It was 7pm, Thursday. My husband and I were ravenous after exploring Old Goa. We were on our first trip exploring Goa and despite a weeklong adjustment to local time, our tummies were still operating two hours ahead in Singapore time. Pinto’s, a small family-run restaurant in the heart of Panaji, was where we’d planned on having dinner that night. The streetlights were a little dim and this hole-in-the-wall restaurant was hardly visible from the main street. After desperately asking some locals for directions, we found it. It was a small restaurant with minimal décor and the thing that stood outmost was the chalkboard menu that had the daily specials scrawled on it. Within minutes of being seated, we’d already noticed that many locals were streaming in to pick up their dinner. That made us very happy as it meant that this restaurant was well-loved by Goans, who are known to have a lot of pride in their cuisine. As luck would have it, just after we’d made our orders, there was a power outage in the neighbourhood! My stomach was already biting by then. The chef came out of the kitchen to reassure us that despite the power outage, the food will be ready as the gas stoves were still working. He proceeded to bring us into the kitchen to reassure us that they were prepared for this type of situation. What we saw next was something I’ll never forget – the chef was reheating the food with help from a candlelight! At this point, we debated if we were better off going to another restaurant. As the other Goan restaurant we’d shortlisted was at least forty-five minutes away, we took our chances and stayed. Fortunately, the food was served to us within minutes and they all tasted good. We could barely see our dishes as there was only candlelight on our tables. So we used our phones for more light and I took photos of our meal because it definitely was a meal to remember! The evidence of our poorly lit but delicious food is pictured below.
Apart from the amusing situation while enjoying a Vindahloo in Goa, there are a few interesting historical details that make its origins also an intriguing one. There is a common consensus that Vindahloo is based on the Portuguese marinade ‘vinha d’alhos‘ and dish ‘carne de vinho e alhos’, or meat cooked in wine or vinegar and garlic. However, Indians did not make vinegar when the Portuguese first arrived. The Franciscan priests found a solution by making vinegar from coconut toddy, a drink made from the coconut palm. The vinegar, combined with spices, such as black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and mustard, which had either already found their way to Portugal earlier or were endemic to India, gave rise to the Portuguese-Indian dish of Vindahloo. The chillies had also been brought over to India by the Portuguese from South America through the Columbian Exchange. The use of wine or vinegar also helped prolong the shelf-life of meat and it made it more convenient for the Portuguese to bring the dish along on long journeys to the East.
Portugal’s seafaring ambitions in Asia spurred cultural and culinary interactions between the Portuguese and the locals in Africa, Goa, Melaka, Japan and Macau, to name a few. When the Portuguese sailed farther east from Goa to Melaka and Macau, they brought with them the foods that had already been defined in Goan cuisine. Hence, it isn’t a surprise that the Melakan Kristang’s versions of Curry Debal and the Macanese Diabo (Devil’s Dish) share many similarities to the Goan Vindahloo. Curry Debal is an iconic dish to the Kristang, a community of mixed Portuguese and Melakan descent and Diabo is a popular Macaense dish. Both Curry Debal and Diabo are dishes that are made post-Christmas, on Boxing Day, and utilize all the leftovers from the Christmas party the night before. There are many versions of these dishes as some decry the use of pork while others insist that the dish has to be fiery hot, hence the name. However, based on my research, all versions of the Vindahloo, Curry Debal and Diabo are quite liberal with their use of vinegar, garlic and mustard, which determine their dominant flavour profile- sour, fiery, mildly pungent and addictive.
This recipe is my less fiery version of the Goan Vindahloo I enjoyed in 2017. I prefer it made with a fatty cut of pork shoulder or pork ribs as it tastes great with the vinegar and keeps very well. It’s a very simple dish to make and the secret to the best flavour is to allow it time to marinate and rest after cooking. Vindahloo ,like many other dishes that have travelled along the maritime spice route and overland silk roads, is a fascinating dish that reminds us of how foodways travel, adapt and take up the characteristics of local culture and geography. Despite geographical distances, these dishes remind us of a shared history and culture. We aren’t just enjoying a wonderfully tasty dish – we’re also savouring it’s history and evolution.
Pork Rib Vindahloo
- 20 kashmiri or byadgi dried chillies
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 inch cassia (cinnamon)
- 6 whole cloves
- 1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
- 2 green cardamoms
- 30 grams garlic cloves
- 25 grams ginger
- 1/4 – 3/8 cups of coconut vinegar (substitute malt or sugarcane vinegar)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 kg fatty pork shoulder, 2 inch cubes / pork ribs / chicken thighs with skin
- 1/4 cup cooking oil
- 150 grams minced red onions
- In a dry pan, lightly toast dried chillies, cumin, black peppercorns, cassia, mustard and cardamom till fragrant. Immediately cool on a plate.
- Finely grind toasted chillies and spices in a blender. Add garlic, ginger, coconut vinegar and salt into the same blender and grind to a fine paste.
- Rub the ground spice paste on pork shoulder / pork ribs t and leave to marinate overnight. For chicken thighs, cut 2 slits across the thighs, rub spice paste and marinate for 4-6 hours.
- After marination, bring meat to room temperature. In a large pot over medium-high heat, add any neutral cooking oil. I used cold-pressed coconut oil.
- Once oil is how, add minced onions and sauté till they’re translucent and soft. Add marinated meat pieces with all the juices.
- Reduce heat to low and seal all the meat in the oil until the meat starts to turn opaque on the outside. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp salt and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Cover the pot and cook gently on low heat until meat is tender and fully cooked.
- If using chicken, the dish is ready to be eaten.
- If using pork shoulder or ribs, the dish is good the day it’s made but tastes best after it has cooled, refrigerated overnight and gently reheated. While reheating, add 1/4 cup more water if there isn’t enough gravy for rice. Check for seasoning before serving.