In August 2020, I was watching an episode from season twelve of “MasterChef Australia.” Enjoying the show in my Guwahati home during mealtime had become a daily routine for my companion and me. This episode was an elimination episode with two rounds. Round One’s challenge was to cook a classical dish, selected from a list provided by the show’s producers, in a constrained amount of time. MasterChef contestants often must cook dishes from global recipes, but this episode triggered childhood memories for me because on the list was a Goan dish—Beef Vindaloo paired with naan and rice.
Naan is not a traditional pairing for anything Goan, and thankfully no one chose to cook it. But what got me reflecting on my cultural cuisine was a judge’s instructions to contestants to “cook one of them and cook it perfectly. Do not stray from the path of being classic. Do not trick it up. Just make it exactly how it was intended to be made and make it perfectly.” Another judge added: “We want the classic version. We don’t want any tricks. We don’t want any reconstructions. None of that.”
What constitutes a classic dish? Vindaloo is a dish that integrates colonial and cultural histories of Goa. It has different versions as you move geographically, and even as you move between households. I grew up eating it, but I can only be confident about the version that belongs to my mother’s kitchen. My mother’s hands prepared it. My father’s tongue tempered it. This dish was not just a cultural marker; nor are “classic dishes” always prepared in an atmosphere of loving, familial tradition. In our household, the celebration of food was also built on exploitation, fear, anxiety, and hurt—where failures to meet my father’s standards often resulted in domestic violence.
Everyday violence became part of my experience of cooking and eating Goan dishes. The gastronomical heritage was intertwined with our precarious lives and centered on satisfying the male palate. I thus view the production of untampered “classical recipes” as an attempt to erase kitchen and dining histories and to install in their place a glorified, replicable sensory experience.
Fish and Spice
My mother was born into a devout Catholic family in Goa in 1951, when it was still a Portuguese colony. Over the centuries, colonial rulers and the Catholic Church had changed everyday life in this region in innumerable ways. In 1560, the Portuguese formally established the Inquisition in Goa, which tested the faithfulness of new converts. Food-related practices, such as the one issued in 1736 banning Christians from cooking rice without salt, were among these. Another practice that separated converted Christians was the eating of okude tandull, rice parboiled and dried in the sun before being milled. Hindus, in contrast, ate suray tandull, rice milled directly after harvest. Insisting that new converts eat beef and pork was also viewed by the colonizers as an important way to prevent reversion to old religious practices. However, these meats were too expensive for regular consumption, and fish remained the staple in Goan food.
I was born in 1985 in Dadar in central Bombay, more than 500 kilometers away, a neighborhood filled with families who had permanently migrated from Goa. My mother had moved here in her late teens to work as a domestic cook. Here, she incorporated Portuguese influences adopted by Goan elites and added them to her culinary knowledge. My father grew up in the same neighborhood. They met, courted, and married. I was baptized in one of the oldest churches in Bombay, Our Lady of Salvation Parish, which everyone then called the “Portuguese Church.”
In 1988, my father decided that our family—his wife and their three children—would shift to Vasai Road, then a nascent, eerily modern town. It consisted of a railway head and a few scattered apartments that stretched for a few kilometers. Thereafter, a lull of space, followed by centuries-old hamlets, Portuguese-constructed churches, and finally the Portuguese fort and the Arabian Sea.
The East Indian fisherfolk of Vasai’s villages supplied fresh fish from the sea to Vasai Road as well as Bombay. The women sold their catch in the burgeoning urban markets. Although we were hundreds of kilometers north of Goa, the marine life was similar, meaning there were fewer reasons for Goan families living in Bombay and its outskirts to change their eating habits.
Fish was a staple for my mother when she was growing up in a Goan village, and the size and variety her family ate was directly proportional to the money in hand. Thus, her family often had the pink and golden mandeli, or anchovy. Knowing how much my mother loved fish, my father would buy it once or twice a week to last for days. They were mainly bangda (mackerel) and bombil (bombay duck), my mother’s favorites: fishes that were delicacies during her childhood. Before frying, my mother dabbed the fishes with semolina for the kids and stuffed them with Recheiad masala for the adults.
I was fascinated with the layers of flesh in a bangda, each coned into another up to the head. Slicing the fish in the frying pan with a wooden spatula, I took only the tail end to avoid navigating through the numerous bones of the pectorals. It took me years to start appreciating the flavors of marine fish fandangoed by Recheiad’s tempering of chilies and vinegar. The base spices for some of Goa’s hallmark dishes—Recheiad, Balchão, and Chorizo—are all the same: chili, cumin, mustard, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper, albeit in varying quantities. Ginger and garlic. A few additions may be present or absent as the souring agent and preservative—tomato, vinegar, tamarind. The unique combination in each, however, warranted a different name.
