Chicken Cafreal, also known as ‘Galinha Cafreal’, is a unique dish that the Portuguese brought to Goa from another of their colonies- Mozambique. Chicken pieces are cooked in a flavorful green masala paste to which a dash of vinegar is added. It’s the vinegar that gives this dish a very distinctive taste. The Cafreal may be served dry, as an appetizer, with potato wedges and lemon slices. It may also be cooked as a curry to be relished alongside freshly steamed rice or Goan Pão (bread).
“Filip wake up! Wake up!” said Isabel, desperately shaking her brother awake. “What are you doing? Why are you awake in the middle of the night?” cried Filip exasperatedly, rubbing his eyes and reaching for his spectacles on the bedside table. “Ayah (nanny) was right, there’s a ghost in the house! I can hear it moving about in the kitchen downstairs. We have to do something!” she said, her small face covered with worry and fear. “How many times do I have to explain to you that there’s no such thing as a ghost ?!” said the irate boy, flinging off the soft blanket in annoyance and putting on his slippers. ” Ayah tells you all sorts of fantastical stories and here you are, bringing them back to life! Ghosts! In our kitchen?!” he said, grabbing Isabel’s hand and pulling her towards the door.
But something, or rather ‘someone’, made Filip stop dead in his tracks. It was the sound of the wooden chair by the fireplace. It’s rickety, old legs always scraped in that particular way against the stone tiles of the kitchen floor. Someone truly was in the kitchen, in the middle of the night!
“You heard that too! Don’t pretend otherwise,” said Isabel, cowering behind her brother. “I’m not sure what we heard,” he said, clearing his throat and trying his best to sound brave. “It’s probably the cat that’s got into the house again! We’ll just have to go downstairs and take a look!” Opening the door very quietly, the two children crept out into the corridor.
Silver moonlight filtered in through the large glass dome above the foyer, throwing strange shadows across the marble staircase. Filip gripped the edge of the balustrade with one hand, holding little Isabel’s hand with the other. Should they wake Ayah? She’d probably tell them they were dreaming, roll over and fall asleep. No, they would have to investigate on their own. He nodded to his sister reassuringly and they both crept forward, slowly descending the stairs, one at a time, making sure their slippers didn’t make a sound. “Screeeeeeech” went the chair in the kitchen again! Poor Isabel clung to Filip’s arm, causing him to nearly topple over. “Be quiet!” he said impatiently, his own hands trembling as he looked over the balustrade towards the kitchen. All was quiet again, there was no movement in the hall below. As they descended the last step, a pelo (steel tumbler) crashed onto the kitchen floor. They watched with pale faces, as the pelo eerily rolled across the floor and came to a stop near the kitchen door.
They crept closer to the kitchen, their backs against the wall, wondering what kind of monster lurked in the darkness beyond. As they passed one of the windows, they heard a sharp rap against its oyster shell panes. Were some kind of creatures trying to force their way into the house?! Filip adjusted his spectacles, took a deep breath and held little Isabel close, wiping little beads of sweat off his forehead. Peering closer at the window, he realised that it was just the branches of the Daswant (Hibiscus) plant outside, rapping insistently on the window pane with the cool breeze. A bronze statue of the beautiful Saint Ursula, stood in a recess in the wall. As a brave princess who was martyred, her bronze crown gleamed in the moonlight, reflecting off the arrow she held in her hands. Filip quickly grabbed the arrow as the children heard the sound of feet shuffling along the kitchen floor.
Hiding behind the kitchen door, he clutched the arrow to his chest and gulped, preparing to walk into the kitchen. Grabbing Isabel’s hand, he stormed into the kitchen, screaming at the top of his voice and brandishing the bronze arrow over his head. There was a loud bang, as the chair fell over and a shriek as someone tried to run out into the courtyard through the back door. “Stop! Stop you thief! What do you think you’re doing?” yelled Filip, courage suddenly surging through him as he realised that the ‘ghost’ was actually a little boy. The boy put his hands up in the air and stood still with his back against the door. “Don’t hurt me!” he cried, “I was just looking for something to eat.”
“Francis, is that you?” said Isabel, walking towards the boy, relieved that it was just Ayah‘s grandson who’d been rummaging in the kitchen all along. The kitchen door was often left unlocked to allow the household staff to come into the house.”What’ve you been eating?” she asked. “I heard the Raandpin (cook) made chicken cafreal for lunch today and I wanted a bite too,” he said, walking towards the kitchen counter. “Why did you try to run away?” thundered Filip, “Were you planning to steal something?” “What would you do if you saw a screaming figure running towards you with an arrow?!” said Francis, rubbing his palms together to shake off the fright he’d just suffered. “Well, I’m hungry after that little adventure! Let’s all have a bite then,” said Filip, as Francis helped him to pick up the chair and Isabel grabbed some bowls.
Who could resist a bowlful of the Raandpin’s special Cafreal, tender chicken pieces cooked in a flavorful green masala, it tasted delicious even cold! The brown sugar and vinegar gave the masala a special taste and by now, the chicken pieces would have absorbed all the lovely spices. The dish of Cafreal was surrounded by a wide, shallow aidan (vessel) filled with water. The water helped to keep the chicken cool while also protecting it from ants. Isabel stood on the chair, carefully leaning over the counter to serve them some chicken legs, using her little fingers to scoop the green masala over each piece. With Ayah fast asleep upstairs, the children didn’t have to use any cutlery. They simply sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor, relishing their midnight feast while the rest of the house lay still and quiet, the three of them being the only ‘ghosts’ that were ever to be seen.
- 1 kg Chicken on the bone
- 1 teaspoon Pepper powder
- 1 teaspoon Salt, or to taste
- 1 medium White Onion
For the Green Masala Paste:
- 3-4 Peppercorns (Kali Mirch)
- 1 inch piece of Cinnamon (Dalchini)
- 5-6 Cloves (Lavang)
- 4-5 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
- 1 bunch of fresh Coriander leaves
- 1/2 bunch of fresh Mint leaves
- 3 Green Chillies, or to taste
- 8-9 Garlic cloves
- 1 inch piece of Ginger
- 1 tablespoon Brown Sugar
- 1 teaspoon White Vinegar
Clean the chicken thoroughly and marinate with salt and pepper powder for at least fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, slice the onion into thin rings and keep aside.
Prepare a fine, green masala paste for the Cafreal by grinding together the peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, coriander leaves, mint leaves, green chilies, garlic cloves, ginger, brown sugar and vinegar with a 2-3 tablespoons of water (if you’d like a Cafreal gravy instead of a dry preparation, simply add a few more tablespoons of water to this green masala).
Once the chicken has marinated, heat some vegetable oil in a large pan and sauté the chicken pieces in it, on medium-high heat, till the pieces are evenly browned on all sides. Add the green masala paste to the chicken, stir well and cook until the chicken is nearly done. Arrange the sliced onion rings on top of the chicken, cover the pan and continue to cook until the chicken pieces become tender. The onion rings, though cooked, will still have a slight ‘bite’ to them and the chicken beneath will be fairly dry, coated with the delicious green masala. Dry Chicken Cafreal goes very well as an appetizer with potato wedges and slices of lemon. As a curry it tastes wonderful served with freshly steamed rice or Goan Pão.
Story Notes: Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books.