Sweet memories of Goa

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Sanjeev V Sardesai

One of the most dreaded questions faced by a Goan, when accosted by a tourist – domestic or foreign, is what ‘sweets of Goa’ they can carry back home. However, the face-saver is by recommending the bebinca and dodol. If not, the age old items – cashew feni and cashew nuts are the hot favourites.

In post COVID-19 scenario, an in-depth look is required, to generate and make commercially viable, the Goan delicacies and brand them with our Goa state, to override the image of free flowing cashew and other alcoholic drinks and drugs. A foray into this industry will open a huge arena for start-up business opportunities for our Goan youth, and also become a massive revenue generating avenue, from tourists, who desperately seek to appease their cost-effective need and carry back Goan sweets.

It is almost a tradition with every traveler, touring in India or abroad, to carry back ‘sweet memories’ in the form of the locally branded and manufactured delicacies. Visitors to Belgaum return with a tin or packet of their famous ‘kunda’ and ‘pedhas’, much favoured milk-based delicacies. Those going to Agra, return with packets of their unique ‘Agra-pettha’, a rock-like sugary sweet, now available in many flavours and packing. The branded chivda and Shrewsbury cookies of Pune is much sought after; so also the rossogullas or rasgullas of Bengal; and the mouth-watering locally made gulab-jamuns from Gujarat or Maharashtra, find space in the returning luggage of many Goans and others. A person visiting Switzerland rarely returns without a box of chocolates, or a bottle of wine from France! But in Goa, we are faced with a dilemma!

One of the most important features about Goa, which has been criminally overlooked by over-zealous entrepreneurs and hospitality industry players over the decades, is the lack of understanding of local products, cuisine, and heritage and lacking the use of it in their business agendas. Neither has the private sector, nor the respective government departments, done justice to these unique local flavours of the land, but is aggressively indulging in importing foreign options, which overrides the importance of the local Goan cultural assets.

Whenever we visit a Goan jatra (temple festival) or a church fest, we will be accosted with many local stalls – ‘khajekars’ – selling blaringly coloured sweets called as ‘bavlyo’ (Pink dolls), ‘revdyo’ (small pebble like jaggery balls with sesame seeds coating), jilebi (the sugary crispy spirals), ‘kappa’n’ (thick, squarish, oblong pieces), ladoo (round hand-packed sweets of assorted range), tapioca wafers, khaje (kadio bodio), and other sweets.

One of the sweets – the ‘khaje’, can be easily identified as a mountainous pile of finger-like rickety sticks, coated in brown (jaggery coated) or white (sugar coated) in huge bamboo baskets, covered with a white cloth to keep away the flies. Even till date, a packet of ‘khaje’, is a prominent take-away from a jatra
or a feast.

It is heartening and a matter of pride for every Goan that this ‘khaje’ has been bestowed with a Geographical Index (GI) Tag on July 30, 2020. It was the All Goa Khaje Producers Association (AGKPA), whose efforts in applying for this tag, through the Department of Science & technology, Government of Goa, bore fruits. The scales tilted in favour of this local gram flour-based sweet, because of its distinct taste of the local ginger, local sea salt, and the use of potable well water. Goa had traditionally been using ‘sugarcane jaggery’ as a sweetening agent for many centuries. It was the Portuguese who imported the crystalline sugar from China into Goa, thereby revolutionising the sweet sector.

The use of sugarcane jaggery in ethnic Goan cooking also has a positive health-related benefit. These sweeteners were a much healthier option in preparation of sweets and food items, as compared to the present-day use of sugar, which is proven as medically harmful to the body. Just for information, whenever a person arrived home from a tiring journey, he was offered a piece of sugarcane jaggery, a piece of coconut kernel, and a glass of water. This made the tiredness disappear. Sugarcane jaggery, which is dark golden in colour, is also ideal to be eaten, in limited quantities, by people having diabetes. Goa also has another jaggery option, made out of coconut sap, which is dark brown and pyramidal in identity.

Goan sweets can be broadly classified as festival sweets and/or sweets prepared in-house. While the festival sweets adorn the shelves of the khajekar stalls, many of the in-house Goan sweet delicacies can be again sub-divided into original ethnic culinary fares and those that were imported and infused into Goan culinary culture by the Portuguese and other Europeans.

While today, sweets are easily available in easily located shops, this was not the case during the pre and immediate post Liberation era about six decades ago. Sweets and delicacies were made at home or available in stalls, only during festival times. Many of the specific sweets and desserts are generated during particular feasts and have managed to continue their journey, without a break, due to this. However, there are many other mouth-watering sweets, which have gone behind the curtain of time, due to an absence of percolation of the knowledge and the will to take the trouble of preparing them.

The Hindu festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi, Nag Panchami, Narali Purnima, Diwali, Chikhal Kalo, etc, prompt the housewives to prepare some exotic mouth watering fares. Christmas, New Year, Sao Joao, etc brings in a shower of sweets and delicacies, which everyone looks forward to.

In this article, an attempt has been made to make aware to the readers the basic history of the local sweets of Goa. In the next article let us see the many ‘untasted sweet delicacies’ of Goa.