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.

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