The sausage men of Miramar
The Goan habit of planning food supplies for the monsoon comes handy in this family’s artistry in the kitchen
The first time my family visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, we whipped through at high speed. Masterpieces by Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt flitted past the corners of our eyes. I recall pausing ever-so-slightly in front of Botticelli’s astounding Birth Of Venus, till flying familial elbows spurred me back to sprint. Lunch reservations were at stake. We wound up spending thrice as much time feasting than at the museum.
My name is Menezes, and I am a glutton from Goa. This is the story of my people. Others prefer delicate euphemisms: gourmet, gastronome, the imbecilic “foodie". That’s not us. We embrace our identity whole-heartedly, with insatiable appetites to match. Some people say they eat to live, but our family mantra runs in the opposite direction. We discuss lunch at breakfast, and dinner during lunch, then plot the morning meal on our pillows. It’s a delicious way to live. You should try it.
Ask my formidable posse of relatives about most cherished memories and only food comes to mind: the matriarch’s hand-churned butter, the afternoon my grandfather plowed through 30 Mankurad mangoes. My father went to college in the US during the civil rights movement and once even met Bob Dylan, but it’s the lingering taste of hamburgers lost which glosses his eyes with tears. The same holds true for me: My teenaged impressions of Paris start and end with jambon-beurre in oven-fresh baguettes, each one still indelible on my tongue.
Other families pass heirlooms down through generations. But we don’t have any, thus it’s guava jelly and lime pickle bequeathed instead. Even now, in stringent lockdown in five different countries, our family Zoom gatherings skirt perfunctories to get directly to the most pressing topic on our hive mind. What’s in the fridge? How are you eating?
Here in Goa, things started notoriously badly when the curfew began on 25 March. We had already been in lockdown for days. Now everything was shuttered. The administration kept circulating phone numbers for home delivery but none of them worked. Social media exploded with the hashtag #GoaStarving. It took several days, and the direct intervention of the Prime Minister’s office, for supply lines to be restored.
The implications of extended isolation are relatively familiar to Goans because previous generations planned for precisely that through the monsoon months of impenetrable rainfall. All our old houses, whether humble or grand, have carefully constructed pantries for durable stores: rice, coconuts, kokum. These are called purmenth (the word derives from the Portuguese provimento, meaning “provisions").
In her excellent Cozinha De Goa: A Glossary On Food, the historian Fatima da Silva Gracias writes: “Many of these items were bought much in advance. Food like chillies, fish and spices were sun-dried and stored, others like pickles and preserves were made before the rains when fruits were cheap and easily available."
Even space-starved Goan families like mine—we live in an apartment near Miramar beach in Panaji—keep these kinds of stocks handy. Thus, when fresh supplies began to dwindle, we immediately turned to this stash: braided strings of onions; mouth-watering miskut mango pickle; ukdem tandul parboiled rice; and coiled links of Goa sausages, the iconic choriz (the Konkani name derives from chouriço in Portuguese).
Amongst everything that sparks nostalgia in the Goan imagination, nothing beats these laterite-red delicacies, as elemental as the identically-hued soil of our homeland. Pining expatriates courier them to each other. They are dealt by stealth amongst guest workers in Arab countries. When the poet and author Dom Moraes first visited the land of his ancestors, the top item on his agenda was sausages. In Never At Home, he recalls his father’s urgent phone call (Frank Moraes was the first Indian editor of TheTimes Of India) demanding he bring back as many as he could carry.
The senior Moraes had excellent reason for his injunctions because there never was any other charcuterie tradition (the branch of cooking which comprises preserved meats) in the subcontinent. With the scattered exception of Chinese communities in Kalimpong and Kolkata, until recently only Goans made sausages. There’s no mention of them at all in K.T. Achaya’s magisterial A Historical Dictionary Of Indian Food, although he points to the Mahabharat’s account of King Yudhisthira feeding Brahmins with pork, and the Chalukya-era Mānasollāsa, where King Someshvara prescribes different ways to clean and cook pigs.
