What’s hot in the country’s coolest holiday destination, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY dig out hip hangouts in Goa
Everyone goes to Goa for a holiday. We are the only schmucks who go there for work. Eating at new hotspots, hopping in and out of bars and beach haunts, checking out new places, meeting interesting people, that kind of punishing work. For a place we visit so often (a friend once remarked ‘Arey, tum fir aa gaye?’ – an apt tagline for any state tourism board), Goa still holds many new experiences in store.
Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) was launching hot air ballooning in South Goa, Heli Tours, Duck Boat Tours from Panjim with plans to develop Mayem Lake. The same lake that generations of Goans grew up going for picnics to – it’s so old, Hum Bane Tum Bane from ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ was shot there. Plans were afoot to develop a clutch of five islands off Vasco – Grande, St George, Pequeno, Conco and Bhindo. Goa’s year-round festivities were being promoted – Bonderam Festival at Diwar Island (April-May), Sao Joao in June (where Goans literally go an’ jump in the well), Pattoleochem Fest at Socorro in August where the steamed pattoleo (rice and jaggery dumpling) is the star. Hell, there’s even a Ponsachem fest (jackfruit) and Touxeachem (cucumber) fest. Yes, food is indeed a celebration here.
A new addition to Goa’s cultural scene (besides Sunaparanta in Panjim and Houses of Goa Museum near Porvorim) is MoG or Museum of Goa. Blue roadside mermaids guided us to the museum of contemporary art in Pilerne set up by local artist Subodh Kerkar. Working with a wide range of media in his installations, his abiding muse remains Goa – its sea, coast, surroundings, rich culture and heritage.
Collaborating with the ocean, he immersed antique ceramic plates and allowed oysters, barnacles and shells to create artworks on old china. Chipping and slicing through layers of red, yellow and blue oxides painted over time, he turned sections of old walls into his canvas. Other local artists too gave rare insights into Goa. Shilpa Naik’s Mosaic paid tribute to the mosaic tiles ubiquitous in most Goan homes. We discovered that Goa never had any ceramic industry and the chips were actually ballast brought by Portuguese and Chinese ships!
Santosh Morajkar’s ‘The Motorcycle Pilot’ celebrated Goa as the only place in India where motorcycles are used as taxis. There are nearly 10,000 of them here. The first motorcycle taxi stand was at the base of Pilot Hill near Panjim Church. Since the lighthouse on the hill helped ‘pilot’ the ships in Mandovi River, the motorcycle taxis were nicknamed ‘pilots’! Besides MoG Sundays dedicated to Talks, Films, Expressions (11am-1pm) the museum hosts frequent jazz and music events. Subodh also leads free-wheeling walks on request at Saligao, Aldona, Siolim or any village a short drive away. Subodh’s private jaunts turned professional when Bambi, the manager of the lovely seaside cottage Ahilya by the Sea asked him to lead walks for guests.
We set off with Subodh from Birdsong, a charming 200-year-old renovated villa in the quiet hinterland of Moira. With peacocks calling and mist rising from the roads and yellow paddy fields, we walked past lovely homes to explore Goa anew… Rubbishing our fantastic theory that GoA was derived from Government of Adil Shah, Subodh conjectured that the ancient name Goapuri and Gopakapattanam was in existence and the Portuguese probably truncated it to Goa to rhyme with Lisboa.
Subodh pointed out the scalloped curved tiles fringing the roofs of local homes. Apparently, the clay tiles were hand-patted on the thigh, giving them a distinct curvature – narrow on one side and broad on the other. The tile’s shape depended on how fat a person was! When the Portuguese came, the shell windows were already in use. In his book ‘Goa and the Blue Mountains’, 18th century traveler Richard Burton dismisses how “In Goa, there is not even proper glass available and they used seashells for windows”.
It was an unwritten rule that houses could be any colour but white was reserved for churches and chapels. Colours were derived from natural pigments – oxides of red and yellow and chuna (lime) mixed with indigo yielded blue. We walked past locals tending to tendli (ivy gourd) gardens. Subodh joked how his request to pluck tender tindlis on a previous walk were rebuffed with a stern “They’re kids!”
Others watered their red-leaved tambdi bhaji (amaranth). “That’s karith”, Subodh pointed to a small gourd. “It’s very bitter and during Diwali it’s customary to eat karith before you eat sweets, symbolic of keeping the balance of bitter and sweet in life.” Straw and hay figurines of Narakasura were being built on the wayside, to be lit up before Diwali.
Tracing the lineage of what are now considered Indian vegetables, Subodh explained that the Portuguese introduced the tomato, chili, potato, caju, besides sweet potato, chikoo and guava, which came from Peru. The Marathi word for potato comes from Portuguese batata and the guava is called Peru! Bread was also a Portuguese introduction. For the longest time, tomatoes were not eaten by Hindus because they thought it was flesh.
