Some Like it Hot
On a visit to Goa curry loving James Arnold set out to find the hottest vindaloo.
Guide books are great. Someone has actually gone to the trouble of finding the best accommodation and activities as well as providing information about the culture, customs and history of the destination. It means there's more time for you to discover things for yourself and I would advise any traveller to invest in one and read it from cover to cover.
And it was during my flight to the west coast of India while reading my guidebook that I discovered that Goa is the home of vindaloo.
Vindaloo was developed from the stew type dish carne de vinha d'alhos, meaning meat with wine and garlic, which was introduced by Portuguese settlers. Wine was replaced with vinegar by the natives who also added chillies, coriander and cumin along with other spices.
The Portuguese colonization of the state has meant that the region's cuisine has been influenced throughout. Not only did the introduction of Christianity mean that meat is now commonplace in Goa but the Europeans can also be thanked for the introduction and cultivation of chilli peppers which is now synonymous with Indian cuisine in general.
Vindaloo is my favourite dish on the Indian takeaway menu and I like them hot. Really hot. And where better to get a really hot curry than India? I was excited.
We were staying in Anjuna, north Goa, and while not fully up and running it was gearing up for the big paydays of November to March. Much like the vindaloo I was hoping to find, it was scorching, around 30 degrees and the monsoons had just about finished.
The hunt began immediately. Anjuna was once a small fishing village and while it still retains some of that appeal, a short stroll through town revealed that a main source of income is now tourism. The most telling sign of which was that, along with touting tuk tuk drivers and roadside trinket shops, each restaurant catered for the western palate in abundance.
Thankfully many still had traditional Goan fare available.
Surprisingly vindaloo was not on the menu at our first restaurant, Blue Tao, but as I was after something hot the waiter suggested I try the squid recheado instead.
Recheado means 'stuffed' in Portuguese, and the squid was stuffed with a spicy red paste made from red chillies, cloves, cinnamon, green cardamoms, cumin seeds, black pepper corns, ginger, garlic and vinegar ground to a paste. It is usually served smeared inside a mackerel, pomfret or kingfish which is then fried or barbequed. In this instance coconut milk was added to the thick red paste. The milk though did nothing to soften the fiery mix. It was hot and the endorphins triggered by the chillies sent me into a wonderfully dreamy state.
The heat from the recheado almost matched a vindaloo and I needed to recover which meant two things, beach and beer. Both readily available. The beach was only a five minute walk from town and thanks to the light taxation and liberal attitude alcohol is cheap and readily available.
Restaurant cum bars of different varieties but similar menus line the long white strip of sand. But one in particular stood out. The Shore Bar looks like a trendy hangout with multiple lounging areas, excellent to experience a perfect sunset across the Arabian Sea. Its chilled vibe and soundtrack encapsulates the relaxed attitude of the Goan people.
Richard Pereira, owner and former London Hilton chef, came to Goa eight years ago moving to Anjuna some years later. He trained locals to run the kitchen adding a western touch to their own knowledge of authentic Goan food. The results are fantastic.
Again, there was no vindaloo so I asked Dan, Richard's son who runs the establishment day to day, for something quintessentially Goan and, although invented in the Portuguese colony of Angola, he pointed me in the direction of fish cafreal. A choice of freshly caught mullet, kingfish and white or red snapperwas presented to me on a silver platter. I chose the latter.
Dan also persuaded me to order the tisre clams which are mixed with coconut milk and daram masala. Use of clams, of which there are several types locally to Goa's rivers and coast, was not influenced by the Portuguese but is in fact used throughout the Konkani region of India.
The clams had a delicious, spicy, nutty taste to them which made it well worth the effort of picking them from their shells. My partner, Laura, was less enthusiastic about them but the same could not be said of the red snapper cafreal which this self-proclaimed seafood hater could not get enough of. Rightly so, for it was outstanding. Before being fried in a covered pan the fish has green chillies, spice, salt, lime juice and garlic rubbed into it. Mint, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, tomato and onions are cooked together to make the cafreal sauce and poured over the fish. The flavours produced are incredible; zesty, rich and spicy - undoubtedly the star of the show.
I was happy I'd found some excellent, Goan cuisine, but still no luck in my quest for vindaloo.
My search ended at a restaurant back in town named Yash. A crumbling, ramshackle place not without charm, but with frequent power cuts.
Although traditionally served with pork, I ordered a prawn vindaloo and the rich, red sauce looked like it could do some damage to my taste buds. In fact it was much more flavoursome and sweeter than in the UK though the chillies added a subtle heat. The dish was tasty but not what I was expecting, no fire and no effort to finish. I was disappointed.
It wasn't until we were leaving Goa, following several more unsuccessful attempts to find a ragingly spiced vindaloo (often with me pleading with the waiter to "make it like the locals have it"), that I discovered the problem.
Tucked away in the back of the guidebook was another passage on vindaloo, one that explained that while a traditional vindaloo was rich and sweet in flavour, the UK was the place to find the outrageously hot version.
So it seems that while it was a great adventure in search of Vindaloo, perhaps if I had taken my own advice and read the guidebook thoroughly I could have used my time experiencing even more wonderful Goan treats.