Features

Goan Gastronomy

11 Mar 2020 by Anithya Balachandran

Whenever I visit the tropical paradise of Goa, my first pitstop is always at Mum’s Kitchen in Panaji for a fish recheado (a local fish preparation). Situated at a one-hour’s drive from Dabolim Airport, this charming restaurant celebrates the legacy and larger-than-life character of the Goan community with its widespread menu featuring native ingredients.

Homegrown flavours 

Goa’s food scene has often been a subject of interest in cookbooks around the world. Furthermore, initiatives such as the Grape Escapade, Goa Food and Cultural Festival, Goa Cashew and Coconut Festival have helped draw focus to this cuisine, believes Rajeev Kale,  president and country head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India).

However, a common sentiment echoes of over tourism and a dearth of indigenous choices in India’s smallest state. Jade D’sa of That Goan Girl says, “Overall, I feel that Goan food is taking a back seat and this could be because the options for authentic local restaurants are slim. Homegrown food is now diluted to suit tourists’ palates, so once international travellers visit a couple of long-standing restaurants, they move on to other mainstream options available.”

According to Chef Konark of W Goa, “Since the mid-1980s, Goa has evolved from being a laid-back state with magnificent beaches to a major international tourist destination. This has led to a dominating presence of multi-cuisine restaurants that provide fast food and international varietals.”

However, on the other hand, David Ansted, executive Chef at Grand Hyatt Goa is of the opinion that the demand for local food is sustained. He elaborates, “We are receiving consistent requests for Goan cuisine from our international and domestic customers. At the same time, the expectations of other authentic, value added cuisines are also frequently discussed among guests and chefs.”

Goa’s culinary landscape is an effortless synthesis of Portuguese, Konkan, Arabic, African, French, Malabar, Malaysian and Chinese cultures. Its multi-dimensional, kaleidoscopic nature has encouraged boutique and large hospitality chains across the state to promote and educate tourists about the humble regional cuisine. For instance, The Lalit Golf & Spa Resort Goa has a dedicated chef who specialises in Goan food that is served at Corta’s — the resort’s vibrant beach shack. Apart from this, breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets at the property feature traditional elements to familiarise guests with the offerings of the destination. Here, executive Chef Anurag Bainola lays a strong emphasis on the farm-to-plate concept, wherein spices, herbs and vegetables are grown in their in-house garden, and the focus is always on fresh catches.

At The Leela Goa, the emphasis is placed on a constant connect with the local community, while introducing new recipes at their Indian fine dining restaurant, Jamavar. Shridhar Nair, general manager says, “Our chefs visit villages and work closely with families who have preserved traditional recipes over many generations.”

Similarly, Ansted and his team at Grand Hyatt Goa frequently interact with local farmers and suppliers to collect fresh and unique ingredients. In fact, they are set to launch a project called ‘Chefs on Bikes’, which is a mini-documentary on their chefs motorbiking across various small farms and boutique suppliers to source some of Goa’s hidden treasures.

Utilising its global presence to reach out and educate a larger audience about indigenous food, W Hotels recently conducted a Goan food festival in Jakarta and Bali in Indonesia. During the chef’s workshop, they organised a fishing experience for guests along with chefs and locals that was teemed with scintillating Goan dishes.

At Alila Diwa Goa’s restaurant Spice Studio, guests partake in preparing the food too. At the master-class with Chef Edia Cotta, guests learn to pick out the right fish and even bargain with the vendor. Back at the restaurant, Chef teaches them the nuances of cooking from scratch.

ITC Grand Goa Resort & Spa is also an interesting example to exemplify the role of hospitality in creating earthy experiences rooted from the ethos of the land. An offshoot of this was through Cashew Tales, an extravagant soirée that honours the spirit of Goa. The first edition of this was hosted last year and saw a plethora of adventure activities and festivities revolving around the region’s beloved fruit – cashew.

What’s Trending? 

Nair and Chef Bainola point out that eating organic and sustainable is the need of the hour at their hotels; and this is being highlighted through their associations with farming communities.