Just like the walk had no script, Bhatti Village in Nerul had no menu. Patrick’s voice quavered passionately, “Oh we have many varieties of fish.” Earlier a bhatti (feni factory), barrels and glass decanters share restaurant space with 3-dimensional stickers of Spiderman and Minnie Mouse amid strange wall plaques of crabs, lobsters, shrimps and fake flowers.
Patrick had us at ‘beef kebab’, though we said yes to everything he suggested – white bait rava fry, tisro sukka (clam coconut), saudalo (butterfish)), dodyaro (saltpan fish), shark ambotik (sweet sour red gravy), ending with Sera dura, a heavenly Portuguese dessert. “You want Guizad as well – you won’t get in any restaurant! And I’ve packed the ambotik, heat it tomorrow and eat it with poi. Should I pack some poi?” Patrick called over our retreating shoulders as we staggered out, heavy-bellied and weak-kneed.
Locals take great pride in their culinary heroes – be it Anton in Nachinola or Eldridge Lobo at Eldou’s in Siolim, Sabita Fernandes at Amigos for crab hunting and Jurassic crab, cafreal at Florentine’s in Saligao or beef roast and ox tongue at Mafia Cocktails in Pilerne, run by Tony and his famous ‘Sister Cook’. But a new generation of chefs at Goa’s welcoming shores were tantalizing local palates.
From Greek cuisine at Thalassa, Vagator to Australian Masterchef Sarah Todd’s nextdoor restaurant Antares, the making of which is a six-part documentary on SBS, there’s lots to dig in to. Sarah’s Scents of India cocktail seemed right out of a ‘Hassan weds Mehjabeen’ wedding platter and we were happy to have space for dessert and homemade gelato at Baba Au Rhum, doing well in its new location in Anjuna.
Elevar in Ashvem currently boasts the best view and food in town. The latest offering of chef Chris Saleem (Sublime Morjim fame) treated us to excellent Seabass Carpaccio, Celery fried prawns, Papaya-spinach-prawns-lotus root salad, seared bass with pesto tapioca and tandoori prawns over saffron fenugreek risotto.
His style is ‘flashy and mainstream.’ “I like to give people what they want,” Chris admits. Earlier, we were floored at The Tavern in Fort Tiracol (where Chris was roped in to curate the menu), by exemplary dishes like spaghetti with Tiracol clams and fish fillet with Goan chorizo crust.
Stefan Marias, a Frenchman from South Africa, was now helming the beachside restaurant Go with the Flow overlooking Baga Creek. With two new outdoor decks, the restaurant spills out of the verandah of the 1928 Filomena Cottage onto the gardens with a makebelieve river meandering through that lights up at night. We wolfed down the Mozambican style Prawn Nacional and crispy salt n pepper squid in no time.
In the bustling Candolim-Calangute stretch, the talented Mr. Bomra stirs up what some describe as the ‘best Burmese restaurant outside Burma’. A friend quipped “To be honest, how many Burmese restaurants are there outside Burma?” On our anonymous visit, the steward clarified, “The chef is Burmese, but the food is not. It’s whatever he likes to make.”
Once when some American guests complimented how tender the Aldona slow roast suckling pig was, the manager Chris remarked, “Of course it is. It is a suckling pig, it was suckling on its mother when we took it away and slaughtered it. It’s a baby, that’s why it’s so tender.” Baulking, the guests set down their cutlery and left. Clearly, eccentricity has always been in Goa’s gene.
Like Pondicherry, the fusion of cafeterias and boutiques has caught on in Goa. Latika Khosla’s gorgeous home store Freedom Tree in a seagreen Portuguese villa in Sangolda houses hobo-chic styled crockery, lighting, rugs and furniture. After shopping, step into the adjacent Mustard restaurant, which sums up France and Bengal’s passion for food in one seed – the tiny yet, omnipresent mustard! Conceptualised by Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh, the restaurant was actually the villa’s old kitchen!
The subtle nuanced flavours of East Bengal have been perfectly curated by food historian Pritha Sen and the delicate notes of French cuisine put together by Chef Gregory Bazire. Here, regional specialities like Shukto and Mochar Ghonto rub shoulders with authentic European favourites like Tuna Pan Bangnat and Tortelloni a la Giardinera.
The sharp tamarind tang of Tentul Joler Sherbet spiked with vodka and a bowl of Chilled Cucumber Latte (Goan cucumbers with Bengali kasundi with mint and mustard sprouts) was the perfect appetizer. We embarked on Mustard’s journey to ‘savour the flavour’ of Dhoom Pukth Mach (Smoked Chonak Fish) and Kosha Mangsho with Luchi. Except for certain traditional ingredients, the restaurant follows a zero mile green philosophy and sources everything locally. You can even buy a pot of microgreens to spruce up your salad at home!