Buying these spices was a unique ritual for my mother. She purchased them at the height of the Indian summer, traveling fifty kilometers each year back to our old neighborhood, Dadar, and back to the markets she first visited when she arrived in the city. The potency of every batch was different, so the amounts she bought changed each time.
In the spice market, she cupped each spice and smelled it before determining her bulk quantity. She touched them carefully to feel the texture. Sometimes she closed her eyes. Was she imagining the creation of her dishes? I never asked. I only observed. Here began my affinity for the sweet smell of cinnamon, a piece of strongly aromatic bark. I wondered what the fresh fruit of black pepper tasted like, since we ate peppercorns only when they were shriveled and hard as seeds. My mother savored the aroma, color, potency, and texture of these spices. I was more curious about where they belonged on their trees.
My mother bought whole chilies, coriander seeds, cumin, and an assortment of spices that made up garam masala, dried them on our apartment’s terrace in the sun, and then had them ground at the local milling shop before the monsoons arrived. Red chilies were of two varieties, one that lent heat and one that lent color. My mother didn’t use written labels, so as a kid I learned to distinguish the bottles and other spice mixes by their aromas.
My mother’s heart was set on the spice markets of Dadar as much for a lost sisterhood as for the spices themselves. As a child following his mother, I saw her turn every time she heard someone speak in her mother tongue, Konkani. She always hoped to encounter an old friend in these markets. When she had time, she dropped by the Portuguese Church neighborhood to find an old companion on the streets or visit their home. With too many months between these visits, she often heard of friends who shifted to the suburbs without leaving behind an address or phone number. By the time I reached college, she had no friends left in Dadar. Buying spices was thus also about nostalgia, and sometimes melancholy. Escaping the eerie town where we now lived to enter the jostle of the markets was liberating. She sought these as moments to breathe. She was not a party to my father’s decision to move to Vasai Road, and yet she was now confined to a life there.
One day, my mother returned from the market and went about her daily chores in tears. Later that evening, she made beef cutlets. I saw her grinding the minced beef on her roggdo, the granite grinding stone she had carried around the Margao market and brought to Bombay. She always used the roggdo for cutlets to maintain the texture of the meat. For her, electric grinders caused the beef to lose its character by making it too pasty. The beef cutlets recipe was quite simple: parboil minced beef with chopped onions. Grind them on the stone with fresh chilies, black pepper, garlic, ginger, and coriander leaves, back and forth, end to end. Lift the pestle a little each time to let the mix enter, and then press it along the length to reach the other end of the stone. Collect the spiced beef back to your end and start over again. Add egg for binding and form the mixture into balls. Flatten and shape them on semolina with a broad knife. My mother’s favorite shape for these cutlets was an ellipse. Many prefer them round.
In the night, as we rested in bed after she cooked dinner, she summoned the will to tell me the reason behind her tears. She had been standing at the edge of one of the railway platforms at Dadar to cross the tracks and go to the next platform. A man approached her, held her wrist, and asked her how much she would “charge.” She ran away, crossing the tracks without checking to see if a train was dangerously close. She cried on the train ride back home, she told me. She was trembling, as if the man had followed her. My father’s accusations of soliciting in Dadar under the garb of buying spices had become real. She felt that no one would believe her anymore.
My father hated the spice market. My mother’s annual, sometimes biannual, visits always raised suspicions. My father was an alcoholic, and on nights when he was drunk and abusive, he would voice his suspicions aloud. He accused her of meeting her former lovers and, when money was short at home, soliciting clients in Dadar. Physical abuse followed. The verbal and physical abuse had begun early in their relationship, when they were courting. Everyone had asked her to dump him. However, she believed that things would change after marriage. They hardly did. Most of his accusations did not matter to her because her conscience was clear. But when the unknown man held her wrist that day, the core of this belief was shaken.
She had spent years normalizing the abuses she received for traveling to the spice markets in Dadar. Through my mother’s yearnings and my father’s abuses, I learned the value of spices. They could not be bought frequently and at will. They were precious. As my father used abusive words in English, Hindi, Marathi, and Konkani to torture my mother, I feigned ignorance about their meanings. It was a way to cope. Through it all, she continued to cook his favorite Goan dishes with the spices that evoked suspicions of infidelity.
