Although their ancestors left the swaying palm trees and white sands of Goa behind for a new life in Sindh in the 1800s, the small but talented Goan community of Karachi — patriotic as it is about Pakistan — holds on to its roots, especially when it comes to food.
Belinda Fonseca is one such member of the community, who keeps Goan culture alive through the sweet and savoury delights she whips up. The owner of 'Love at First Bite', she not only offers traditional delicacies for Christmas, Easter and other Christian festivals but also keeps the taste of Goa intact, since she believes that there is almost no place in the metropolis where one can find genuine Goan food.
Speaking to The Express Tribune about the rich but little-known flavours that Goa has to offer, Fonseca claims that it is the spices from the coastal state that bring out the taste. "If someone is visiting Goa, we ask them to bring spices for us," she explains. "We do use the local spices that we find here too, of course, but they don't evoke the same flavours."
Among the key ingredients of Goan food is coconut, whether in sweet or savoury dishes, while raw black jaggery (gur) supplants sugar in desserts. Vegetable or meat curries are staples on Goan tables, while prawn and fish curries are also popular. According to Fonseca, Sorpotel, a meat curry served with rice or karak roti, is much-loved among her local friends.
The love for spicy, tangy food lurks in every corner of the subcontinent — Goa, too, has its own versions of chutneys and pickles, such as prawn balechow, green chutney sandwiches loaded with a powerful coconut taste, and mango kasundi. "I use the traditional mortar and pestle to grind all the ingredients," says Fonseca. "The taste and texture of our food cannot be achieved any other way."
The sweet tooth of the Goan community makes its way to the fore on Christmas, Easter and during other festivities. Everyone knows about hot cross buns, but a lesser known treat is the boulinho — a fat, round coconut biscuit decorated with a cross on top. Baath cake is another Christmas and Easter delicacy, made out of coconut and semolina (sooji). "These are dense cakes without any icing and although they have coconut and jiggery, they are moderately sweet," explains Fonseca.
It would be unfair to talk of Goan sweets and sideline the almond, milk and pistachios toffees the community makes — the channa (chickpea) dough toffees, in particular, demand much labour from the cooks. "The sweets take a long time to cook; the ingredients are left to simmer on the stove from morning to evening, and have to be stirred frequently," shares Fonseca, adding that the toffees have to be cut into their characteristic diamond and oval shapes while the mixture is still hot. "I usually only take bulk orders for these — you literally have to use your bare hands to tackle them!"
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2015.