Monday, April 15, 2013

Red or green...perhaps a yellow in between

   In Goa we might not have seen them at every street junction – but it is a common sight in every metropolitan city…the traffic lights. But the Goan Culinary Club is not here to talk about traffic control systems but the color of our food preparations. Unlike Continental (white sauce, stews) or even Eastern Asian food (stir fries) our curries do not have the pale insignificant hues…they are rich red (or shades of red), greens and yellow (Caldinha).

So how do these color variants take place…especially in the shades of red (orange to even a brownish yellow)-it’s the chilies used chorus the chef’s of the Club. The Portuguese might have brought in the chilies (or peppers as they called it), but the acceptance of the villagers to make the chili their own (Aldona, Canacona to name a few) defines the rich cultural diversity of our ancestors ‘talukawise’ in the days of yore.

We ask our chef’s what chilies are normally used in their curries…and the normal response is ‘Kashmiri’. Why does one ask? ‘O they impart a rich red color to the gravy’. But is color the only criteria for Goan curries and masalas? What about the authenticity of taste? They say that their recipes are from their mothers or great grandmothers whatever the case may be….so was the kashmiri chili the only one used in their homes?

So coming back to our ancestors….Where did they get those chilies from? The cultivation of the same must have taken place in the right way to ensure that the chilies got a chance to be sun dried and then stored before the monsoons. The Club took a trip to different talukas ‘see’ if chilies (besides the all almighty kashmiri’) had a presence in homes. Yes they did in small pockets. You would find button chilies, bedagi chilies, gaunti chilies, cancon chilies, tarvati chili, titimiti chili and in some Maharashtra border talukas the sankeshwari chili) I remember my grandmother talking about the titimiti chili. ‘In a curry one uses 70 % bedagi and 30 % Titimiti’…I remember her telling the person who used to grind the masala. So I asked the chef’s if they had seen it. ‘It’s a vegetable,’ one says. We are still searching to find this chili if it is still being used.

And there is the ‘piripiri chili. One of the chef’s shows me a bottle of these chilies that he imports from Africa. I am given to understand that these chilies are also known as ‘Portugal chilies’ and they used to grow in ‘everyone’s” especially the Christian Goan houses-backyard. It is a sad state of affairs that today these chilies are slowly vanishing from the face of Goa….and the kashmiri variety is here to stay.

Are our signal lights flashing...Red…yellow…where is the green. Cultivation takes place if there is a demand and vice a versa. The Club asks all its chef’s to take a little time off to rework on the authenticity of their grandmothers preparations…. and ask for the chili. Even if it means cultivating them in their very own backyard. Michelin chefs have their own herb garden…. what is stopping us. Let the chili take the ‘pride of place’ in that curry and have people drooling for that spicy treat.

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