Classic Goan Pork Dishes
Because beef and pork were not affordable for most people in colonial Goa, they had become markers of affluence, elitism, and wealth, none of which my family had. In my childhood home, therefore, pork was special. It was a weekend culinary affair and a delicacy bought from the East Indian communities living in Vasai.
On Sundays, we attended an early mass at St. Michael’s Church in the hamlet of Manickpur. As our autorickshaw would turn away from the main road into the narrow alleys of Manickpur, potbellied men wearing vests and oversized shirts set up pork shops on tarpaulin sheets. A big wooden butcher’s block was placed at the center of the sheet, and next to it stood an aluminum freehand weighing scale, a broad machete, and huge chunks of pork. These makeshift shops lined the 300-meter stretch that led to the church. We usually attended the 7 a.m. mass, but when we occasionally rushed to attend the 6 a.m. mass at dawn, we would hear the squeals of pigs being butchered on our way in.
The end of the 6 a.m. mass marked the arrival of the first batches of pork. Attending this earlier mass assured my mother not only of the freshest pork but also of offal—liver, kidney, intestine, tongue, heart. If she managed to get liver, we would have Pork Sorpotel for Sunday lunch. If not, it would be Pork Vindaloo. Both these dishes were Goan delicacies. It was important for my father to proclaim that we ate pork every Sunday.
He also expected perfection in these dishes. When my mother cooked Pork Sorpotel, it had to be perfectly marinated, boiled, chopped into cubes, sautéed, and curried. When in Bombay and Vasai Road, the lack of pork blood, an essential ingredient in Sorpotel, was excused due to its unavailability. When she made Pork Vindaloo, it was tempered with vinegar, preferably coconut vinegar from Goa. It lent a peculiar sweet and sour aroma that smelled of authenticity. My father was accustomed to eating everything on his plate with green chilies, and he insisted that both Sorpotel and Vindaloo be doused with copious amounts of chili—both variants available—for color and pungency.
There was violence if the Pork Vindaloo was not tender. Sometimes, my mother explained that the pig was too old and hence the meat tougher than usual. This explanation would not suffice. He was accustomed to throwing away his plate if the meat was too tough for him. The pork then had to be cooked further and re-served. Between the two rounds of serving, I was habituated to sitting in one corner of another room and praying that the verbal abuse would not turn physical. I prayed that the pork allowed itself to soften. I prayed for enough chili. I prayed that my father would fall asleep soon and that the ordeal would end. I repeated these requests like chants. My mother wept in the kitchen.
Perfect Goan Sorpotel demanded perfectly cut cubes. If they were not cut perfectly, there was violence. If there were not enough cubes of pork belly, there was violence. If there was not enough liver, violence. Not enough pieces of fat, violence. If it was not pungent enough, hell would break loose. Both Sorpotel and Vindaloo were supposed to set father’s tongue highly tingling or else the plate would go flying in the air once again. The pot of pork would be cooked a little longer with added chili. Chili in food was directly proportional to tranquility at home. When sober, my father always justified the violence by saying he knew that my mother cooked the best Goan delicacies.
For a man who was hardly five feet tall, fair skinned, and potbellied, with sparse facial hair and a broad jaw, my father terrorized everyone at home. My mother was the opposite of him in every way. She was a few inches shorter, dark from her lineage, with a tapered jaw, short hair, and a mole on her nose. According to her village legend, the mole on her nose meant she would never go to bed hungry. She was content with xit-codi—the traditional pairing of red rice and sorak curry. I was happier with it too as it was the classic Goan pork dishes that triggered uncertainty and fear.
Cooking, Food, and Livelihood
At some point, my family ventured into food business. Convinced that my mother cooked the best Goan dishes but opposed to her working as a domestic cook to supplement household income, my father monetized her skills. These were months of relative tranquility because my mother was the sole chef. Physical abuse risked revenue. My mother was allowed to go to Dadar more often because spices were a business need now. There were no more accusations about former lovers or prostitution.
My father arranged for a pushcart. It was exciting. It had glass panes for display on its surface and wood roofing to protect food from rain and dust. Painting and polishing the cart was a happy event; washing it regularly was tinged with mischief as we splashed water and soap all over the place with our clothes on. It carried Goan food every day to feed regular customers outside a local bar. According to my father, alcohol guaranteed customers.
