D’Silva’s thumb counts the string of sausages like an anxious priest praying through a rosary, the opposable digit flicking over the cherry tomato-sized choris as her lips quickly and quietly mouth numbers. Then, with the flash of her blade, she cuts loose a lengthy link and tosses it on top of a hefty barrel: she’s reached 100, the minimum order at Vailankainn—Smoked Goa Sausages, located in Maina, Goa. Her assistant darts over. With a wiry arm, he coils the carmine-coloured serving of sausages around his hand until it looks like a boxing glove, and then bundles the pods of fatty pork meat into sheets of newspaper.
As with many aspects of culture the Portuguese colonisers imposed on the Konkan Coast of India, locals gave the art of sausage-making their own take, turning chouriços (or chorizo) into Goan choris. And at this little sausage shop off the dead end of a village bylane, the flavours stay faithfully true to the region’s palate. From the use of masala marinades to fermenting the choris in quality feni (palm wine) vinegar and slow-smoking them with the wood of fruit trees, they represent an unadulterated taste of home for many Goans near and far.
The entire operation is based out of a dark room about the size of a generous parking space, draped with thousands of sausages that hang from the rafters like a portière of pork fat. Smoke clings to every corner of the establishment, lazily drifting up from the floor’s modest fire pit—made up of jackfruit and mango wood along with dried coconut husks—like a forgotten cigarette in an ashtray. Vats of feni vinegar line the walls, cloaking thousands more choris, leaving only glinting knives and stacks of newspapers to fill the rest of the crowded sausage-making set-up.
The duo only pauses their rapid routine to update a stubby Goan auntie on the status of her order, who regularly pokes her head in from the squat verandah. Each time she peers in to appraise the growing stacks of sausages, the golden cross around her neck swings like a punkah, fanning away the cloying smoke as if to give her a better look at the bounty of greasy bags that await her purchase. The reason she has been waiting for over 45 minutes has nothing to do with the efficiency of Vailankainn but the size of her order. She’s travelling to London to see her family, and as a good Catholic auntie she’s bringing 4,000 sausages with her.
Just as Gujaratis might stuff their suitcases with stacks of thepla when travelling abroad to see their relatives, many Goans bring necklaces of choris to their family around the world: and the centuries-old Vailankainn is the go-to place to fulfill this meaty mandate. The owner, Antonio De Silva, whose daughter-in-law now operates the smokehouse, says his family’s 200-year tenure of sausage-making is part of the draw. He learnt how to make choris from his grandfather the natural way, and is all too happy to launch into a tirade on how the use of preservatives have allowed the old ways of sausage-making to rot, a practice he wants nothing to do with.
He’s one of the few choris-makers left using good quality feni vinegar and wood smoke to preserve his meats. D’Silva counts the three-to-four-month steeping period in palm-based vinegar, supplied by local tappers, as the crux of his choris’ ‘special taste.’ The two-day slow-smoking process also adds to the flavour, and travellers should take heed to wrap them airtight, as the buttery, smokey notes clasp onto clothes like sins slithering into one’s conscience.
He offers two varieties, a meatier version referred to as ‘no-skin,’ and ‘with-skin,’ which wears a darker, burgundy hue that holds mostly fat and is encased in cow intestines instead of pork. The operation is in full swing from around ten in the morning until the early evening, when they typically sell out. However, it’s best to call ahead (and speak in Konkani or have the help of someone who can) to inquire if Vailankainn has a sufficient supply of choris; it is also wise to ask when they plan to break for lunch, which normally includes a post-prandial siesta.
At the start of the day they generally have around 7,000 sausages to sell, but the mass orders of Goans travelling abroad—typically to the U.K. and U.S.A.—often see the seemingly ample stores wiped out by a single customer intent on spoiling their expat relatives. When D’Silva estimates the usual size of the orders going abroad, he puts them in the range of 5,000-10,000. This surprisingly puts the 4,000-sausage-procuring auntie, handing over wads of cash in exchange for the mountain of bags her family is loading into the car, on the frugal spectrum. When questioned about the largest order that ever travelled abroad, D’Silva doesn’t even bat an eyelash, saying, “50,000,” citing an order placed by some very hungry Goans living in London. According to the D’Silvas, the sausages last for a week at room temperature, after which they should be put in the fridge. When pressed on how long they can stay refrigerated, the answer, delivered with a smirk in konkani, goes, “For as long as you can resist.”
Vailankainn—Smoked Goa Sausages; call on 9763973605/9822184433 to place an order; a link of 100 no-skin choris costs ₹800, and a portion of its with-skin equivalent costs ₹700.
Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Senior Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.