This is soul food for the Goan!!

October 10th, 2012

In my quest to understand the different cuisines on the west coast of India, and the subtle differences between them, I was asked to go to Mumbai to meet one Mr Almeida.

Chef Almeida was a Goan by birth and though he was trained at the Culinary Institute of America, he was considered an authority on Goan food.

He was on a short visit to India from New York, where he was then based. My job was to understand the ‘cuisine of Goa’. No mean feat!

We met at the Shamiana restaurant at the Bombay Taj and my crash-course on Goan food began. . .

Chef Almeida went on to tell me how there were at least two distinct styles of cooking in Goa.

One belonged to the Hindus (both Brahmins and non-Brahmins) and the other to the Christians (again, Brahmins and non-Brahmins). You see, the Christians were converts of both these castes.  Then there were the Muslims which must add a third – but I waited to hear what he had to say.

The Christians used vinegar in their cooking whereas the Hindus preferred kokum as a souring agent.

Tamarind was used by both the communities but preferred by the Muslims.

Lamb and chicken were the preferred meat of the Hindus. The Muslims liked lamb and the Christians ate everything, including pork !!

“But,” he said, “Son, whatever their religious or ethnic background, they all eat caril de piexe, or otherwise famously known as Goan fish!!”

This dish is soul food of the Goan people and the famous poet from Goa, Bakibab Borkar, describes this favourite dish with great emotion.

He says that if the God of death, or Yama, were to come tonight, you could most certainly hear these words being spoken:

Please Sir, Mr God of Death

Don’t make it my turn today,

not today,

there is fish curry for dinner.

You can’t say it better than that! So, without further ado, here it is, folks, a soulful Goan fish dish.


1. 1 red onion, sliced
2. 1 1/2 tablespoon tamarind extract
3. 3-4 green chillies, sliced (with the seeds, of course!)
4. Salt, to taste
5. 1/2 kg fish fillets of snapper (preferred for this recipe), or ling, or barramundi (my favourite!!)
6. 2 cups of water

ingredients, from left to right: tamarind extract, green chillies, salt, water, fish fillets & sliced onions (bottom)

Masala ingredients:

1. 6-8 dried red chillies (preferably Kashmiri or combination of dry chillies), soaked in a tablespoon of brown vinegar and 2 tablespoons of water
2. 8-10 black peppercorns
3. 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
4. 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
5. 2 tablespoon crushed garlic
6. 1/2 fresh coconut, grated
7. 1 cup water, extra

ingredients for the masala, from left to right: crushed garlic, coriander seeds, turmeric, peppercorns, red chillies soaked in brown vinegar & water and fresh coconut (centre)

Method for the masala:

1. Place the coconut and turmeric in a blender along with the soaked chillies, coriander seeds, peppercorns, garlic, water and grind everything to a fine paste. Keep the masala in an airtight container in the refrigerator, if not using it right away. (It will keep for up to 1 week in the fridge.)

the ground masala!

Method for the caril de piexe:

1. In a pot, add the masala, along with 2 cups of water and the sliced onion.

add the masala to the pot

add water

add the sliced onions

2. Bring the mixture to a boil, over moderate heat.

bring the mixture to a boil

3. Add the tamarind concentrate and reduce the heat. Cook for about 2 minutes.

add the tamarind concentrate

4. Add the salt and the chillies. Cook for a few more minutes, until the chillies release their aroma.

add the salt

add the chillies

the sauce is ready for the fish when the onions are soft & the sauce thickens slightly. do not overcook the sauce

5. Now add the fish and cook for a further 3-4 minutes, or until the fish is cooked.

add the fish

cover & cook the fish

do not stir the fish, but rather add the sauce on top of the fish

to serve, arrange the fillets in a bowl

pour some sauce on top

serve with hot sanna or brown rice or sticky white rice, best eaten of course, the day after!!

When making Goan Fish, remember:

1.  Soaking the chillies in vinegar helps bring out their bright colour when ground.
2.  You can use coconut cream instead of fresh coconut. I have found the ‘Kara’ brand of coconut cream to be very consistent and ‘rich’.
3.  Add the fish to the cooked masala [sauce], and allow the fish to cook over a moderate heat. Do not stir.
4. The dish is best eaten the day after it is made. This allows the flavours to mature fully and to permeate through the fish.

Serve it with a steaming hot sanna, or brown rice, or sticky white rice.
The sign of a ‘good’ Goan fish dish is when your eyes get red and sweat starts pouring all over your face and you say, “Vindaloo, what is that? That’s nothing in comparison to this. This is rocket fuel!!” This is food for the soul and body, Goan style, in extremis!

Remember though, never drink water to try to ‘cool’ yourself down.

Do what the Goan does. Just have a glass or two of Feni!!

Anna Daata Sukhi Bhava!!


  1. Ajoy Joshi

    Hello Priti,
    please do try and let me know how did you go with the cooking !!
    Happy Cooking !!

  2. Priti

    Thanks Chef! I am going to make this in my claypot.

  3. Ajoy Joshi

    Hello Priti,
    Thanks for your email.
    The onions are never caramelised for this recipe by the Goans.
    They are added to the sauce sliced and allowed to cook over a moderate heat till they almost fall apart and in the process make the sauce thick and impart a gentle ‘sweetness’ to the dish.
    This is why the dish has a very short shelf life!!
    You may use any vinegar but I prefer the brown.
    Chillis should be soaked till they ‘balloon’ and don’t soak in any more vinegar !!

  4. Priti

    Thanks chef for another tempting recipe. Any particular reason why the onion was sliced and added instead of the usual caramalizing or including it in the ‘vatan’ (ground wet masala)? How long shall the chillies be soaked in vinegar? Can the regular vinegar be used or brown vinegar is must?

  5. Ajoy Joshi

    Hello Preeti’
    thanks for your comments.
    Salmon is an oily fish and tricky to use in Indian food especially in a sauce.I would recommend snapper or ling or flathead for this kind of cooking.
    Happy cooking !!!

  6. isingcakes

    I love serving my family with different types of fish preparations. This is certainly bookmarked. However, when it comes to choosing a fish( I am no good)..Will Salmon taste good with this recipe?

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