A rich, brown colour, a palette pleasing silky texture and those mushy bits of goodness that you get with every sip or spoonful. Traditionally served in a kotti (a half coconut shell) or a pir (small saucers), von is the stuff that foodie dreams are probably made of.
A typical Goan tradition associated with festivities and food is that of the von-xitt, known mostly as the 'bhikareanchem jevonn' or meal for the poor. "This meal is usually served before a festive occasion like a wedding, or to commemorate a death anniversary as is said to be served to appease the souls of the dead," says cookbook author and restaurateur Ivo Coutinho. Von is the much looked-forward-to sweet culmination to this hearty meal with many opting for a second and even a third helping. "Such is its popularity that once the meal was done, the von that remained would be taken in a pot and distributed to the villagers," he recalls.
For those uninitiated in traditional Goan cuisine, von is a sweet dish that is dark brown in colour and has the consistency of a semi-thick custard. "It is made using simple and readily available ingredients — coconut milk, raw rice and jaggery. A hint of texture comes from boiled halves of channa dal that are added to the dish. The entire mixture is cooked over a slow fire in large, wide open copper vessels and stirred using a long, wooden ladle. The traditional cooking method, over a wood fire, helps impart a subtle smoky flavour to the sweet dish," says chef Moses Fernandes.
The proportions of the ingredients may vary from village to village, home to home. The approximate proportion for one coconut is two or three pyramids of jaggery and less than 100g of rice. While some prefer using dal sparingly, as just a garnish, some like to be more generous.
"Coconut milk forms the base of von. This milk is extracted in two parts. The first, thick extract is kept aside and added at a later stage. The process of cooking the von starts with the second thin extract. Another essential component is the locally- made brown coconut jaggery. This helps imparts both, colour and sweetness to the dish," says chef Peter Fernandes.
The rice used in this dish has to essentially be powdered raw rice. Why only raw rice? "The rice is essentially a thickening agent. Par-boiled rice won't do the needful," says Moses.
Though not tough to prepare, the cooking process is lengthy and involves quite a bit of muscle work with the continuous stirring this dish demands.
Also, one needs to constantly watch over the boiling mixture because if it is taken too far, it will turn into another famed Goan delicacy, the dodol.