillet and the chocolate lava cake are not to be missed!
Top 8 Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants in Goa
Numerous vegetarian restaurants serving authentic Goan, Gujarati, Marwari, North Indian, Chinese, Continental cuisines can be easily located all over Goa. Here are our personal favourites.
Shop No. 1, Calangute-Baga Rd, Bardez, Goa 403516
For enjoying the most beautiful beach views while tucking into authentic Goan meals. This is the place to be at Baga Beach. While popular for its fresh seafood delicacies, it also offers an excellent mixed vegetable xacuti with rice and local cashew feni, the local spirit that will knock your socks off.
above: Lunch at Brittos by Anuradha
5/181, Opp Ticlo Resort, Calangute – Baga Rd, Calangute, Goa 403516
A place known for its English breakfast and milkshakes; you’ll find Infantaria at Calangute Baga junction. Boasting an in-house bakery, it serves the best sandwiches, cutlets, tarts, cakes, patties, croissants and cheesecakes.
3. Blue Planet Café
443/C Agonda Beach, Near Agondeshwar Temple, Agonda 403702
Near Agoda Beach, overlooking the scenic paddy fields and hills is this award-winning vegan and vegetarian restaurant serving only fresh organic produce. A wide range of salads, soups, spreads, juices, smoothies, teas and desserts are available. Mixed vegetables and flaxseed noodles and pan-fried tofu in peanut sauce are recommended dishes.
4. Bean Me Up
1639/2, Deulvaddo Near Anjuna Petrol Pump, Anjuna, Bardez, Goa 403509
With an innovative menu serving a wide range of vegan foods, organic salads, fresh juices and speciality beverages, is this beautiful garden restaurant in Vagator. It serves the best tofu and seitan preparations. It is also a yoga space, a boutique with clothing from organic labels and a bed and breakfast.
5. Ma Café
Ma Café, Leela Cottages Grounds, Ashvem Beach, Pernem, Goa, 403527
The same team as Bean Me Up also has the Ma Cafe at Arambol, which boasts raw vegan food. Smoothies, cheesecakes, ice creams, burritos and pizza are some items on their menu.
6. Saraya Art Café
House No. 64, Chogm Rd, Porvorim, Sangolda, Goa 403511
With art, food and nature as a combination, this cafe in Sangolda, is the best place to rejuvenate and unwind over a fresh wood-fired pizza and some really delicious peach and apple strudel topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and honey. They have an elaborate menu of plant-based dishes from around the world. They also provide eco-friendly accommodation.
7. Mayas Organic Café
Khalchawada 68, Arambol, Goa, 403524
The vegan and raw food options at this cafe located in Arambol leave us with happy stomachs; they provide shakes, meals and desserts.
Calangute – Mapusa Road, Opposite Bodgeshwar Temple Boshan Complex, Goa 403507
A pure vegetarian restaurant chain spread across Goa provides a wide range of South Indian, North Indian and Continental cuisines.
A brief visit to Goa could never be enough to fully appreciate all that this colourful state has to offer, especially when it comes to dinning out. We hope this Goan food guide helps you make the most of your visit no matter how short or long your stay. We can’t recommend more highly trying the local cuisine – the high quality of the fresh seafood makes it a must-try. Don’t forget to take back home some cashew nuts and a bottle of local cashew spirit, Feni!
Mainak and Anuradha
This blog-post has been contributed by Mainak and Anuradha from placesinpixel.com. Places In Pixel is a Travel and Photography Blog, wherein we share our travel-planning ‘how-tos’ and travel-photography tips and hacks. We love a little bit of luxury-travel, but on a tight budget. And hence we share the same affordable and sustainable luxury-travel planning tips on our blog.
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Very good info, well-written.