If there is one descriptive Portuguese-Konkani word that is the absolute antithesis to the nattily dressed Goan gent, it would have to be feijão. Partly derogatory, wholly comical, it is used in the context of a careless, sloppily robed, and, dare-I-say, sartorially-challenged man. But when used literally, it simply refers to a bean. Any bean. Not only is the feijão the lynchpin of a celebrated, rare-to-find, rich and thick pork stew—where it lends amazing heft and depth of flavour—it also gives the feijoada dish its name.
As a sort of culinary conduit between its erstwhile colonies, Portugal often sought to introduce one colony to the food and drink of another. All in a sort of cross-pollination of flavours and textures. So, while cafreal and peri peri chicken were taken from the chilli heat-loving colony of Mozambique, Goa’s vinegar-fronted pork preparations like vindaloo and sorpotel (called sarapatel in north-eastern Brazil) were “exported” far and wide to the other colonies, even beyond. To the UK, for example, in the case of the former. This, in effect, is how the Brazilian feijoada came to Goa.
A siesta-inducing comfort food eaten mainly on Sundays, feijoada is a hearty and flavourful stew. Often hailed as the national dish of Brazil, it also has great cultural significance. For, it is believed that the dish traces its roots to the days of slavery in Brazil, having been created by enslaved Africans who made use of the leftover cuts of meat discarded by their masters. By combining these pieces with black beans and spices, they crafted a dish that would eventually become a staple in Brazilian gastronomy.
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Traditionally, feijoada is served with a variety of accompaniments. White rice is a staple, providing a neutral base to balance the intensity of the stew. Farofa, a toasted tapioca flour mixture, adds crunch and nuttiness to the dish. Sliced oranges are often included as a refreshing palate cleanser. Couve, a finely chopped collard greens sauté, is another common side dish that adds a touch of freshness and bitterness to contrast with the richness of the stew.
Once it reached Goa, however, feijoada rid itself of its accoutrements and became a stand-alone dish, served with pao or sliced bread. Never rice. A few places in India though—like the Brazilian churrascaria-style restaurant Boteco in Bengaluru where I recently spent a Sunday afternoon tucking into an authentic Brazilian iteration of the dish—feature ones with all the accompaniments.
At its core, the Goan feijoada is a black bean stew that is the sum of an assortment of meats. Typically, it includes pork such as butt (shoulder), ribs, ears and tongue, as well as salted beef or smoked sausage like linguiça. These meats are slow-cooked with onions, garlic and spices like bay leaves and cumin, infusing the beans with a smoky, savoury flavour. The resulting stew is unctuous, hearty, bursting with umami.
Like most Goan dishes, feijoada isn’t a spur of the moment dish. It requires days of preparation and a day or so after it is made to thicken and intensify the flavours. The meat is often soaked or cured in advance to remove excess salt and the beans are soaked overnight to ensure they cook evenly. The slow-cooking process is crucial, allowing the flavours to meld and the meats to become tender and succulent. It is not uncommon for feijoada to be cooked in large quantities, making it a perfect dish for gatherings and celebrations.
Interestingly, not everyone believes in the genesis of feijoada as a slave dish. Many believe the dish is actually a Brazilian adaptation of an heirloom Arab stew (brought in by Brazil’s Lebanese immigrants, by way of Portugal) called yakhné, made of fava beans. Apparently, with the eighth century Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, a whole cache of new cultures, customs and items like white fava beans and rice were introduced. So, a slew of bean-based recipes reached Europe, including the yakhné.
This also forms the base for Europe’s fava stews, which are still made with these beans. Examples are Portugal’s cozido, Spain’s fabada, France’s cassoulet and Italy’s cazzuola. The only major difference was that the Europeans—particularly the Portuguese—replaced lamb with the prohibited pork. Be it an original, an adaptation or a wholly modified iteration, the idea behind the many feijoadas is fundamentally the same: uniting family and friends around the table. For, as the lyrics of the late Brazilian musician and poet Vinícius de Moraes go, “feijoada à minha moda”. Each person makes feijoada their own way.
Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.