ITC Grand Goa Resort & Spa boasts offering ‘luxury without compromising on sustainability’ with its new breakfast experience called the ‘Zesty Mornings’. It is based on four principles – authenticity, craftsmanship, healthy ingredients, and responsible sourcing.

Adding to this, Vamsi Gadiraju, executive Chef at Hyatt Centric Candolim Goa says, “Niche cafés that focus on healthy food and organic produce are a welcome trend in the state as they serve interesting flavours and use innovative cooking techniques.”

Fusion food is also catching up. D’sa has noted that restaurants are pushing themselves to be more creative in terms of their menu, food presentation, drinks and ambience; and unlike a couple of years ago, eating out today isn’t just about a meal, rather it is an experience in itself.

Surprisingly, in a land where locals swear by their seafood thali, vegetarianism is picking up. Non-vegetarian travellers to the state are developing an affinity towards green delicacies; because of animal welfare and the latter’s nutritional values.

Chef Konark states that dishes featuring the latest superfoods will also be a big hit in 2020. Another noteworthy aspect pointed out by him is the advent of molecular gastronomy and other techniques of physics that will soon take centre stage  — the work for which has already begun at W Goa.

Additionally, small plates and pre-plated food seems to be the preference among millennials over silver service.

Indigenous dining at Goa’s hotels

Chulha: This Grand Hyatt Goa restaurant serves rich Indian fare amid a colonial architecture that is complemented by rural touches. Private dining areas are available for intimate gatherings. Constant innovations are done here to incorporate the intricacies of Goa’s history and lifestyle. Savour your taste buds with pork vindaloo (tangy Goan dish); pomfret fillet with red chilli, toddy vinegar and Indian spices; and Goan prawn curry.

Corta’s: Chef Prema and team at The Lalit Golf & Spa Resort Goa’s Corta’s restaurant showcase food in attractive ways that suits the current day’s well-travelled guests. Furnished with wooden flooring, this beach shack exudes a lively vibe. Choose from a range of dishes like chorizo bread, chicken xacuti (a classic gravy dish), semolina fried prawns, dal varan (lentil soup), butter garlic crabs and snapper with Goan masala among others.

GROK: This is Hyatt Centric Candolim Goa’s signature restaurant and bar. They use  fresh seafood and homegrown produce like vegetables, grains and locally baked breads that are unique to Goa; and work closely with vendors to ensure authenticity. Kolambichi uddamethi (coconut flavoured prawn curry), Portuguese cataplana (seafood, chorizo and potato stew)  and kombdechem jeere mera (local chicken curry with flavours of cumin, pepper and toddy vinegar) are few of their menu highlights.

Jamavar: This signature Indian dining outlet of The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts has an outpost at The Leela Goa too. The restaurant sets the tone for a classic culinary experience that gives you a peek into the culture and heritage of the state. Jamavar follows the concept of minimalism which is seen across its interiors and al-fresco ambience. Their signature dishes include Goan fish curry, prawn balchao (fiery seafood dish) and the spicy vindaloo.

Tempero: This restaurant at ITC Grand Goa Resort & Spa is inspired by colonial architecture. It adorns mosaic flooring and windows are embellished with mother of pearl shells. At Tempero (translates to seasoning in Portuguese), the chef whips up a host of Goan dishes; the highlight being a flavourful prawn curry served with rice, with a side of semolina-fried fish, beans foogath (a vegetable dry side dish) and green salad doused in toddy vinegar.

The Kitchen Table: Dressed in an elegant setting, The Kitchen Table at W Goa offers a selection of well-known classics and modern interpretations. Their traditional Goan thali comprising — fish curry, prawn caldeen (mildly spiced coconut milk based curry), moongachi gatti (sprouted green gram stew), tambdi bhaji (red amaranth stir fry), goan bread, rice, kingfish semolina fry and solkadhi (a coconut milk and kokum-based drink) — is highly recommended. 

Spice Studio: This is Alila Diwa Goa’s specialty traditional home-style restaurant. The décor of the restaurant is Portugal-inspired with different styles of seating, artefacts and a spice cabinet that gives a residential feeling. Star dishes feature vangi recheado (stuffed Brinjal), sungta kishmoor (a prawn delicacy) and lamb xacuti (curry).

 

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