He sold Pork Sorpotel, Pork Vindaloo, fish cutlets, beef cutlets, and fried fish. He had a helper to warm the food on a kerosene stove. On the nights that my father got drunk, the helper pushed the cart home with my father lying over it.
These were the days when my mother made the most varied Goan fish cutlets. Fish was a staple at home, but fish cutlets were rare due to the labor they demanded. My mother had to clean the fish, carefully parboil it with onions, fastidiously remove every single bone, and add the rest of the ingredients—fresh chilies, black pepper, garlic, ginger, and coriander leaves. Then she ground the mixture lightly on the roggdo, added egg for binding, and formed little cutlets that she coated with semolina and fried gently on a flat pan.
Fish cutlets became an experiment to push the limits of cooking. Fish changed, but the recipe remained the same. My father constantly evaluated which fish made the best cutlets, so no local fish had been left out. Prawns, bangda, and mushi (milk shark) were the winners. My father’s exploratory approach to fish cutlets translated into long work hours for my mother because he never helped to make the dish itself.
When the business ended, my mother was relieved but, financially, things got worse. For a week, we ate kanji (rice gruel) and water pickle (raw mango soaked in brine), alternated with chapattis dipped in tea. Even xit-codi was impossible. The mole on my mother’s nose had finally let her down. She resolved to step out of Vasai Road to work. She found a job as a cook in a home twenty kilometers away in a neighboring suburb of Mumbai, where no one knew my father—this was important. She caught a train before rush hour, cooked Goan meals for her employers, and came home by noon to prepare lunch for her husband, three children, and herself. Her schedule was stressful as she shuttled between work and home, but at least she did not feel exploited at her job as she did at home.
The Privilege of the Bastard
My mother’s new job meant we had enough food again. But it also meant that my mother was increasingly tired at the end of the day and that my father drank more frequently. We developed new rules around mealtimes. We had to finish meals before my father arrived home. If he arrived home drunk, we had to finish our meals immediately and lock ourselves in the bedroom to sleep. My mother instructed us not to speak any word unless polite and obedient.
On those nights, we were supposed to ignore what happened outside the bedroom door. If my father hit my mother, my siblings and I had to stay in the bedroom. If he broke things, we were to remain there. Clanging in the kitchen. Slaps. Abuses. Insults. In the bedroom, we waited behind the closed door. We cried and prayed that this too would pass. Only when my father wielded the kitchen knives—the same that my mother used to chop vegetables, fish, and meat for the classical Goan dishes by day—would she call for help. The bedroom door was unlocked; we ran to stand as barriers before our mother. We followed this routine for years.
During normal mealtimes, we often had our meals at our spots of choice. My mother sat on the floor with her legs extended and her plate on the palm of her left hand. My elder brother often sat next to her. My younger brother and I sat on the table attached to the wall unit with the television. He had to because he spilled way too much food while eating. When I was younger, I could not eat a morsel without the television on; engrossed by the images, I was always the last to finish eating. But this changed over time. The fear of my father’s drunken arrivals made us gobble our meals faster and faster.
One night, we had just started eating when my father came home early. Dinner was the simple xit-codi, but with rice, curry, and bangda. My siblings, my mother, and I were all eating dinner at our designated spots while watching nighttime soap operas. We children had learned to forego our favorite programs during mealtimes. We would watch whatever our parents chose. When my father arrived home drunk and angry, we quickly switched off the television and started to hurry our dinner, remaining glued to the blank television to avoid eye contact. He began to challenge each one of us. When he picked on me, I continued eating, feeling the heat rise behind my ears. He stooped into my plate and breathed down my neck. I did not twitch. This annoyed him. He pushed my plate aside, demanding a response. I threw my plate right back at him. It bounced off his bare chest, potbelly, then the floor, and stopped near the door.
Something inside me rose. I stood, pushed him aside, and asked what I had done wrong. What had my mother done wrong? Why was he this way? It was a first for any of us. I was only a teen who had not even completed high school. I raised my hand and struck him. It made him furious. My mother asked me to wash my hands and go into the bedroom.
We all knew when to come out from the bedroom—when the knives came out. On this night, all the lights were on in the dining hall, but in the bedroom, we stood in darkness, our ears glued to the door. When I heard my father claim that he paid for my education, I muttered that my godmother did. When he claimed that he fed me, I mumbled that my mother fed me with her earnings. But all my mutterings were behind the bedroom door, far from his ears. After almost an hour, when the volume had decreased and we had slipped into bed, our mother came banging on the door. My father was attempting suicide. I had disrespected him and the food he provided for the family. He felt that my mother’s boldness in taking a job had devalued him in his children’s eyes.
