The Women of Fatorda
A Goan business steeped in heritage
Welcome to another edition of Yesterday’s Curry. Thank you so much for reading!
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After a few weeks of illustrated recipes, today I am back with an interview; turning my focus onto a Goan Masala business which caught my eye on instagram.
The Women of Fatorda piqued my interest immediately, in part due to their striking illustrated logo which appealed to the artist in me. A hand-drawn image of a woman preparing masalas in a pestle and mortar was at first glance both memorable and mysterious; an inviting image which made me want to know more about the brand. Some months passed, all the while developing my own spice business, but I was consistently drawn back to this brand’s beguiling charm and individuality.
When I eventually slid into their DMs to ask if they would be willing to feature in my newsletter, I was pointed in the direction of their director Shankar Nair, who not only willingly answered all of my questions about the business, but imparted so much knowledge about Goan cuisine that he has inspired me to learn more about the ancient recipes of lesser known Goan communities.
The Women of Fatorda is a masala business based in South Goa. Founded by Shankar Nair three years ago, the company’s strong brand recognition is no accident. Shankar, who has spent 17 years working in advertising and a further 15 as a brand strategy consultant, set out to create a business with a distinctive brand identity and with an ethos of female empowerment as its driving force. “I was introduced to a women’s collective in Fatorda which was an initiative to bring together underprivileged and marginalised women to create various products like soaps and candles” Shankar tells me. One of the products created by this all-female group was a range of masalas and being a keen foodie himself, Shankar saw a gap in the market that he could get his teeth stuck into. By offering his expertise in brand development, he was able to engineer the product to attract a national audience, and in doing so create a brand honing in on ancient, authentic and unique Goan masalas, while doubling up as a venture to empower the women who inspired the company in the first place.
The story behind the brand is what really sets The Women of Fatorda apart in a saturated market. No stranger to the challenges of this myself, Shankar clearly has tunnel vision on what is going to propel his business above others, and this goes far beyond the products themselves. “I believe that brands are what make the difference between a valuable and sustainable business and an ordinary shaky business” explains Shankar. “The masalas these women make are excellent but in a competitive world and in bigger and more demanding markets, it is not enough.” The winning combination here is a focus on elevating these women from the marginalised financial, social and cultural environments that they find themselves in, while offering a range of products that feel niche and personal. Their website and social media pages show videos of the women themselves preparing bountiful dishes in large clay pots and showing how easy their masalas are to use. As a social media strategy, it works, and you feel like you are connecting with something truly authentic.
Before setting out to write this piece, I hadn’t heard of Fatorda or its unique cuisine, though I now discover it is a mere 15 minutes from where my own family comes from in Betalbatim. While Shankar does plan on eventually branching out the brand’s products to encompass other Goan regions, I’m keen to know more about the specific products and recipes from Fatorda and what makes it an exciting culinary hub. “Fatorda is a small suburb of the city of Margao located in the Salcete region of South Goa around 33 km from Goa’s capital, Panaji”, says Shankar. Home to some of the original and earliest inhabitants of Goa, its ancestors include the Gavli and Kunbi Konkan tribes. Along with the Saraswat Brahmin Hindu community, there is a sizable population of Catholics and Muslims, as well as non-Goan settlers in Fatorda, making it very diverse in its population. Home to many Portuguese era churches and old temples such as Our Lady of Rosary Church and Sri Damodar Temple, Fatorda also houses the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, a landmark that hosts international cricket and football matches.
“Our masalas are specific to the various communities and families of Fatorda and not necessarily regional”, Shankar explains when I ask him to tell me more about The Women of Fatorda’s unique range of products. “We have two masalas from the tribal cuisine of Gavli (Gavli Bhaji) and Kunbi (Kunbi Xasti), and others drawn from specific Hindu, Catholic and Muslim communities of Fatorda. Our Pedne Shagoti masala recipe is specific to the Hindu farming community of Fatorda but that recipe is originally from Pedne, a region in the North of Goa that borders the state of Maharashtra, where Xacuti (Shagoti in Konkani) originated from. Our Chandrawado mutton masala is not just a Muslim recipe but is the recipe from the Muslim community from the Chandrawado locality in Fatorda. All of these recipes are hundreds of years old and handed down from mothers to daughters for generations.”
One of Shankar’s main objectives with the business is to change some of the misconceptions held by the rest of India about what Goan cuisine truly is. While inexorably linked to its identity as a former Portuguese colony, Shankar wants to shed a light on the Konkani roots which still exist in much of Goan cuisine. “While most Indians are familiar with dishes like Vindaloo, Recheado and Cafreal” he tells me, “they are not familiar with the dishes from various other communities in Goa”. Popular culture and tourism has propagated a Western stereotype within Goa, but in doing so “has neglected the vast repertoire of Goan Hindu and Muslim creations, along with that of the indigenous tribes and various other communities that are outstanding in their taste, character and style of cooking. Even many distinct Goan Christian fares that are more Goan than Portuguese were not popularised.”
Goan food in essence is an ancient Hindu cuisine which has evolved into it’s own distinctive style with the mingling of 450 years of Portuguese rule, pre-Portuguese Sultanate era Muslim influence, and distintive styles from the fishing community, Bhandari and other local influences. “Even the non-Goan influences on Goan cuisine is very significant,” Shankar explains. “The various specialities of Goan regions and localities that lend variety and richness are mostly overlooked and never given any importance.” This is at the crux of The Women of Fatorda’s unique selling point. “We have curated our masalas with this objective”, Shankar proudly tells me; “our aim is to change the perspective people in India currently have of Goan cuisine.”
The Women of Fatorda’s packaging is also designed to be informative rather than merely decorative, a conscious decision by Shankar to put the emphasis on historical and cultural context. “Most of the names of our masalas are the traditional names and not the popular ones” Shankar explains to me. For example, their Ambot Tik is given it’s more authentic name “Aamso Tiksso”, and their prawn curry it’s Konkani name “Soongta Hooman.”
Shankar has armed me with enough preliminary information about the Hindu, Muslim, and tribal cuisines of ancient Goa to delve much deeper on these topics in future newsletters. Aspects of Goan cuisine which were unknown to me now feel within my grasp, and in the coming weeks and months, I plan to familiarise myself with many of these lesser known dishes and share them with you all. For now, and for those of you based in India, The Women of Fatorda’s masalas are readily available online, and will hopefully be a starting point for those whose knowledge of Goan cuisine has been limited to the Portuguese Goan classics.
I hope you all enjoyed learning about The Women of Fatorda. This is the start of a deep dive into areas of Goan cuisine which have long eluded me, and I hope you will all come along on the journey. Until next time!
For taking the time to speak to me, a special thanks to Shankar Nair - it is always a pleasure to speak to a fellow spice business owner!
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