Pork Vindaloo – the history and less known facts

Pork Vindaloo or Vindalho De Porco

When the Portuguese arrived in the early 1500s or 500 years ago they brought new fruit crops like pineapple, cashew nuts tobacco and of course the chilli pepper. They also brought with them new ways of preparing foods such as marinating meat in vinegar. The Portuguese ruled Goa right until 1961, and the Estado da Índia Portuguesa had a deep influence on the food and culture of its people and eventually the rest of the country.
Vindaloo derives from the Portuguese dish known as Carne de Vinhas d’alhos – or meat preserved in wine and garlic. To this day it is made in Madeira where it is a much paler dish in comparison to its Goan offshoot. In both places it is served at Christmas and other occasions. Carne de Vinhas d’alhos has been called the dish that took the world by storm as it travelled as far as the Carribbean where it is known as garlic pork to this day.

According to old Portuguese Goan sources, Vindaloo has an almost pickle or confit like quality as meat is cooked in its own fat with minimal water and uses vinegar liberally. Maria Teresa Menezes, who has extensively documented Goan Catholic recipes says that meat cooked in this way can keep for a long time and it was carried by travellers. One wonders if it was brought to India by the Portuguese on their ships! Probably not but the desire to eat it certainly did and the dish evolved in India with the influences of local spices such as cloves, black pepper and cassia to its present form. It also seemed to contain more heat in the form of chillies which of course were brought to India by the Portuguese.

What meat?

While there is no doubt that the original vindaloo was made with pork, there appears to be some lack of clarity of about the cut of pork that should be used. Some modern recipes recommend lean pork possibly because of the phobia of consuming animal fat. Others recommend the robust cut of pork shoulder. But some of the older family recipes use fatty pork. Menezes’s recipe calls for pork belly and the dish is cooked in the fat without the use of oil. Food historian KT Achaya says Vindaloo is made of pork meat, pork fat and blood. It was usual practice to utilise as much of the animal as possible in most meat eating cultures so the use of blood would not be surprising. Although pork has been historically consumed among several castes and tribes in India, the Portuguese arguably made it more mainstream especially through the spread of Christianity.

How hot?

It is quite likely that the original recipe of pork vindaloo was not super hot because the chillies grown in the region are mild – the Bedige chilli (same as Byadgi in northern Karnataka). These impart a lovely red colour without the searing heat. Nowadays people substitute Bedige/Byadgi chilli with Kashmiri chilli which has similar properties. Whatever the combination of chilli, there is no doubt that it is hotter than the original Madeiran version.

And the key ingredient?

The defining ingredient in Vindaloo is vinegar. The original Madeiran receipe for Carne Vinha d’Alhos contains both white wine and red wine vinegar. Historian Lizzie Collingham says that there was no vinegar in India when the Portuguese arrived, so the enterprising catholic priests came up with coconut toddy vinegar. However that seems very unlikely as toddy naturally contains acetobacters that turn wine to vinegar very quickly. Also vinegars of various kinds have been known in India since ancient times. They find mention in ancient Buddhist texts as well as the Indian medical text Sushruta Samhita dating back to the 4th Century.

Several newer recipes in circulation call for tamarind although none of the older ones seem to mention it. KT Achaya in his book (p83, 187) refers to Kokum as the souring agent for Vindaloo. Again, not beyond the realms of imagination as it grows in the region.

The older Portuguese Goan family recipes call for palm toddy vinegar. But they also include a dash of coconut feni which is a strong distilled alcoholic drink. This can be substituted with Vodka for the alcohol content but there is no substitute for the flavour if the truth be told. The famous restaurant in Goa run by Patrick and Merciana D’Souza uses coconut vinegar and cashew feni made from the cashew fruit. So there is clearly some variation in ingredients but locally made vinegar and feni would give Vindaloo the most authentic flavour.

In terms of spicing, chilli is the main spice together with some black pepper, turmeric and cloves. Recipes that use a greater variety of spices or curry leaves and tomatoes appear to be modern innovations on the old theme. Here is a recipe adapted from the recipe by Menezes with a few modifications to reflect the ingredients that are widely available.

For four people
Ingredients:

800 g prok belly cut into 2″ cubes
1 large onion
6 large cloves of chef’s garlic
2 inches of root ginger
salt as per your preference
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground cumin (fresh is best)
1/2 tsp turmeric
4 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
8 cloves
10 black peppercorns
2” cassia bark
Shot of vodka
2-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar.

Method:

Grind the onion, ginger, garlic and mix with salt, white wine vinegar, cumin and turmeric. Marinate the meat in this for at least two hours, preferably overnight. To cook, place the marinated meat in a heavy bottomed pot. Add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, the whole spices and vodka and simmer on a low heat for two hours or until the meat is completely tender. There should be a rich sauce. Adjust salt and chilli levels. Serve.