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Kokum, coconut, colocasia and bimbal have been foundational ingredients of Goan cuisine since ancient times; shown here against a backdrop of the city of Goa in 1509, as depicted in l'Atlas de Braun et Hogenberg, 1600 (Map source: Wikipedia)

Kokum, coconut, colocasia and bimbal have been foundational ingredients of Goan cuisine since ancient times; shown here against a backdrop of the city of Goa in 1509, as depicted in l’Atlas de Braun et Hogenberg, 1600 (Map source: Wikipedia)

YUSUF ADIL SHAH’S RIVERSIDE PLEASURE PALACE in Goa is a well-earned retreat for the Sultan. His newly-formed Sultanate has its fair share of attacks to fend off. But once he manages to dismantle a key confederation of enemies, he enjoys some measure of peace. There is no shortage of relaxation zones to choose from, but Goa is his favourite retreat by far, given its balanced natural beauty and cosmopolitan charms afforded by a steady flow of traders from Zanzibar to Ceylon. They dock at this important port city for the procurement of spices and cotton, and catching up with essential merchant news and intrigues.

His Goan retreat palace overlooks the idyllic Mandovi river, around which a great city, Ella (Old Goa), had been built under the supervision of Mahmood Gawan, the accomplished Prime Minister of the erstwhile Bahmani Sultanate, who wrested Goa from the Vijayanagar Empire. While the city had already known a measure of glory as early as the 10th Century under the Kadambas, Gawan developed Goa into an important port city that attracted major merchant vessels. With the disintegration of the Bahmanis, Goa passed on to Yusuf Adil Shah’s Bijapur Sultanate. Yusuf Adil Shah lost no time in advancing its prestige and he commissioned the creation of shipbuilding facilities at the Goan port. Vessels built here would carry local pilgrims on their annual transit to Mecca. Goa, for long a name well known to merchants on the Indian Ocean circuit, is now a trade emporium of repute.

So what would the Sultanate of Bijapur treat himself to at his Goan retreat? No doubt he would take a ride down the river now and then. Meal times would feature a bountiful array of freshwater and sea food. But what of the flavours? We can speculate that Adil Shah had a fair exposure to West Indian cuisine, courtesy his Marathi wife, Satti Bai. But being from Indapur (a hotter, drier part of Western Maharastra), her culinary background would not have too much in common with that of the more fertile, diverse Konkan coast. Tamarind, jaggery, kokum, coconut oil, curry leaves are highlights of the entire stretch of the Konkan Coast. Rice, coconut, sugarcane, colocasia, drumstick and gourds are ancient foods of this land. Tamarind and in goa, kokum in particular, account for the sour quotient in the still extant pre-Portugese Goan cuisine. Other early and continuing agents of sour in Goan cuisine include raw mango and bimbal.

The Bijapur Sultan may well have indulged in the pre-Portugese specialty known as xacuti. This is a stew of chicken or mutton, spiced with the great ingredients of the Konkan coast including, pepper, coconut, tamarind and mace. He would in all probability wash down that meal with a goblet of sol kadhi, a subtly pungent, pink drink of coconut milk, sweetened, soured and coloured with kokum.

At this stage, vinegar, chillies, tomatoes, and potatoes have not announced themselves to the Goan palette. But we will find, their eventual harbingers – the Portugese – are just round the corner, and Yusuf Adil Shah will be taken by surprise when they land unannounced on the shores of his special port city, aggressive ambitions in tow.

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  • Goa Through the Ages: An economic history, Volume 2, by Teotonio R. De Souza
  • Goa and Mumbai, by Amelia Thomas, Amy Karafin
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