Jaswanth was in a quandary. The whole of Pornnem Goem loved his food. Except his brother-in-law António Eduardo Tavares Ribeiro!
Day 26, Month of August, 1512 CE, Pornnem Goem (old name for Goa)
Early that morning, Jaswanth Bhende peered out of the window of his little hotel. It looked directly onto a main road; people strode about, intent on their business. A few spotted the slender man, in his twenties, through the window bars, sniffed the wispy tendrils of smoke wafting from within and called out appreciative remarks. Some strolled in, attracted by the aroma, seated themselves on the small benches in the tiny, dark room, and enjoyed breakfast with some relish.
For, such was Jaswanth’s reputation, in Goa. He came from a long generation of cooks; and had inherited the talent of all his ancestors; the best cooks in the town couldn’t match him. “Get just a whiff of his dishes, and you’ll never want to go home for meals!” was Goa’s popular opinion. His hotel was full every hour of the day except when he shooed people out, at intervals. Money flowed in; he had even made plans to open a branch.
And yet, here he was, leaning against the bars of his window, depressed. He was an excellent cook. Everyone said so. Jaswanth knew it was so. Those who sampled his dishes simply sat ‘hmm’ing away in ecstasy. Except, one person. Jaswanth groaned. One person never quite gave the appreciation he craved. Oh, yes, he ate his fill, smiled and paid the usual compliments — but it never came from the heart. His brother-in-law, António Eduardo Tavares Ribeiro, didn’t think Jaswanth’s cooking was wonderful. Of course, he was still fairly new in Goa, having arrived from the Kingdom of Portugal only months ago — but he liked everything about this town. Everything, apparently, except Jaswanth’s food.
That afternoon, after a lacklustre mid-day meal, Jaswanth decided that enough was enough.
“What is it?” he asked, marching up to a puzzled Ribeiro. “Is there a problem at home? My sister isn’t ill, by any chance?”
“Your sister is fine; she’s the love of my life,” Ribeiro answered gazing at the ceiling.
“What, then? Any problem with your trade? Lands, perhaps?”
“None. Governor Afonso d’Albuquerque has been most magnanimous as you know. He has encouraged us to marry into your society, allotted us land, houses and cattle — why, he has even set up a mint for the coinage of gold, silver and copper money!”
This, Jaswanth mused, was true. Under the Adil Shahi rulers of Bijapur, taxes had been high; the new Governor had reduced them to earlier, prevalent rates.
“Then, why are you unhappy?”
Ribeiro opened and closed his mouth a few times, and then groaned. “I miss food…the food from my home country…I mean, your sister is a good cook — but she doesn’t know Portuguese dishes. Let’s face it — you’re the best cook in town. I try to forget the dishes I love by coming here and tasting your Konkani cuisine, but… it’s just not enough.”
Jaswanth gaped. This was why Ribeiro barely stayed to bolt down his food and flee his little eatery?
“What dishes would you like?” Jaswanth asked. “I could — I could make it for you.” And maybe remove that look of dumb misery whenever you sit down to eat.
“You would?” Ribeiro’s face cleared as if by magic. “I mean, I do like your specialities, like Dali-thoy, Ambaat, Pathrado and — what’s that — oh yes, Paayasu … but if you could make me my favourite – the Carne de Vinha d'Alhos …”
“The Carne-what?” asked Jaswanth found it difficult to twist his tongue around the name.
“Carne de Vinha d'Alhos. It means, meat, with wine and garlic,” Ribeiro explained, eagerly. “Can you make it?” He sounded almost desperate.
“Carne-vin …” Jaswanth tried out the word. “Vin – Carne-vinda … Vindaloo…” he sighed. “Give me the recipe; I’ll see what I can do.”
It was done; Jaswanth pored over it all day even forgetting to garnish the day’s dishes, earning frustrated and puzzled looks from his customers, for the first time in his life. By the end of the day, he had managed to master it. There was just one problem.
“No meat?” Ribeiro sounded horrified. “But — you can’t make it without meat! That’s the very essence of the dish!”
Jaswanth was apologetic. “There’s been a shortage, and our supplies haven’t arrived yet. It’ll be just a week or two…” he said., as Ribeiro’s face fell ludicrously “Do you really like this dish that much?”
“I’d sell my right arm for it.”
Jaswanth pondered. “Is there any alternative that I can use?”
Ribeiro shrugged, clearly out of his depth. “You’re the cook, not me.”
Jaswanth spent another day on the recipe, his trained mind working out the details, adding this, substituting something else, something that would add richness, taste, give it the flavours the Portuguese were clearly used to — but also, without its key ingredient. That evening, he wandered to the market-place, soaking in the frenzied activity, the shouts, the trundling carts, and the mountains of vegetables, especially the new arrivals from Portugal.
Yes, he had it! Jaswanth almost ran back to his little eatery, and set to work at once. He spent the night perfecting his concoction; the next morning, he set to preparing it. By mid-day, he’d sent word to Ribeiro, who arrived, practically drooling.
“No meat,” Jaswanth warned him. “But try my variation, anyway.”
Ribeiro did. His jaw dropped. “Well, I’ll be …” And then he began to shovel the food in, as fast as he could. When he finally finished, the plate was empty. “That was …” he burped, and then grinned, “… wonderful. No meat and it is a bit different but still — wonderful. Tastes like home.” He paused. “You’ve used a vegetable, haven’t you?”
“Yes. One of the new-fangled vegetables you’ve brought here.”
“Batata? That’s what we call it,” Ribeiro grinned.
“Ah, yes. That one. Potatoes.” Jaswanth sighed. “You think people will like this…this potato? It’s not native to us. You know how people react to anything new.”
“Oh, I think they will,” Ribeiro patted his belly. “Give them time. I think they’ll like it very, very much indeed.”
Historical Note: The Portuguese State of India was established in 1505; a viceroyalty of the Kingdom of Portugal, six years after the discovery of a sea route between Portugal and India. Afonso d’ Albuquerque was appointed as the second governor of the Portuguese possessions in the East, in 1509. Potatoes and tomatoes, among other foods, were introduced to Indian cuisine by the Portuguese, when they arrived in India. Although people took their own time getting used to them, they soon became extremely popular. India is the second largest producer of potatoes in the world. The dish Vindaloo, as mentioned in the story, is based on a Portuguese dish; the original mostly has pork, and no potatoes at all. Vegetarian variations in Vindaloo include potatoes.