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Vindaloo: A Curry that Travelled from Portugal to Goa

5 minsMay 07, 2019

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‘Vindaloo’, a tangy and spicy meat curry traditionally associated with the Goan Catholic community, has long since seduced palates around the world. But it might surprise you to know that the dish was not originally cooked up in Goan kitchens. So, when selecting delectable Dining Delights from Axis Bank, you might want to try this dish with a long and exciting history.

Vindaloo has its roots in Medeira, a Portuguese archipelago off the north-west coast of Africa. In order to preserve meat and fish for long periods, its residents developed a unique style of cooking known as Carne de Vinha d'alhos, or meat in wine and garlic. It’s not hard to see how that changed to vin-da-loo! Quite simply, the meat was immersed in a stock or sauce of vinegar, salt, garlic and Medeira wines to preserve and enhance its flavor.

From Medeira, the recipe travelled to other countries when Portuguese ships to South and Central America stopped by the islands. In America, it came to be known as vinyoo dalyge. Later, in South America, paprika and oregano were added to the recipe.

Vinha d'alhos arrived in India with Portuguese sailors from Brazil in the 16th century and evolved into the vindaloo we know and relish here. But not before the Portuguese found an innovative solution to a serious problem. When Portuguese cooks arrived in India, they found that Indians did not make vinegar.

Food historian Lizzie Collingham in her book Curry: A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors says that some ingenious Franciscan priests found a solution by concocting vinegar from coconut toddy, an alcoholic drink fermented from the sap of the palm tree. This, combined with tamarind pulp and plenty of garlic satisfied the Portuguese cooks. Further, they added native spices like black pepper, cinnamon and cloves, as well as the most important ingredient – red chillies, which had also arrived in India in the 1500s.

Before this, long pepper, which grew abundantly in the forests of the Western Ghats and the Malabar, had been the most pungent spice known to Indians. Collingham states that red chillies were originally grown in Goa and, as a result, were known across the rest of India as ‘Gowai mirchis’. The fact that chillies were easier to grow, and cheaper, besides tasting similar to long pepper, made them quickly popular and they soon became an integral part of Indian cuisine.

Vindaloo was introduced to the British through Goan Catholic cooks in the 1800s. The British preferred to employ Goan cooks as they were free of caste and religious restrictions and prepared beef and pork dishes that the British loved to eat. The first recorded mention of the word ‘vindaloo’ in the English language is in a book called Wife’s Help To Indian Cookery published in 1888, which describes it as ‘Portuguese Karhi’.

Vindaloo continued to be served in Goan Catholic homes but it became famous overseas only in the 1970s, when a large number of Indian restaurants opened in the UK. However, the vindaloo served in Britain was prepared mainly by Bangladeshi cooks, and was therefore quite different from the Indian recipe. Gone were the subtle flavors and it just became ‘the spiciest curry on the menu’.

As a result, eating vindaloo became an act of daring to the British, who had a rather bland palate. And, by the 1980s, the dish became a part of the ‘British lad culture’, where the men ordered the ‘hottest item on the menu’, which was usually vindaloo, as a public display of macho bravado.

Thankfully, in recent times, the original vindaloo recipe has made its way out of Goan Catholic kitchens and the ‘authentic’ version can now be found in a number of restaurants across the country!

Disclaimer: This article has been authored by Live History India Digital; a Mumbai based Digital Content Company. Axis Bank doesn't influence any views of the author in any way. Axis Bank & Live History India Digital shall not be responsible for any direct / indirect loss or liability incurred by the reader for taking any financial decisions based on the contents and information. Please consult your financial advisor before making any financial decision.

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