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Relish Goan cuisine? Try this hotspot
Merril Diniz |
December 28, 2005
No trip to Goa is complete without indulging in some fiery Goan cuisine.
You have restaurants like Brittos bang up on Anjuna beach, Martin's Corner tucked away in the village of Betalbatim in south Goa, Souza Lobos on Calangute beach and Infantaria, a cosy little Calangute café famed for its breakfast spread.
This year during on a trip back home for Christmas, I visited O' Coqueiro, a charming old place located on the Mapusa-Panaji highway in a village called Porvorim. The place is brightly lit especially at night and you can't miss its sign board right on the main road.
The Portuguese connection
O' Coqueiro (pronounced as oo-cu-ke-ru) is the Portuguese word for coconut tree. The restaurant is housed in an old Portuguese-style ancestral bungalow. It has a tiled roof and the place looks rather grand compared to the food shacks up on the beach. Quite like a sprawling Goan ancestral home. The walls are painted a bright yellow and adorned with black-and-white framed photographs.
You can sit in the air-conditioned section called the sala de jhantar (dining hall in Portuguese) or choose a table in the non-air conditioned but very airy dining hall/balcony. They also have a bar known as The Tavern.
The weather is pleasant so we choose a table in the balcony. The ambience is warm and congenial. It's Christmas time and I tap my toes, keeping pace with the beat of Drummer Boy.
On the menu
Crab Soup is a personal favourite, but it doesn't feature on the menu. The waiter says it can be arranged. So, if you don't find your favourite Goan delicacy on the menu, you might want to enquire first before ruling it out.
We decide to have a drink instead and order local Goan port wine at Rs 35 a glass, Kingfisher beer at Rs 80 for a 650 ml bottle and some stuffed crab to go with it. Note, all prices here are inclusive of VAT.
There are two medium-sized crabs to a plate, priced at Rs 135. The crabmeat is cooked in red masala. It is not too spicy (as per our request), but if you prefer it piercingly so, just ask. We relish it thoroughly.
For the main course you have popular dishes like Pork Vindaloo, Chicken Cafreal (pronounced as kaf-ri-el), Chicken Xacuti (pronounced as sha-coo-ti), squids, lobster etc to choose from.
But it's the festive season and we have been eating a lot of that of late. So we order Garlic Pepper Steak (Rs 175), Prawn Balchao (Rs 140) and Kingfish Masala Fried (Rs 145).
The Garlic Pepper Steak is the best I've tasted in a long, long time. To my delight it comes with a complementary glass of dry, white Chardonnay. You could ask for the red Cabernet Sauvignon, if you prefer.
The kingfish is fried in the traditional rechad masala (a fiery concoction of red chillies and other spices) and lives up to our expectations. The portions are good -- two large slices to a plate.
The Prawn Balcao is a wee bit oily, but the prawns are large enough and if you aren't watching your weight, just indulge. We have the food with pao (bread). The bread served isn't your regular bread. It resembles bakri, a type of bread made of broken wheat. You'll find it at many a Goan's breakfast table. In fact, at home we mostly eat bakri instead of sliced bread. What we are served here is something in-between, but it is hot and tastes crisp.
Post the main course, we unadventurously order vanilla ice-cream with chocolate sauce (Rs 80) for dessert. You might want to try the Bebinca, a traditional Goan layered cake that takes hours to bake because it is cooked one layer at a time. But the best Bebinca I've tasted was made in a Goan home.
The menu could do with more variety. Nevertheless what they do have tastes great.
When Sobhraj dined here
Dessert takes a while to arrive, so I glance down at the O' Coqueiro signature table mat. It features a brief history of the restaurant. Besides the cuisine it touches on the restaurant's other claim to fame -- the re-arrest of French serial killer Charles Sobhraj who escaped from Tihar Jail, in 1986.
We ask the waiter about the arrest. His face lights up and he animatedly tells the story of how Sobhraj had a weakness for chicken cafreal. As he was tucking into his dinner at O' Coqueiro on April 6, 1986, he was nabbed by Inspector Madhukar Zende of the Bombay police.
Dessert arrives and we polish off the ice cream. The cheque is settled and on the way out I stop to admire the black-and-white framed photographs on the wall -- they are snapshots of churches, cathedrals and administrative buildings taken in a bygone era. Many of these still stand, some have been renovated with additional wings. We had to scrutinise some of the photographs closely to recognise some of the structures; it would have been easier, if there were some text to describe each image, mentioning the names of the structure and maybe, a spot of history.
On the way out, we see a statue seated at a table on the portico. It is Charles Sobhraj. He sports a smile and looks satiated in spite of the handcuffs. The Chicken Cafreal must have been very, very good.
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