Growing up in a bi-cultural Goan-Anglo Indian home in the early 90s, almost everything, culturally speaking, was neatly divvied up between the two vastly different Christian communities. While Christmas was always spent in frosty Jaipur with my mum’s family, tucking into Nan’s brandy-spiked plum pudding and gossamer-light, deep-fried rose cookies, Easter in Goa was another affair altogether.
The night before Maundy Thursday, my father would pile us all into his trusted old Amby, mum would neatly pack chicken sandwiches, a mighty quiche Lorraine, and a giant thermos flask of iced nimbu paani in the picnic hamper. All this as sustenance for the 14-hour long, overnight tryst with the Western Ghats, en route to four days of Easter-feasting in our tiny village of Cavelossim, which hugs River Sal in South Goa’s Salcette region.
While our large family home did have a ‘Western-style’ kitchen, it was the coconut husk-fired outdoor stove that my late grand aunt Tia Flory and matriarch of the house, preferred cooking over.
Here, she would toil for hours on end over the cinder-spewing flame, churning out one edible masterpiece after the other. Never once complaining about the soot as it coated her spectacle’s bifocal lenses with a thin layer of grey soot. Nor did she mind my grubby little hand reaching into a thali of cooling ‘tar’ for a cheeky taste test.
Now, among the vast pantheon of Goa’s hallowed Easter kuswar (sweets) platter, ‘tar’ was always my favourite, thanks to its gooey, messy texture and earthy taste. Not to mention its oil-slick, jet black hue. It was also the treat we all demanded the most from Tia Flory. Never a fan of those luridly coloured marzipan Easter eggs with thick splodges of royal icing covering them or those waxy-tasting chocolate renditions of bunnies, my preference was always for local Goan confectionery. Much to Tia Flory’s delight.
Even though it has a perfectly onomatopoeic name, the kind that rolls off one’s tongue just as smoothly as its silken texture does, dodol has always been ‘tar’ for me.
It is also known to be referred to as black halwa by my posse of pals who seem to magically apparate into my dining room whenever mum sends over a thali of dodol, after carefully replicating Tia Flory’s original (and much guarded!) recipe.
Brought over to Goa from West Java by the Portuguese, it’s not surprising that I’ve encountered several iterations of dodol on my travels around Southeast Asia. And particularly in Indonesia.
Commonly served during Eid, it is called jenang in Javanese. A local durian dodol is also popular in the city of Medan. Closer home in Sri Lanka, it can be found in two versions: kalu dodol that’s made with kithul palm (caryota urens) jaggery, and kiri dodol made with milk and cinnamon.
Toil and trouble
But my earliest memories of dodol will always lie in those humid pre-Easter, March-April days in the Goa of my childhood. Carefully scraping a coconut on the kantonem to ensure that its milky white flesh bore no flecks of brown, Tia Flory would then introduce the scrapings to a fistful of soaked rice.
Both would be ground to a thick pulp on the typically Goan rough granite mortar and pestle called a fator, literally meaning stone.
The secret to its inky black colour, I’d soon learn, was the black jaggery. The kind that’s sold in the shape of tiny pyramids in Goa’s food markets. Made from the sap of the coconut palm, this madachem god jaggery was the de facto sweetener-cum-colourant of dodol, though Tia Flory did throw in a wad of the regular yellow jaggery for a bit of additional heft.
Bubbling like a volcano
But the real action always began with the onset of the laborious hour-long stirring process. It was only when the lubricating ghee was added to the mixture that the alchemy unfolded. Akin to a smouldering volcano, the by-now deep brown viscous liquid would bubble up. Every now and then its surface erupting with blisters of molten yumminess.
But it was only hours later, when it had cooled down, that it took on its shiny black colouring. Loath to ruin its appearance with garnish of any kind — despite protestations from other aunts who demanded cashewnut sprinkles and other frivolities — Tia Flory would leave it as it was. Letting it revel in its firm yet jellified countenance and sensual taste that bore hints of a molasses-y depth, coupled with top notes of toffee-like sweetness, and that all-important additive — love.
(Recipe courtesy, Ann Dias)
Black Goa jaggery 250 gms
Regular yellow jaggery 50 gms
Ghee 2 tbsp
Rice (soaked) 4 tbsp
Chopped cashew nuts 10 gms (optional)
1. In a mixer, grind scraped coconut and soaked rice together with a splash of water.
2. Reserve both the thick and thin extracts of the coconut-rice mixture and set aside separately.
3. In a heavy bottom kadhai, combine the thin extract and the two kinds of jaggery and cook on a medium to high flame, stirring continuously.
4. Once the mixture solidifies a bit, add the thick extract and the ghee. Keep stirring till the mixture turns a dark brown, almost black shade and till it leaves the sides of the kadhai.
5. Pour the mixture onto a greased thali and top with chopped cashew nuts, if desired.
6. Once cooled to room temperature, cut into squares or diamond shapes with a greased knife.
The Mumbai-based writer and restaurant reviewer is passionate about food, travel and luxury, not necessarily in that order.