Despite being cut from a very similar yardage of cultural fabric, the Goan and Mangalorean Christian communities are perennially seen as the archetypal “frenemies”. As a card-carrying member of the former, and an admirer of the latter, I have often played spectator—rather gleefully—to this fierce rivalry. A centuries-old one that stems not just from the very similar socio-cultural customs and dialects of the shared Konkani language, but also from similar dishes and overlapping cuisine styles.
Up until recently, it was a ‘battle royale’ that was played out in my very own kitchen. For you see, our (now retired) Mangalorean cook of over 35 years, and my mother would invariably lock horns over the smallest things food related. One day, it would be about which style of pork vindaloo (called indad in Mangaluru) was the more flavourful. On another, the merits of the Goan way (fermented coconut toddy) of making the shared rice cake called sanna fluffier was debated alongside that of the Mangalorean way (yeast).
The question “So, which of the two is better?” has always been a non sequitur as far as I am concerned. My non-committal stance has always been to never pick sides. How, and more pertinently, why should I mark one farther up my preference barometer to the detriment of the other?
Interestingly, it is the humble coconut, we find, as being the de facto, common denominator running through both Goan and Mangalorean cuisine. As a sort of stabilising factor and unifying ingredient. Finding itself in everything from a robustly flavoured Udupi southekayi sambhar to a typically Tuluva prawn ghasi, its omnipresence is unparalleled.
But today, my focus will be on the food of Mangaluru's Christian community. One that truly is a multifaceted one.
Mangaluru's Konkani speaking Christian population has been bestowed with a unique cuisine that is greatly influenced by the Portuguese who colonised the South Canara region in the 16th Century. This means one thing: a heavily porcine repertoire of dishes like sorpotel, vindaloo, cabidela and bafat with the odd fish dish, like rosachi kadi and pollu sambhar made with dried kambulmas (tuna) thrown in for good measure.
And speaking of colonial influences, a close cousin of the Portuguese-Goan vindaloo is the Mangalorean Christian indad that is a sweeter iteration. While still robustly spiced with the piquancy of dried red Kashmiri chillies, the indad eschews palm vinegar in favour of tamarind and is the perfect bite when moped up with a sanna. These fluffy, idli-adjacent, steamed sweet cakes are made from rice, fresh coconut and a generous splash of yeast-activated fresh coconut water. Polays or yeasted dosas are also an important part of the Mangalorean Christian table with their porous, gravy-soaking texture and lighter-than-air mouth feel.
Then there are the dense, almost jaw-breaking gulios that are fried rice flour balls. These crunchy snacks form a major part of the Mangalorean Christmas kuswar (Christmas gift) platter of goodies with other deep-fried contenders like keedyos (similar to Goan and East Indian kul-kuls), thukudi, chakkuli and the pretty kokkisan (called rose de kokies in Goa) that are made by first dipping metallic floral moulds into a batter of rice flour, eggs and coconut milk, and then plunging them into hot oil, so that the batter leaves the mould. Once demoulded and still hot, black sesame seeds and powdered sugar are sprinkled on these calorific wonders.
Replete with such delicious little edible secrets simply waiting to be savoured, Mangalorean Christian cuisine is a revelation to those who seek it out.
Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.