Thanks to its low faded signage, Satish Warrier’s Gunpowder Restaurant (two houses away from the new Fabindia outlet in Assagao) is a blink-and-miss restaurant set in the backyard of Cursino Villa, an old Portuguese home. Hidden within a leafy compound behind the well-known boutique PeopleTree design studio, Gunpowder’s Peninsular Kitchen stirs up Syrian Christian beef, chilli pork ribs, crispy natoli fry (anchovies), appams and regional delicacies.
Complementing Gunpowder’s South Indian flavours is the cool new bar designed by ace mixologist Evgenya Pradznik, a Russian who has mixed her way from Moscow, Mumbai, Delhi, Lebanon to Goa. Behind her teak bar counter, she uses locally sourced turmeric, ginger, spices and fruits. They grow their own herbs like thyme, lemongrass, black pepper and 200 pineapple shrubs. “Though we have so many options to choose from, my idea is to stick to classic combinations made with full respect to the main spirit.”
Evgenya had some homemade brandy with dry apricot macerated in Riesling stashed away, date liqueur in white rum and mad new concoctions like Pop Fashion, a version of Old Fashioned with an infusion of popcorn in bourbon. We tried the Ginger Cucumber Caipiroska and Tamarind Pineapple Margarita and teetered out…
It seemed like an abandoned rundown village house except for the vines of Chinese lights wrapping it in a warm firefly glow. The peeling plaster on the mud walls disguised its twilight avatar where people flit in like moths towards lamplight. Soro, strategically located on the Assagao-Siolim road is a New York style pub masquerading as a Goan village bar.
Exposed brick walls, retro style posters, multi-coloured geometric floor tiles reminiscent of Mexican homes, bald filament bulbs and stage lights, industrial pipes and quaint relics of juicers make a bold design statement. Old world bar stools propped next to large windows overlook foliage and fields beyond. Named after the Konkani word for liquor, Soro is actually located in an erstwhile soda factory, making it the ideal place to down or drown your sorrows.
“Where next”, asked Savio at Coco Shambhala, a tropical haven near Coco Beach where we had come to experience their new Forest Essentials massages. “Cantare in Saligao, LPK (Love Passion Karma) in Nerul or Cohiba near Aguada?” “No more”, we gasped. “Don’t worry. ‘Soro jivak boro’ (Alcohol is good for life). As the therapist confirmed our appointment, we cracked up when she said “I hope you have come on an empty stomach.”
Where to Stay
497, Calzor, Moira
Ph +91-9987962519, 9810307012, 9587508222 www.birdsonggoa.com
Ahilya by the Sea
Coco Maia, 787, Nerul-Reis Magos Road, Nerul
Ph 011-41551575 www.ahilyabythesea.com
Ph +91 9372267182 www.cocoshambhala.com
The Secret Garden
Estrela e Sinos, Saligao
Ph +91-95525 18664
Lar Amorosa Boutique B&B
House No. 68, Barros Waddo, Sangolda, Bardez
Ph: +91 7888047029 www.laramorosa.com
Where to Drink/Eat
Elevar Beach Bar & Restaurant
Leela Cottages Beach Front, Ashvem, Morjim Road, Mandrem
Ph: +91 9130352188 www.facebook.com/elevarashvem
Go With The Flow
House No. 614, Calangute Baga
Ph: +91 7507771556, +91 7507771557 www.gowiththeflowgoa.com
Soro The Village Pub
Assagao Baddem Junction, Goa
Ph: +91 9881934440, 9881904449
Wed-Jazz, Fri-Rock, Sat-Ladies night www.facebook.com/SoroGoa
Souza Vaddo, Candolim, Bardez
Ph: +91 9767591056 www.bomras.com
Thalassa Greek Taverna
Mariketty’s Place, Small Vagator, Ozran
Ph: +91 9850033537 www.thalassagoa.com
Small Vagator, Ozran, Vagator
Ph: +91 7350011538, +91 7350011528 www.antaresgoa.com
Baba au Rhum
French Café, Bakery, Pizzeria
Ph: +91 9822866366
6, Assagao, Cursino Villa, Saunta Vaddo, Bardez
Ph: 0832 2268228 www.peopletreeonline.com
Mustard Restaurant/Freedom Tree Store
House No. 78, Mae Dey Deus Vaddo, Chogm Road, Sangolda
What to See/Do
Houses of Goa Museum and Mario Gallery
Near Nisha’s Play School, Torda, Salvador do Mundo, Bardez, Goa 403101
Ph: 0832-2410711 www.archgoa.org
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine. http://beta.outlooktraveller.com/trips/goa-with-the-flow-1009179