Not just any chilly – understanding the chillies that go into Goan dishes
Sometime ago I wrote an article entitled ‘The Tapestry of Taste – why your curry is not as good as your grandmothers.’ In this article I want to explore one ingredient that truly makes all the difference to Goan cooking namely chillies.
Chillies make a world of a difference to Goan cuisine. The red chilly powder, from just about any packet is just no good for Goan cuisine. From the soil in which it is grown to the pot in which it is cooked, the ingredients, especially the chillies and the method of cooking makes all the difference in reviving the tapestry of taste.
The Portuguese brought the chillies to India and from that point on the heat is on. Chillies which are predominantly found in warmer climates have another benefit. The chilly helps the body perspire which in turn helps the body stay cool.
Chillies in Goa are named after their village or county of origin. Local chillies are called gavti meaning local. There are several types of chillies in Goa and often used in combinations to get that great curry flavour. Goan Hindus use mostly gavti chillies and each house hold has their own preference. Goan Hindu fish curries are very different from their Christian neighbours in flavour.
Kashmiri Chilly: The primary chilly used in Goan cuisine is Kashmiri chilly. This forms the base for all dishes. These wrinkled chillies whose origin is from the valley in Kashmir are now widely grown all over. When it comes to fish or a prawn curry in the North, you use a combination of Kashmiri chillies and the butao chilly which in Portuguese means button because the chilly looks like a button. So if your recipe calls for twelve chillies use about eight Kashmiri chillies to four butao chillies. The Kashmiri chillies available in Goa are fatter and bigger than the ones you source in Maharashtra.
Aldona /Moira Chillies: These villages are famous for three chilly varieties but the most famous among them are the Motio. Motio simply means fat and these chillies are dark to black, about three inches long. This Aldona chilly is not spicy but adds a dark colour and could also be darker than the Kashmiri chilly adding to a nice texture and colour profile to the dish.
From this region you also have the Mosurio (or also called the butao) which are about an inch long and fat and finally the Kasmirion, about 5 inches long, dark red or black red in colour and add bulk to the preparation. The Motio are sold in numbers and not by weight. Last week I paid Rs200 for 50 chillies from a lady in Mapusa in the flower market section. The heat in your stomach can even reach your pocket!
The Motio chillies are mildly hot, they are best when roasted and ground. They are often used to give bulk to a dish. They are versatile and are used in fish curries and meat preparations such as sorpotel. The Motio are also used to make dishes like vindaloo or in sorpotel or for a meat curry where you need a lot of bulk and a nice dark colour. They are also used for making parra, a spicy pickled fish dish. Since the Motio are thick skinned they need to be ground for a longer time. When used in fish curry, they are soaked in warm water before grinding them, to soften them up.
Canacona chilly / Kholchyo are used predominantly in South Goan curries. Some say that this is the southern version of the Aldona chilly. They have a medium hot profile.
Piri Piri chilly/ Tarvoti / Butao (also called Mosrio ) – was brought in by the Portuguese to Goa. These thin skinned chillies are very spicy with a high flavour profile and are small and red in colour.
They have been wrongly called birds eye chillies. The actual term for them is garden mouse chillies. They were mostly used by the economically challenged in Goa; the lambadis or the gaudis. These chillies have a high heat quotient and these communities are known to consume very spicy food. These chillies are used in practically all the dishes they make.
Also called tarvoti (which means ship because of its association from abroad via ship) they are also used for making papads or sev. The butao is also used with a combination of Kashmiri chillies or the Aldona Motio while making a prawn or fish curry. They are now extensively used in the North of Goa especially in the preparation of assads (Goan Roast dish). If you don’t like the heat but want the flavour then simply remove the seeds and the white rib around it.
Green chillies: These are used widely in vegetable dishes and gravies like caldine. You will often find them slit and placed on top of a ready curry to add that burst of spice which is so pleasing to the senses.
Bedgi /Volanchi chilli: Comes from neighbouring Karnataka. They are thin skinned and look like Kashmiri chillies but are medium hot. Locally known as Volanchi meaning wrinkled they are also referred to as Ghanti ( from the Ghats) or Xepda meaning tail) .These chillies add to the heat quotient of the dish and are used in combination with the Kashmiri chillies. Bydagi chillies are used especially when making fish curies like mackerel curry, sardines, halwa, catfish, shark etc.
Besides these chiilies you will also find those that are locally grown in the villages such as the devadchi from divar kholchi mirsang from cancona, the Harmal chilly from Harmal and the Arambol/ Pernem / Madra chillies which are used for yellow curries for white flesh fish like pomfret, rawas, lady fish and prawns. There are some who are of the view that the Pernem chilly and Harmal chilly are the same.