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A Goan feast
Chicken cafreal, prawn balchao, pork sorpotel...

Ravi D'Costa

E-Mail this travel feature to a friend Off to Goa this season?

Don't forget to pack your appetite.

Let's get this straight. Goa is not just about G-strings and virgin beaches of sun tanned sand.

Nor is it about some nudist colony at Arambol and flower power.

Geez, it's not even about some rave party at Vagator playing acid-techno-jazz (whatever the hell that is, I'm sure they'll soon come up with it anyway).

It's not even about the hippie flea-market at Anjuna.

And get a hold of this: Goa is not even about booze.

Yep, you read me right. Sorry to break whatever preconceptions you had of India's answer to Hawaii. For those who've missed the point altogether, Goa is really about food.


You've got to be kidding, I hear you say? Then, judge for yourself. Look at the average pot-bellied Goan. Do you think San Miguel beer actually did that? No way. It's the daily worship of the stomach with -- what Goans would be proud to say are the three basic necessities of life -- which are (now write this down) fish, curry and rice. It's just these three simple food groups that combine to make a heavenly experience.

Maybe it's the curry, the colour of Hare Krishna robes, on angelic white rice that makes it seem like ambrosia. For an even better taste of cloud nine, pour the curry on tainted brown rice with its little bits of roughage, available only in village homes.

Goans, of course, are blessed with the best of cuisine in the comfort of their villas, but for a person who is not a sosegad-being, it can be quite a treasure hunt.

Mama's fish, curry and rice is the best, which is what most Goans will claim, but most of my friends swear by the fish, curry and rice at Casa Moderna. It comes close to any of their mother's, while some admit it's even better. Now to find your way to Casa Moderna, just get to the National Cinema Hall in Panjim and ask. Or seek out the source of pedestrians, sporting a look of content on their faces. By the way, before you order, remember to have your fried fish with a tinge of reichade masala. It'll taste absolutely divine, I promise you.

Now, if you're like me and can't have enough of seafood, hop on a pilot (the Goan black and yellow motorcycle taxi) and scoot over to Merces. This village, other than being famous for its bull-fights, is also well-known for A-lua, a we-serve-all-kinds-of-dishes restaurant, where the sea-food page in the menu is the most read, judging by its worn look.

The owner of the restaurant, in his enthusiasm, may recommend the whole menu, but I'd tango all night for a helping of the crisp squid fry with its crunchy taste, and the prawn balchao. Oh, yes. The prawn balchao just makes me want to wind surf to Goa right now. As the Portuguese would say, the prawn balchao tastes a bit piquant -- a little sour, a little tangy. A delightful accompaniment with any meal, and goes particularly well with plain white rice, as well.

Of course, it's going to be a bit expensive, eating all your favourite seafood a la carte, so here's a suggestion. Take your pilot on the ferry, cross the Mandovi river and zip out to Porvorim. Just after the Defence Colony, take a right at the first turn (or was that the second turn?) and you'll discover yet another sea-food haven: Village Nook. The ace up the sleeve is that it has a sea-food buffet. That's right, pay only once and eat till you pass out. On some nights, they have a live band, not to serenade you, mind you. But to deter you from eating your money's worth. (Like you're going to pass up this opportunity, anyway.)

But, then, Goa has a lot more to offer than just seafood. Goans, other than sleeping most of the day like dogs, also pig out. On pork, of course. Not any pork chops, salad and fries thing, but on sorpotel... Goa's prized dish, served mainly on feast days or any other festive occasion, like on one's first holy communion. It is made-up of diced pieces of liver, heart and kidney, served in a deliciously thick gravy (in some villages they thicken the gravy with pig's blood). The gravy is then sopped up with sannas, steamed coconut rice pucks that have an intoxicating hint of toddy. The marriage between sannas and sorpotel is so blissful, it may be the reason why it's mainly served at weddings.

Choricio on sale at Mapusa market And just where can you get yourself a mouthful? How about at the White House? Not in Washington silly, in Dona Paula -- right up where the jetty juts out into the sea. The White House is frequently visited by the locals for its sorpotel and choricio pao, Goa sausages and bread. Another pride of Goan cuisine, Goa sausages are basically pickled pieces of pork stuffed in sausage shapes and sun-dried. Just buy a packet at any store, throw them into a pot, add half a cup of water, then dunk in some potatoes and onions; both cubed. And set to boil for fifteen minutes. The result goes well with fish, curry and rice. And stuffed in the local pao, a crusty bun-shaped, shorter cousin to the French bread, la baguette.

Now, the other white meat you'll want to get your taste-buds on, other than pork, is chicken and at the White House it'll be a crime if you don't order the chicken xacuti. Chicken pieces marinated in a gravy made up of green masala and finely grated bits of coconut, cooked in coconut milk.

But almost every year that I go to Goa, I religiously devour a chicken cafreal or two. Chicken cafreal is mainly grilled chicken treated with a healthy amount of garlic paste. Served with salad, chicken cafreal makes a great munchie with beer, definitely finger-licking good.

I tell you, if you want the best chicken cafreal in Goa, book a table at Florentines. You'll find the restaurant somewhere after Porvorim on the way to Calangute. Just keep your eyes out for it, since there is only one placard indicating a right turn, turn left and you'll find yourself there.

A mouthful of Goa's famous bebinca is another not-to-miss experience. An eight-layered dessert made up of only eggs, milk and sugar, but take two bites and you'll understand why Goans go on blowing their trumpet over it. You can pick up some fresh bebinca every morning at Farm Products near the ferry at Panjim. Better still, order for one through Fragos at Talegao. They make it the true Goan way and one can even store it for a week. Great, if you're planning to carry some home with you, which you will undoubtedly do.

Finally for those who are not blessed with higher denominations, here's a money saving tip on how to eat the best of Goan cuisine. All you need is a suit, not a swim-suit, nor your birthday suit, just a suit with a tie (ladies will preferably be seen in an evening gown). To cut down on your expenses even further, borrow one. And attend a wedding. Ask about at the local tavern and you'll learn of all the up-coming weddings and gossip.

During this season, there are plenty of weddings going around, plus with the amount of people and confusion at each one, nobody will even bother to notice you. Only please learn to tango, fox trot, jive and do the waltz, otherwise you'll be a complete misfit. And you’ll have the best of asli Goan food.

And you thought it was all about beaches.

Ravi D'Costa lives to eat. When he is not eating, he earns a living, in Bombay, writing copy for ad campaigns.

Goa Guide

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