My father did not kill himself, but from that night on, I became the designated bastard. I had shown my true colors, and the puzzle of my deviance was solved. He found the reason why I had always been vocal, good at studies, almost disrespectful of his ideas. He had identified the black sheep of the family.
If I was a bastard, I was a proud one. I saw the word as a sign of my mother’s freedom, a decision she made, an assertion. In following years, when my father called me a bastard, I often retorted, “I am a bastard. I know that. I am proud of it. So what?” My brothers asked me if I knew what it meant. I said that I knew full well. The thought of being a bastard was liberating. It was the possibility of being genetically unrelated to my father.
Recreating Goan Cuisine for Northeast India
Several years after leaving my childhood home for good, I cooked Pork Sorpotel in a Naga household in Kohima. It was winter, and seven people were clustered cozily around the hearth, helping to cook, and observing the multiple steps I followed in preparing just pork. Everyone was sipping fruit wine, while one friend peeled garlic, another pounded cumin seeds, and another asked how long the parboiled pork should be sautéed with spices. Over the fireplace, a batch of pork was being smoked for me to take back to my home in Guwahati. It was a blend of sights and smells I was familiar with in the kitchens in rural Goa and urban Vasai. In my broken Nagamese, I attempted to respond to questions, and my stammer, pauses, and words led to bouts of laughter.
Cooking has changed in my personal annals. It has assumed the role of solidarity and celebration of everyday life, rather than fear and trembling. When I moved to Northeast India, food helped me connect with people. I feel accepted when I find delight in eating fermented bamboo shoots or relish Axone (fermented soyabeans) with glee. For me, these culinary experiences have always epitomized love and sharing.
Friends from Northeast India have also taught me to accept the ingredient I was most averse to—chili. At first, the aroma of bhoot jholokia or raja mircha (king chili) alone was enough to get my senses tingling. Then, I progressed to eating the smallest piece of chili that my fingernail could tear. Then, the pieces got bigger. I started relishing the pickled versions of the chili. It was never easy. The burning sensation on my tongue, vapors oozing from my pores, sweat dripping down my face, tears from my eyes, liquid from my nose, and sucking short fast gulps of air. The taste of the chili spread through my skin to envelop my entire body. There is always adrenaline as well as endorphins. But no anxiety. No fear. No helplessness. The king chili allowed me to shed the childhood emotions I had long associated with the sight and heat of chili.
Cooking has changed for my mother too. My father is no longer alive. My two brothers still live with her in Vasai Road. She no longer cooks with anxiety and fear. The chili has tempered down too…or rather, my taste for it has increased so strikingly that I find food at her home mild in heat. One day, I phoned her for the recipe of Recheiad—the versatile preserved paste that goes between the bones and flesh of fish before frying it. After a few instructional sentences, my mother paused and asked me, “Does this mean that you are never going to come back home?” I immediately responded, “Eh! It has nothing to do with that.”
She countered, “You never make Recheiad or Balchão. Why are you asking me the recipe now after all these years? I will make for you if you want.” The sudden connection between Recheiad and visiting her took me by surprise. In my mother’s mind, pickles and preserved food were connected to familial bonds. Whether Recheiad or Balchão, the potent pickle she made with prawns for me, were to be made only at “home” and taken away to “temporary” places of residence. They were always to be refilled, not made elsewhere. Yet in my mind, the childhood home was no longer home to me.
She always made Balchão for me far in advance every time I visited her. My friends in Bangalore and Guwahati loved the Prawn Balchão that she often sent. I excitedly relayed this to her every time, but I had never attempted to recreate it or even bothered about Recheiad before. My request for Recheiad’s recipe hit her as the final confirmation that I had moved out forever and was cementing a new life elsewhere.
As a compromise, I started making Balchão with local produce and ingredients from Northeast India without informing her. I am in the process of assessing a new version of Balchão. It consists of ngari (a Meitei variety of fermented fish) instead of prawns; michinga (Sichuan pepper) instead of black pepper; bhoot jholokia instead of red chili; Naga tree tomato (local variety of tamarillo) for the color and acidity, as the chili is more potent; Naga lasun (Allium chinense) instead of garlic; a local tame variety of galangal for even tamer common ginger; mustard oil instead of sunflower oil and fresh turmeric instead of its dried powder. When possible, I want to add distilled rice wine instead of vinegar, dried nitso flowers (a variety of basil) instead of curry leaves because—why not? It will take some time to get hold of the seasonal ingredients and find a name for this. Until then, batches of imperfect versions will be dished out to naïve neighbors.
