Bite the Bullet

If you kill the smell, you will kill the drink. The euphoria created when a peg of this elixir moves down your gullet…its all about feni. And it’s an experience to savour when Goan Saraswat food accompanies it. This was a first.

Lets take the cashew apple. The Portuguese brought it into Goa to prevent deforestation. Well the local Goan a thrifty individual found use for the ‘nut’ And the best style to roast the nut is by ‘drum roasting’. A tedious long drawn out process…but worth it.

Drum roasted cashewnuts

What happens to the apple? That is the feni..a good digestive drink. But try the Neero or the Urak…cooling and refreshing in the summer season. The alcoholic strength of feni in local measure is known as a “Grao’. Get it right at 20 to 22 grao. Well check out Madame Rosa do it in style.

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At Voltaire, the new Saraswat eatery, the fenitier did things in style. Rocking to an invisible beat, he showcased the spirit in great mixes.

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Now a local traditional distiller will sell his product in a Khouso (pot). Madame Rosa does it differently. This year at the Defense Expo a new styled container…the Bullet, shot into the masses.

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And if you think that feni does not mix well with Saraswat food take another guess. It does a great combo with the dangar too. The Saraswat styled prawn cakes, spiced up the spirit to perfection. That is the way…dangar? danger? Just bite the bullet.

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Going on 70 with the ‘zest’ of living free

Today the 15th August 2016 is celebrated with pomp. We have completed 69 years of freedom. And celebrations continue in every place..This was how the Goa Marriott hotel and Spa celebrated it. They brought together the Festivals of India.

In Goa Festivals are not uncommon. We celebrate over 20 festivals in a year…from Ganesh Chaturti to Christmas.

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So what did the Festivals of India showcase at the Waterfront restaurant? Warmth and hospitality. Like the welcome offering of a drink…lassi or kokum sherbet.

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Can we go without the ‘spirit’ in Goa? No way. Have the theka ‘quarter’ local style. The Coriander Martini served in a ‘unique’ container tops the list.

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And then the food…stalls with chaat, kebabs, biryani, curries and mithai, the 10 best preparations from every state, what a spread. Including the ‘inspired’ apple jalebi’s from Himachal Pradesh.

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Color, happiness and zest…that is the essence of every festival, put it all together in one word…food. It’s the ‘freedom’ to experiment with preparations right across this diverse nation of ours. India has it all.

Say it with flowers

For every occasion, be it a marriage or a simple rosary before the cross, flowers has been the main focus of the people in Goa. There is even a village called the ‘Land of Flowers’..Assagao.


But never has any culinary preparation been scented or made with flowers. And so this was the first. At the Park Hyatt in Goa a sumptuously scented jasmine dinner was curated. It was one of the Masters of Food and Wine night.
A small cozy gathering at the Praia de Luz, the stellar lounge where the diners sipped on champagne and nibbled on bite sized snacks.

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And then it was the four course sit down in the elegant dining room reminiscent of the Portuguese past. Flowers suspended over the tables, jasmine scented ‘avater’ and the fine dine trappings set the mood.

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There was a choice of starters…the scallop carpaccio, carrot oil, micro greens, jasmine scented aioli. Apparently the jasmine flower was soaked in olive oil for over four hours to ‘extract’ the essence. Chandon Brut added its own touch to the palate.

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The risotto with a hint of fresh jasmine, 36 months aged parmigiano reggiano and Chandon Brut with the palete cleanser…the fresh lime and mint sorbet followed soon after. It was then the mains…pan seared seabass, green asparagus cream, jasmine veloute washed down with Moet et Chandon Brut. An interesting combination.

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The Chandon Rose bubbled in the glass…time for the dessert. Double chocolate and jasmine oil cake with jasmine cream wave, raspberry dust with the final memoir of the jasmine flower in its midst.

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It is a well known fact that the change in presidency in Tunisa (1987) and the Tunisian Revelution (2011) were called the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in reference to the flower. It was also used as a symbol during the 2011 Chinese pro democracy protests. Revolutions…this was one ‘culinary’ revolution. The scent is sure to linger for a long time.

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Drunched…Now what is that.

Goa in the monsoons…can one believe that this season too has a ‘happening’ avatar? Imagine the pitter patter of raindrops on the leaves….sometimes torrential downpours….

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the sunlight breaking through causing the rainbow over the Mandovi River to shine like a beacon. A colorful  bridge of pure delight….like one from the mouth to the stomach. Yes there is variety to stimulate one’s spirits.

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One such restaurateur was Xav Norr of Route 66. With pastry ‘life partner’ Nicola, the route this monsoon on a lazy Sunday afternoon had one ‘drunk drenched’ with happiness. It was the Brooklyn experience for a Brunch Foodgasm….in other words that afternoon ‘brooked’ no competition. It was an invite to Mr Nobody’s food trail.

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So what was on offer? Mini bite sized preparations…eat till you say stop. 16 minute bite sized goodies…Yes it’s the Sunday blast….well the locals believe it’s a day of rest, but nowhere was it specified that the stomach should have one too. Juices, Spirits….it’s your choice. Hot and fresh from the kitchen onto the table…

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Peanut butter and jelly sandwich…Yuum, Manhattan Donut Baggie burger…high on taste, small enough to pop, Beer batter Onion rings….crunchy munchy delicacy, Bourbon glazed ham and cheese on rye….Aye…Aye…Aye.

And then there was Nicola’s gooey sweetened preparations. Pure SIN. On a Sunday? Time for confession. Those Gooey cinnabuns rocked..the sexy n wild red velvet cakes popped…in the mouth. Lollipop style. And of course you had to Do (those) nuts….start guessing.

