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Eating & Drinking in Goa...


Food of Goa

In keeping with the Konkani proverb "prod-ham bhookt, magi mookt" ("you can't think until you've eaten well"), food and drink are taken very seriously in Goa. They are also prepared and consumed at a typically laid-back pace, and you can expect to spend at least a couple of hours each day lounging at a table, whether in a sand-blown beach bar or on a palm-shaded restaurant terrace. Indeed, meal times may well provide some of the most memorable moments of your trip: there can be few better ways to savour those legendary sunsets, for example, than over a freshly grilled sharkfish steak, washed down with a bottle of ice-cool beer or a long feni.
Food of Goa
Nor are such gastronomic delights likely to dent your budget. The overwhelming majority of eateries in Goa are simple palm-thatch beach shacks, where a slap-up fish supper will set you back around Rsl50 (£2.50 or $4.30). While more established resorts like Calangute, Candolim and Colva boast a clutch of swanky shacks - complete with tablecloths, candles and expensive sound systems - the majority are small, family-run places botched together at the beginning of each season with palm leaves and bamboo. Service in these more modest outfits can be unbelievably slow and fixtures rudimentary, but the food is usually fresh and tasty, and the staff sociable.
Aware that the shacks deservedly do a much brisker trade than their restaurants, some hotel owners have, over the past few seasons, gone out of their way to make life difficult for owners of popular beach cafes, employing heavies, and even the police, to intimidate them or close them down. At the very least, the staff in your hotel will probably try to dissuade you from eating on the beach, telling you the shacks are unhygienic.
Needless to say, the corrupt local government has done little to alleviate the shack owners' problems. On the contrary, quick to spot a lucrative source of baksheesh, it recently introduced a lottery system for beach shacks whereby anyone wishing to run one has to make an application, which is put into a hat A set number of forms are then drawn, and the applicants invited to pay a large sum to the government for one season's license. The trouble is, as anyone can apply, regardless of their fitness to run a beach bar-restaurant, hundreds of people who have absolutely no intention of doing so put in applications. If their form is drawn, they pay for a permit and re-sell it for ten times or more what they paid. Quite apart from depriving low-income families who've run beach shacks for years of their livelihood, the lottery system has also lowered standards, as shack owners seek to recoup ever greater license fees or pay-offs by reducing the size of portions or cutting back on staff.
Food of Goa
Most upmarket restaurants tend to be air-conditioned, marble-lined halls or poolside terraces in four- or live-star hotels, with a wide range of imaginatively presented dishes; expect to pay in excess of Rs25O (£4/57) for an attentively served three-course meal. Finally, Panjim and the larger resorts have several restaurants that specialize in regional Indian cuisines and Chinese and Tibetan food.

If you come across a group of locals eating in a village cafe or roadside dhaba (food stall), chances are they'll be tucking into a pile of fish curry and rice. Goa's national dish, eaten twice each day by most of its population, consists of a runny red-chilli sauce flavoured with dried fish or prawns, and served with a heap of fluffy white rice, a couple of small fried sardines and a blob of hot pickle. Cheap and filling, this is mixed into a manageable mush and shovelled down with your Fingers.- a technique that generally takes Westerners some time (and several messy faces) to master.

Outside the state, Goa is known primarily for its distinctive meat specialities. Derived from the region's hybrid Hindu. Muslim and Latin-Catholic heritage, these tend to be flavoured with the same stock ingredients of coconut oil and milk, blended with onions and a long list of spices, including Kashmiri red chillies. The most famous of all 6oan dishes, though, has to be pork vindaloo. whose very name epitomizes the way Konkani culture has, over time, absorbed and adapted the customs of its colonial overlords. The dish, misleadingly synonymous in Western countries with any "ultra-hot curry", evolved from a Portuguese pork stew that was originally seasoned with wine (vinho) vinegar and garlic (alho). To this vinhdalho sauce, the Goans added palm sap (roddi) vinegar and their characteristic sprinkling of spices. Pork was prohibited by the Muslims, but made a comeback under the Portuguese and now forms an integral part of the Goan diet, particularly on festive occasions such as Christmas, when Christian families prepare sorpatel: a rich stew made from the shoulders, neck, kidneys and ears of the pig. Another Portuguese-inspired pork speciality is leitao, or suckling pig, which is roasted and stuffed with chopped heart, liver, green chillies and parsley.