As a child, I learned to cook by watching my mother cook. The simplicity of the beef cutlets baffled me, but grinding meat on the roggdo required strength and stamina. The complex and drawn-out process of Sorpotel was physically tiring and mentally taxing. I remembered it more like a jigsaw puzzle pieced together over several sessions of cooking—marinating, boiling, chopping, sautéing, currying. Cooking Vindaloo is tricky for me. It does not rely as much on technique as it does on the spices. In that sense, whenever I try to recollect the combination, I hesitate and feel inadequate. Goan dishes in that sense are seldom about pure technique or ingredients for boys who are not allowed into the kitchen to learn or be taught. I got to know the ingredients based on what my father approved of. Nevertheless, the recipe for Pork Vindaloo has eluded me. It is made more quickly, and I did not get enough time to make memories or to grasp the steps involved in cooking it.
Thus, cooking Goan dishes is an expedition into my childhood and teenage years. It is an exercise to extract memories of food and pay homage to my mother. For me, Goan cuisine cannot be standardized. It cannot be monopolized by any kitchen or recipe book or fine restaurant. Acknowledging food as part of my lived realities allows me to celebrate it, albeit differently, and reiterates the need to deviate from the canons.
The longer I stay in Northeast India, the more the memory of my father lurking in the background as the patriarch evaporates. My kitchen extends from my mother’s kitchen as I cook Goan dishes from memory or, sometimes, as I talk with her on the telephone. I don’t seek approval for the Goan dishes I create. I know they are authentic because they are sincere. When I cook for community meals, parties, or other events, they are celebratory endeavors. They provide a perfect reason to call my mother and share new moments with her. Every Goan dish well prepared is a celebration of survival and life for both of us.
In my kitchen, errors are acceptable. They do not result in violence, derision, or mockery. Sometimes a joke here, a reminder there. My Naga companion in Guwahati reminds me that Pork Sorpotel isn’t really Pork Sorpotel if there is no liver. This I readily accept. However, he never throws his plate over it or abuses me. Incomplete Sorpotel is always more than accommodated, since pork was a delicacy in his childhood home as much as it was in mine. Maybe it also stems from his appreciation for the effort I put into cooking. This my mother never received.
My kitchen memories have also expanded as I have traveled and made friends in many places I have lived due to work and studies. Today, my memories include lessons of Maharashtrian food from Nashik, Kannada food from Bengaluru, Tibetan food from Kalimpong in Bengaluru, Karen and Thai food from Mae Sot, and Naga and Assamese food from Guwahati. The new cuisines are baggage-free and light. They are adventurous. They smell of hope. Most of these dishes were taught to me by boys and men who do not enter the kitchen except only briefly to pontificate. These were men who cooked regularly to survive. Some recipes were taught to me even under the influence of alcohol, but they are all happy memories of laughing with friends while I took mental notes of certain dishes. Some were musical memories, such as a Lepcha friend from Kalimpong who cooked at my home in Bangalore. Irrespective of who was cooking which cuisine, he always ended with Jason Mraz’s song I’m Yours. Always. As he pulled out the guitar, everyone else in the room was directed to search for the lyrics online. Then we all sang along. Somewhere in between I always teared up.
My mother is a persevering cook who believes that food can change the world. I started cooking only when I left my childhood home, relying on mental notes from observations. I believe that my ancestors had a rather stripped-down version of cuisine that relied on chili, coriander seeds, and cumin. My maternal grandmother used garam masala in the same pounded fashion that my mother used in her own kitchen, but our kitchens could survive without the garam masala. It is the chili, coriander, and cumin with, of course, coconut, that define our flavor.
Sanctifying Goan recipes by staking claim to colonial or Brahmanical history strips individual kitchens and communities of their own traditions. What’s more, when we glorify any single culinary heritage, we miss the pathos that often determines daily experiences of cooking. I believe in a culinary history that is both more inclusive and more individualistic, one that does justice to the everyday experiences of people. Therein, I believe, lies the pathway to celebration, solidarity, and healing.
I want to thank Neivikhotso Chaya, Imlibenla Mongro, and Yangti Walling for being my constant sounding boards and providing me the courage needed to write this. Dolly Kikon helped me find my voice as I navigated through my memories of violence and solidarity. Helen Veit was extremely generous and supportive at every stage of the review process. This essay would not have been possible without their magnanimity.