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Time for a sing song? Let Varun Carvalho lead the way. He gets you into the mood.

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A bit hazy…always crazy…it was a lazy crazy afternoon that ranked right up there with the monsoon….unlimited torrential it was pouring flavors and happiness unlimited. It that is not ‘drunched’ what it?

Zor (Spring)….A great Balance

Let there be that ‘spring’ in your step…perhaps that could have been the secret of a healthy and relaxed way of life in this tiny state in the past. So let us share the secrets of the ‘zor’ which sadly (except perhaps for a few) are slowly falling into neglect.  Nature’s beauty slowly being polluted. The Challsamchi Zor in Margao where God was said to have put together 40 springs, the Secret Dossa zor in Assagoa lying amidst the sacred groves (Dev rai), the Rivona springs in beautiful Sanguem taulka. In the past it was a full day picnic with tiffin and a soak for medicinal benefits especially for the eyes. That was the local mantra.

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Today we have moved away from nature to Spa’s. Everyone and just anyone has to avail of the Spa therapy here. There are Spa’s which provide the relaxation ‘mode’ and ayurvedic benefits too.

Let’s take the up market Shamana Spa at The Grand Hyatt in Bambolim. Shamana means ‘balance’…and the treatment here is for body and mind restoration. And while the natural spa’s heal is based on the mineral properties in the water and one’s strong belief in the same, at Shamana Spa trained personnel interact with you to work out the treatment you desire.

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And to add to the ‘uniqueness’ choose your ingredient…..there is diamond, pearl and natural seaweed too. One can spend a full day immersed in the treatment. A complimentary sauna, steam, Jacuzzi and a swim in their full length indoor pool too.

Choose those facials….pigmentation is just a massage away. Or that massage with the hot lava stone. Rejuvenation at their fingertips. The rooms, they have ‘couple’ rooms too…they all have a well appointed feel, changing rooms and toilets attached. Perfect balance in all respects.

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End the experience with a choice of ‘special teas’ or a chilled drink of lemon water. It’s a day worth remembering.

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Yes our little state of Goa would have a perfect ‘balance’ if our natural spa’s were spruced up. But Spa’s like this one compensate to the ‘feel good’ factor. As Kevin Richardson said ‘I believe as human beings we are out of balance, out of synch with the earth.’

The Spa’s like the Shamana Spa at The Grand Hyatt in Goa makes us live up to our old traditions where health is wealth. To quote Buddha ‘to keep the body in good health is a duty….otherwise we shall not be able  to keep our mind strong and clear.’ That is what is known as a perfect Balance.

Butterflies are Free. 

Eliza Dolittle said ‘I don’t really go out to Party but I’m definitely a social butterfly.

Interesting…because that what happened to us on a Thursday night. I am not really a party animal but had heard that things were happening at the Sol. This is a place where perhaps everyone who is someone catches up to relax, unwind and ‘flit?’

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Ihaan, Kiran and me…decided to party that night with Joe. Yes we were pepped up because this was our first visit to the ‘Boutique Hotel’ on a Thursday night.

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We caught up with GM Ashley Thomas. And then the band began strumming…. What are they called? The Chrysalis. Very interesting if one remembers the Chrysalis is a transformation of the Butterfly. And this is Chrystal Farrells own band. But let’s get back to the butterfly….

Those pretty creatures that flit around nature and beauty. Nature…It is said that on earth there is no heaven…just pieces of it. Just found one. The Sol is a beautiful oasis of peace with a body of water, beautiful green fields and…yes let’s talk food.

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So what did we nibble on…their pizzas are great. They have a variety…a big choice although pepperoni is my fav. The thin crust is oh so mind boggling. Yes pizzas have a great history, but closer to home we too have our own crusty variations too…the pao (Portuguese for bread). The Goan breadmaker is known locally as PODER, an adaptation of the Portuguese ‘padeiro’

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What is the story of this bread? Let’s get back to the 16th century when the Portuguese found a surfeit of toddy in a small area called Utorda in South Goa  And with it began the Goan pão which is  a culinary masterpiece, because the toddy was used as a leavening agent instead of yeast. And so we have the pao, undo, poyi, the pokshie the unique crisp kakon (the bangle) and the katre (butterfly shape too)

Let’s end with a quote from the American drama film… “I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies’

Goa has that magic if one wants to be free..

Roots

Alex Haley captured it for posterity, the story of Kunta Kinte a 18th century African in his book Roots. With so much development along this belt of Baga in Goa, we are sure to forget our very own ‘Roots’

Francisco D’Souza has helped rewrite the past. But this is not a novel but a story told over dinner at Casa Portuguesa an old heritage home in Baga. Francisco has retained the olde world charm, dim lighting included. It’s a story about how locals lived in that era.

Give a big shout to Marianne Borgo a French actress who is so passionately in love with our culture. So here we stood posing for the camerain a happy frame of mind with food author on Mediterranean food Kornelia Santoro getting ready for the meal. Informality is the theme.

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But before we start take in the ambience. That old piano, the chandeliers. Stop to see the ceramic bottles standing all in a row.

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Yes the old altar remains the way it used to be. The old Icons are still intact. Perhaps the new ceramic bharnees with the flowers add a ‘quaint’ touch.

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Francisco can plan your meal for you, off the menu. The old Portuguese Goan touch. And don’t be surprised if as a ‘digestive’ he will pick up his guitar and sing a few Portuguese numbers for you.

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At the end it was time to say goodbye. But many people did linger on. This is not one place to be experienced in haste.

You don’t stumble upon your heritage. It’s there, just waiting to be explored and shared. Robbie Robertson