Of Cafreal and Unheard Chronicles from Goa

From chicken to beef, this spicy Goan marinade can be used to make just about anything.

Annabelle D’Costa

Ask any Goan, and they would confess, Saligao’s Florentine serves the second-best chicken cafreal-pao, the first of course being their momma’s or nana’s. A go-to since the early ’90s, this quaint restaurant run by a local family serves a limited menu, with the chicken cafreal being most popular. Starring tender pieces of meat, blanketed in a dry sauce of freshly roasted spices, coriander and a dash of fruity vinegar, each morsel highlights an intense complexity of flavours which go beyond just chilli. The ginger, garlic, rum and tamarind, all come together to pack a punch and leave you pining for more.

This tangy-sweet flavour bomb is a staple in all Goan Catholic homes, except mine. If I think hard enough, I can trace back to find faint memories of relishing it at my grandma’s. Unlike, say,my mother and aunt, who have fresh memories of mopping delicious chicken cafreal clean with a piece of hot Goan poi, straight out of the handi. At times, the chicken cafreal masala would be turned into a fiery curry, poured on a mound of freshly steamed Goan rice or yellow pulao, my aunt, Premila Fernandes, recollects. She heavily guards and treasures the recipe, unlike my mother who rarely makes it at home.

Before we understand what goes into cafreal masala, it’s important to note this -while the dish has established a place of importance in Goan cuisine, it has, over the years, borrowed from several cultures, both native and western. In her food memoir, The Flavours of Nationalism: Recipes for Love, Hate and Friendship, human-rights lawyer, Nandita Haksar, highlights the Portuguese-influence on the Goan dish and its lesser-known connection to Africa. Cafreal is but a spicier version of a dish called Galinha (Frango) Piri-piri from Mozambique that was brought to Goa by the African soldiers/slaves serving the Portuguese. The Portuguese are said to have tweaked it before it could reach the sandy shores of Goa a few hundred years ago. In fact, an articles also trace the term “cafreal” to the word, “kafir,” a term used by the Portuguese while referring to Africans.

Such is the twisted history of a seemingly “local” dish, which I often crave for, having to settle for my aunt’s reinterpreted version, considering my Nana is far away. Her version, ingenuously, makes use of mint, or pudina. Here’s the full recipe:


1 bunch or 2 cups of coriander leaves
A handful of pudina leaves (optional)
1 to 1 1/2 inch ginger
10 to 12  garlic pods
2-inch cinnamon stick
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp peppercorn
6 to 8 green chillies
1 to 2 caps Goan vinegar
1 to 2 pods tamarind
one inch  black jaggery
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilly powder
Salt, as per taste
Rum or feni, as required (optional)


1. In a mixer, grind all the ingredients to form a fine paste. You can add some hot water to adjust the consistency. You can also skip the water, and add more vinegar, instead if you wish to store the masala. The perfect consistency should not be too runny or too thick. 2. Once your cafreal paste is ready, you can use it to make curries, gravies or for shallow-frying fish, mutton and beef. In case of vegetarians, it can be used to marinate vegetables of your choice.
3. You can store the remaining cafreal spice paste in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, thanks to the vinegar. Word of caution: Always use a dry spoon.

Chicken cafreal recipe:

1. After thoroughly cleaning and washing your chicken, coat the chicken in cafreal masala liberally. Let it sit for an hour.
2. Heat a pan with enough oil to shallow fry. Once the oil is warm enough, add the marinated chicken pieces gently into the pan. Cook evenly on both sides. When the chicken looks slightly done, add some more masala along with a few tablespoons of water. 
3. Allow the chicken to simmer in the masala for a few more minutes before turning off the heat. 4. Serve hot with pulav, warm pois or bread. 

Recipes by Premila Fernandes 
*Image used for representation 


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