Vindaloo,Who Knew?

This is, or should I say was, a pork vindaloo.  I kind of forgot to take the before picture. It was rather tasty. Now, the mere mention of a vindaloo in the UK gives connotations of toilet rolls being placed in fridges and lager louts at the end of the Westgate run, a pub crawl in Wakefield for those lucky enough not to know, after anywhere between 8 and 15 pints, vying for supremacy for who can eat the hottest curry. All this amidst the hilarity of altering the lyrics of the Kings of Leon song, Sex on Fire to ‘Arse is on fire,’ and belting it out at full tuneless volume, amidst back slapping and belching. I apologise to those who find this less than appealing, but I am from Yorkshire, have borne witness to such behaviour and speak as I find. Yes, ending the evening’s jollity with a vindaloo which, in the UK is packed with more red chilli powder than Guy Fawkes would have needed gun powder to blow the Houses of Parliament, is the ultimate test of machismo with which to end a Saturday night.

{Just FYI, this was brilliantly mimicked by the Goodness Gracious Me gang in their famous sketch, set in Mumbai, Going ‘Out for an English’ and each vying for the blandest dish possible.}

The vindaloo, like all Indian dishes which end up in the UK, is a far cry from its Indian origins, or, if we are to be even more correct, it’s Portuguese origins. Yes, you read that right. The Vindaloo was originally a dish brought to Goa, by the Portuguese back in the 15th Century. The current name is thought to be derived from Carne de Vinha d’Alhos, which was a dish where the meat was marinated and then cooked in wine vinegar and garlic. Now given the difficulty of getting such ingredients as wine vinegar in Goa even today, the wine vinegar soon gave way to local palm vinegar made from coconut toddy, an ingredient that was more than readily available. Then other flavours were added, pepper, cloves, tamarind, cardamom and yes, that legacy of the once great Portuguese Empire, also imported into India, chilli peppers. However, as with most dishes in India, the point when amalgamating the different spices is not to generate heat. It is not to make something so painfully hot that the only respite is to stick ones head in the fridge or suck on vast quantities of ice and wait in fear for the recriminations which are bound to occur, ‘down the other end,’ the following morning. No, the point of spices in India (apart from their medicinal qualities, but there’s no place for that in this piece) is to generate flavours, unique, delicious, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle but flavours non the less, to be savoured.

I rarely eat Indian food in the UK, finding all of their dishes to be either ones that are so unrecognisable from their original or ones that I’ve never actually come across in India at all! In fact, it wasn’t until very recently that I knew that the vindaloo even existed in India. Having spent more time in Kerala than Goa, I first came across it there where apparently the dish, adapted from a home-cooked recipe, has more mustard added to it than it’s Goan equivalent, who’d have thought? I am yet to try the typical, traditional, tangy Goan original but I will be certain to do so on my next visit and shall report in, though I somehow suspect it’s a far cry from anything served in Wakefield!

This also has made me wonder how the original Portuguese dish developed in it’s home country and whether it still even exists at all? If anyone out there can shed some light on this, do let me know.

Now the information gleaned for this piece was from five minutes in the back of a taxi using Guru Google. No doubt my Indian culinary chums will have far more and more importantly more accurate knowledge on the matter of what a Carne de Vinha d’Alhos consisted of and how it was adapted into the classic, tangy, delicious Goan delicacy that is it today. But one thing is for certain, my attempts to at least bring attention to this dish’s origin can have done it much less of a disservice than the dish it has become in the UK today.

Which brings me neatly onto this:

Loving, as I do, a little bit of irony, the Brits adopted what was initially a spoof song entitled Vindaloo by a chap called Fat Les as their 1998 World Cup Anthem. Vindaloo apparently being the epitome of all that is quintessentially British. The lyrics, from what I can gather, are along the lines of,

‘Na na na
Na nan a
Na nan a
Na nan a
Na nan a
And repeat…..

The creative genius astounds me, though as he is doubtless far wealthier than I on the back of this, perhaps I should shut up. However, here is a video of a collective of football fans, singing Vindaloo (you have to put up with a full minute of another song before we get there) at the 2004 UEFA Championships just prior to Portugal beating England in penalty shoot outs, to reach the semi-final.

Just deserts in indeed!  

Traditional Goan Recipe:

  • 15 dried Kashmiri chillies (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons toasted whole cumin seeeds
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 (1-inch) pieces of cinnamon
  • 9 whole black peppercorns
  • 7 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 10 garlic flakes (or 2 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped)
  • 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup of palm vinegar, or 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

Combine chilies, cumin, turmeric, 1 piece of cinnamon, 5 peppercorns, 4 cloves, and sugar in a spice grinder. Grind until a fine powder is formed. Transfer spice mixture to food processor or mortar and pestle and add garlic, ginger, and vinegar. Process or pound until a fine paste is formed. Scrape out paste into a small bowl and set aside without washing food processor.

Place pork in a large bowl and season with salt. Add half of spice paste and turn pork to coat. Add onion to food processor and process until a paste is formed.

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion paste (do not wash food processor bowl), remaining 4 peppercorns, remaining cinnamon stick, and remaining 3 cloves. Cook, stirring constantly, until onion is soft and oil is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add remaining spice paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until the oil separates and mixture starts to sizzle, about 5 minutes longer.

Add pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Add water to the food processor bowl and swirl to rinse. Pour mixture into pan and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover, and cook until the pork is fork tender, about 1 hour longer. Serve immediately with bread or rice, or for better flavor, cool, store overnight in a sealed container in the refrigerator, and reheat before serving.

Philippa is founder of Indian Experiences and author of Escape to India


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