The journalist (and brilliant food writer) Vikram “Doc" Doctor, who is enduring lockdown in the North Goa village of Badem, told me: “I adore Goa sausages. They are like an instant curry. You just open one and pressure-cook it with tomatoes and potatoes, and it’s a full meal. They are quite strong-tasting though, so I think they work better as flavouring. That’s why sausage naan is so wonderful. It is really the one great contribution of beach shacks to Goan food and I wish it was better known. I don’t know who thought of combining naans with a smear of Goa sausage but it’s perfect."
Doc’s preference for Goa sausages to be used “almost like a spice" aligns precisely with my family palate. Just like him, we prefer hints of choriz to the full-on fat-and-vinegar item. Thus, when fresh supplies dwindled at home after the first few curfewed days, and our attention switched to purmenth, we immediately set about making batches of thrifty, flavourful, unbeatably satisfying sausage pulao.
Like the rest of our confluential Cozinha de Goa cuisines, choriz pulao reflects the many-layered Goan identity. The technique is Persian. Potatoes and tomatoes came from South America to India via Goa during the colonial period. As the pioneering Goan-American chef Floyd Cardoz (who died in New Jersey last month from covid-19) wrote in his debut cookbook, One Spice, Two Spice, “what’s known as fusion food—different cultures together on a plate—started for me in the cradle, because [it] was, quite simply, a way of life for our family."
Even though it was over two decades ago, I clearly remember the deep-seated emotions Cardoz’s cooking evoked in me at his path-breaking Tabla restaurant in New York (it opened in 1998). So many dishes tasted intensely like home, and my father’s own eclectic culinary riffs on classic Goan food, which he has ceaselessly adapted with new ideas and techniques from around the world.
Our entire family is obsessed with food, yet this particular Menezes is something else. Over 50 years in the international hotel and restaurant industry, my father has seen it all and bristles with vehement opinions to prove you wrong about it. Still in constant motion in retirement on a hillside in Goa, he grows vegetables and fruit, bakes his own bread, and cooks most meals for my mother and himself. Those resourceful gustatory genes have shown up most prominently in his youngest grandchild, my 12-year-old son (he has two older brothers), who is himself an inventive baker, keen fisherman and budding chef. When they get together—which has not been possible for over a month now—they discuss food and cooking with great seriousness, usually while eating non-stop.
I cook, but my father and son create. Over these weeks of isolation, I have come to marvel anew at junior’s irrepressible innovation and enthusiasm in the kitchen. And so, just as the rest of the world has changed irrevocably in the intervening weeks, the same has happened with our family rules. For the first time ever, my wife and I have eased our own private lockdown on the forged kitchen knives and cast-iron cookware we have looked after so carefully from the beginning of our married life. Our son has earned the privilege. It has been unbeatably meaningful to stand side by side with him on most evenings, to plan and prepare meals derived from our shared culinary heritage. At least once a week, it’s my Dad’s pulao. We will surely meet again, but until then here’s this precious family recipe for everyone to share.
SAUSAGE PULAO À LA LENNY MENEZES
Use 12-14 beads, or around 9 inches of sausage link. Vegetarian alternatives could be soy nuggets or chickpeas, with a generous dash of vinegar and chilli powder (and paprika, if you have it) to taste.
In a medium-size deep pan, cover the sausage, 4 medium-size potatoes and 2 onions with an inch of water. Boil on medium heat till the liquid evaporates. Remove from the pan. Cut the potatoes into four, slice the onion and take the sausage meat out of its casing.
Pour olive oil into the pan, and fry 2 diced onions and 1 head of garlic until browned. Add the sausage, onion and potatoes. You can add a dozen whole green olives if you have them. When the ingredients are properly mixed, stir in one and a half cups of cleaned and washed rice. This process is important because the individual grains need to absorb the masala, and stay separate. Toss in 1 large chopped tomato. Stir for 5-8 minutes, then pour in 3 cups of water (you can also use stock). Boil, then lower the flame, and cover until cooked.
Vivek Menezes is a Goa-based writer and photographer.
FIRST PUBLISHED18.04.2020 | 09:20 AM IST