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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In search of Goan food in Goa

The peculiar thing about guests, who descend on one in Goa, is that they presume you too are on holiday. Their logic one would suppose is: in this beautiful place of turquoise seas, sands of pale gold, green fields and bright sunshine, how can you not be on holiday. They don’t believe you when you tell them you have work to do. One cousin who goes completely insane when he touches Goan shores informed me that in Goa people just pretend to have work. Half the time, they do nothing and the other half they are sleeping. Really? I said. Really, he said, and that seemed to be that.

But the best part about guests is that they demand to be taken to the best beaches and the best restaurants and the best places to sightsee. They hear of Tito’s and Britto’s and some other places Goan residents have never heard of, nor seen advertisements of, but they have heard word of these wonderful places and you have to take them there. And you end up thanking your guests for showing you another treasure.

Being resident in Goa one tends to muddle around in one’s own comfort zone of home and office with brief forays into an annual picnic maybe, and some visits to friends’ and relatives’ homes and events. After a while, all homes look alike and all weddings are variations of the same thing. But when these brisk, energetic guests from outside the state and outside the country waltz into your life determined to enjoy themselves and take you along on their joyride, you get a chance to renew your vows of love with Goa.

The Caranzalem beach is filthy with tarballs and one would not willingly walk barefoot on it, but Utorda, ah, Utorda has this pale gold sand and it is clean as clean can be, the water is clear and the lifeguards watchful. You can get tossed by a wave and not feel revulsion when you swallow a substantial amount of the Arabian Sea. And then hunger pangs set in and you head for the shack on the beach, salivating over the thought of making choices between choriso, cafreal, amotik with islands of shark chunks in its rich dark red goodness, sorpotel, prawn curry rice, kismur, beef chilly fry, guisad, xacuti, mackerel or pomfret stuffed with reichado masala, and other lesser known but heavenly fare. You look around at the cheery d├ęcor, feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your skin and you experience that perfect slice of life, which brings so many from so far to revel in the Goan Experience.

You look around at the rest of the guests in the shack. There are more foreigners than Indians and more Indians than Goans. You admire the nerve of the foreign men and women wearing swimwear in that merciless sunshine that magnifies every liver spot, every wrinkle, every repulsive roll of fat. You wonder at the arrogance of the Indian tourists who want everything served yesterday. Platters of lovely looking food are borne like rare treasure by waiters wearing Hawaiian shirts and you wait for your order to come.

When it comes and you take your first mouthful, the sun loses its sheen, the breeze is just a hot wind and you feel shortchanged. The food is anything but Goan. It is Goan-Guest Cuisine. The amotik reeks of tomato sauce, and the shark pieces taste like flavoured rubber. The prawn curry carries no punch, the beef chilly fry is stringy and redolent of soya sauce, and the huge slice of red snapper could have been served to you anywhere in the world and you would never recognize it as “fried the Goan way”.

Even parties in Goan homes are given to outside caterers who rely heavily on soup cubes and tomato sauce to carry the day. It is only when you are lucky to sit down to a family meal with a Goan family generally in rural Goa, that your tastebuds come alive. A rural family’s dining table and some of the dirtier bars and restaurants in the larger towns. If you want to catch a mouthful of real Goan food, drop into the more crowded bar ’n’ restaurants in South Goa. These are the places that don’t have a menu. They cook the catch of the day and serve it to you. That’s Goan cuisine. Not Goan-Guest cuisine.

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