The East Indians were among the original inhabitants of the city of Mumbai that many now call home. A bit of history: we are an Indian Christian community who trace our roots to those converted to Christianity when Portugal took over the Bombay region in the 16th century. After Portugal was handed over to the British East India Company, the Raj named the community East Indians, to differentiate us from the Goan and Mangalorean Catholics who had migrated to Mumbai.
‘We take our culture, customs, and curries seriously’
Pockets of the city in Bassein (Vasai) and Thane are still home to our community. We’re a small set and take our traditions, culture, customs, and curries seriously. Christmas traditions are the most fun. You’ll find us all prepping weeks, often months, in advance. Christmas has always been about preparing our hearts and homes.
We begin a month in advance at the start of Advent. I remember even when we were kids, my mother would put up an advent calendar at home and help us put down our little good deeds to gift Jesus on his birthday. As kids, these were small chores like making the bed and eating our veggies. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learnt to curb my shopping sprees and help out a little more at home. All to keep baby J happy!
From the midnight mass outfit to the Khimad, a kind of toddy drink made with spices and turmeric, the sorpotel, vindaloo and even the kuswar (a sweet platter), East Indians always believe in having plenty.
The East Indian Christmas Table
For my family the Murzellos from Mumbai, Christmas looks something like this: after the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, we come home and spend the next half hour taking pictures of the family around the tree. Then it’s time to quickly gobble down those delicious chicken-mayo sandwiches and a hot cup of sweet corn chicken soup. The soup is a very Murzello thing to have on Christmas Eve. Our family has been doing it since we were kids. Of course, over the years, my bowl of hot soup has been swapped for a shot of Baileys or Scotch. But the sweet corn chicken soup is still always on the stove bubbling away, for anyone who wants to warm up after mass. Soup is followed by a plate full of all my favourite sweets—marzipan, milkcream, kulkuls, nankatai, date rolls and that yummy Christmas plum cake.
Christmas Day for us always starts at dawn. I’ve grown waking up to the sweet aroma of freshly fried fugiyas (a sweet and savoury fried bread) that pairs beautifully with the sorpotel and vindaloo that is a must in every East Indian home.
The other Christmas smells to me are cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, all ingredients that make up the khimad. A vessel full of the stuff is left brewing through the day, prepping for Christmas night celebrations.
The whole family gathers at home, and it’s an all-out famjam, the whole day. The best whisky and wine is served up. The table seems smaller every time we try to lay all that food down. Generally, we have eight to nine East Indian delicacies laid out.
The East Indian delicacies
First, of course, is the chicken roast cooked by experts in the family. Juicy from the inside and crispy on the outside, it is caramelised to perfection. There’s no turmeric, chilli powder or garam masala in our stuffing—just pepper that shines through.
We also make a mean salted tongue. The buff tongue is a beautiful and rich cut of meat; enjoyed for its flavour and distinct texture. This is immersed in a seasoned brine for several days before it’s cooked to get that gorgeous pink colour. It is served with a side of boiled veggies and some homemade mustard—another big hit by my mom. I digress, but they make for excellent sandwiches post Christmas!
There are at least three pork curries on the table, one of which is the sorpotel, a tender pork cut really small and cooked with that magic East Indian bottle masala which adds all that flavour, colour and aroma. The pork vindaloo has chunks of boneless pork marinated in ground spices and cooked in vinegar. And there’s also my favourite pickled pork along with a community staple, mutton khudi curry.
These delectable gravies are enjoyed with that very special rich Christmas rice, made with pure ghee and loads of caramelised onions. It’s sautéed with nuts and raisins and garnished with eggs. We also pair the gravies with fugiyas, kadak pav and sometimes even the single butty bread from National Bakery at Bandra Bazaar.
But if I had to pick an all-time favourite, it would be that beautiful labour of love, the chicken potato chop. Seasoned mashed potato is wrapped around cooked chicken mince before being golden pan-fried. An East Indian appetiser or side dish, it is often overlooked but is simply divine.
Just when you won’t be eating until next Christmas, it’s time for dessert. There’s apricot custard and the trifle pudding. And of course, that platter of sweets never leaves the table.
And this is Christmas for us: delicious meals at a table surrounded by family, love, laughter, reminiscing loved ones and fond memories while making new ones. We simply ‘December it’ for as long as we can.
Chicken Potato Chops Recipe
Ingredients for East Indian Potato chops recipe:
For Chicken Mince:
500gms Chicken Mince ( wash clean)
1 tsp Ginger Paste
1 tsp Garlic Paste
1/2 tsp Pepper Powder
Salt as needed
2 Onions (Finely Chopped)
3-4 Green Chillies (Finely Chopped)
2 tbsp Coriander Leaves (Chopped)
5-6 Potatoes (Boiled, Peeled and Mashed)
1 cup Breadcrumbs
Oil to fry
Wash the chicken mince thoroughly and drain out all the water.
In a large bowl, add chicken mince, ginger paste, garlic paste, pepper powder and salt. Marinate for a few hours or overnight.
Wash and boil the potatoes. Peel and mash the potatoes well. Make sure there are no lumps. Add salt. Mix well. Keep aside.
Heat oil in a kadai. Add onions, green chillies and saute till the onions are translucent.
Add the marinated chicken mince and cook on a medium flame for two minutes, stirring continuously. Reduce the heat to low and cover and cook till the chicken mince is cooked and all the water evaporated. Add coriander leaves and saute for a minute. Keep aside to cool.
To make the potato chops:
Take a portion of the mashed potatoes, roll into a ball and flatten on the palm of your hand. Place a spoon of the chicken mince in the centre and bring the sides of the potato over the filling to cover it well. Shape it to form a patty and keep aside.
Break an egg in a small bowl. Add salt and beat it well. Pour breadcrumbs onto a plate and keep a spare plate ready.
Heat oil in a frying pan. Dip a chop in the egg and turn over making sure it gets coated all over. Coat the chops with the breadcrumbs for a nice crisp texture.
Carefully place the chops in hot oil and shallow fry till it is golden brown on both sides. Serve warm.
Francisca Murzello is former IT professional turned homechef who launched her venture The Daily Cut, during the lockdown