Goa FoodGoa is also one of the few places in India where beef is regularly eaten, although you're more likely to be offered chicken simmered in xacuti (pronounced "sha-Koo-tee") sauce. This eye-wateringly hot preparation, traditionally made to revive weary rice planters during the monsoon, was originally vegetarian (in Konkani, sha means "vegetable", and kootee "cut into small pieces"), but is nowadays more often used to spice up meat of various kinds.

Not surprisingly, seafood features prominently in coastal areas. Among the varieties of fish you'll encounter are shark, kingfish, pomfret (a kind of flounder), mackerel and sardines. These are lightly grilled over wood fires, fried, or baked in clay ovens (tandoors), often with a red hot paste smeared into slits on their sides. The same sauce, known as rechad, is used to cook squid (ambot tik). Shrimps, however, ate more traditionally baked in pies with rice-flour crusts (apas de camarao), while crab and lobster are steamed or boiled and served whole.

Finding authentic Goan food can be surprisingly difficult as it is essentially home cooking: no tourist restaurant can hope to match the attention to detail lavished on special feast day dishes by Goan housewives. However, an increasing number of restaurants tack a couple of token local specialities onto their menus, albeit ones that have been adapted for the sensitive Western palate, and these are worth a try.

The choicest seafood is beyond the reach of most Goans' pockets as the tourist industry has forced up prices, so the best places to eat fish are the resorts. For no-nonsense fish steak and fries, the state's ubiquitous palm-thatch beach cafes offer unbeatable value. Meals in these rough-and-ready places cost a fraction of what you'll pay in a hotel restaurant, and they are invariably fresh and safe, in spite of the signs posted outside many of the star resorts advising residents to steer clear of them - more because they poach custom than poison punters.

Rice and Breads


Rice and Breads in Goa

In tourist restaurants, meat and seafood are generally served with fries and salad, but locally grown short-grain "red" rice is the main staple in the villages. In addition, the Portuguese introduced soft wheat-flour bread rolls, still made early each morning in local bakeries. Restaurateurs mistakenly assume foreign visitors prefer Western-style spongy square loaves, so if you want to try the infinitely tastier indigenous variety, make a point of asking for pao (or poee in Konkani).

Another delicious Goan bread to look out for is sanna, made from a batter of coconut milk and finely ground rice flour that is leavened with fermenting palm sap (toddi). These crumpet-like rolls are steamed and served with pork and other meat dishes because they are great for soaking up spicy Goan gravies.

Desserts and breakfasts


Desserts in Goa

No serious splurge is considered complete without a slice of the state's favourite dessert. bebinca A festive speciality prepared for Christmas, this ten-layered cake, made with a rich mixture of coconut milk, sugar and egg yolks, is crammed with cholesterol, but an absolute must for fans of solid old-fashioned puddings. The same is true of batica, another sweet and stodgy coconut cake that is particularly mouthwatering when served straight out of the oven with a dollop of ice cream.

Breakfast usually consists of oily somelettes, but you could ask for an alebele a pancake stuffed with fresh coconut and syrup. A healthy tropical fruit salad, steeped in coconut milk and home-made set yoghurt (curd), is another great way to start the day. The crepe-like masala dosa, filled with spicy potato and nut, makes a great blow-out breakfast, although most early-rising Goans prefer to start the day with a lighter idli (steamed rice cake) or wada (doughnut-shaped deep-fried lentil cake) dipped in fiery sambar sauce and subje (white coconut chutney).

Indian food


Indian Food in Goa

If you get fed up with Goan-style fish and fries, Indian food is the next best option. Don't, however, expect the same kind of food you find in English-Indian curry houses. Curry is actually something of a misnomer. The word, which in India is used to describe one particular aromatic herb (the corn leaf), denotes a wide range of dishes, each made with its own characteristic blend of spices, or masala. As in most parts of the world, different regions of the subcontinent have produced their own distinctive cuisines, and mid-range and upmarket restaurants in Goa invariably serve a representative cross section of these. In the town, you'll also come across a scattering of cheaper, smaller South Indian-style snack bars. Vegetarians, in particular, will find these udipi, or "tiffin" restaurants a welcome sight as the food they prepare is always "pure veg*. The quintessential South Indian snack is the masala dosa, a large crispy pancake made with rice flour and stuffed with a spicy potato concoction. It is usually dished up on large tin trays, together with a small splodge of chami (ground coconut and yoghurt flavoured with mustard seeds and tamarind) and sambar (a spicy, watery gravy). The same side dishes also accompany other popular South Indian snacks.

such as uttapams, thick, soft pancakes made from partially fermented rice flour, and parotta, wheat-flour dough rolled into spirals, flattened and then fried in hot oil. At breakfast time, tiffin canteens serve piping hot idlys, or steamed rice cakes, while in the afternoon you can usually order a range of deep-fried snacks such as pakoras, samosas or potato cakes called boon-da.

Served between 11.30am and 2.30pm, the main meal of the day, however, is called a thali, after the large stainless steel tray on which it is brought to your table. Thaiis comprise a large pile of rice, four to six different vegetable preparations served in small round cups, a couple of runny sauces or lentil-based dais, chapatis (unleavened wheat-flour bread cooked on a hot gridle), papadam and rate or yoghurt In the majority of tiffin restaurants, this filling meal will set you back around Rs3O-5O (70p/$l).

To sample North Indian food at its best, you'll have to head for the upscale hotels, or restaurants such as Delhi Durbar in Panjim (see p.76), where the menus are dominated by Mughlai cooking. Introduced to the subcontinent by the Persians, refined in the courts of the mighty Moghul emperor and now imitated in Indian restaurants all over the world, northern cuisine is known for its rich cream-based sauces, kebabs, naan breads and pulao rice dishes delicately flavoured with cloves, almonds, sultanas, cardamom and saffron.
The other popular northern style, elevated to an art form by the notoriously sybaritic Punjabis, is tandoori. The name refers to the deep clay oven {tandoor) in which the food is cooked. Tandoori chicken is marinated in yoghurt, herbs and spices before cooking. Boneless pieces of meat, marinated and cooked in the same way, are known as tikka, and may be served in a medium-strength masala, or in a thick butter sauce. They are generally accompanied by rotis or naan breads, also baked in the tandoor

Non-Indian food


Non-Indian Food of Goa

Chinese food is served in most multi-cuisine restaurants, although, with the exception of one place in Panjim (see p.76), it tends to be cooked by local chefs and is not what you might call authentic. Still, rice and noodle dish- es make a pleasant change, and are easier on the digestive system if you're having stomach problems. The same is true of Tibetan food, which you'll find in a couple of established restaurants in Calangute and Candolim where families of Tibetan refugees have settled.

Western food is also widely available in the resorts. Expensive international-standard hotels often lay on buffets and fussy a la carte menus prepared by foreign-trained chefs. However, a growing number of beach restaurants also rustle up passable imitations of pizzas, pasta, lasagne, stroganoff and even full English breakfasts, using local ingredients.

Fruit


Fruit of Goa

Lovers of tropical fruit will find plenty to get their teeth into in Goa. Lying on the beach, you'll be approached at regular intervals by fruit wallahs carrying baskets of bananas. watermelons, oranges, pineapples and, from late March onwards, succulent mangoes. Once you've fixed a price, the fruit is peeled and sliced with a machete. It's safe to eat but you may want to sluice it over with sterilized water to be doubly sure, especially if the vendor has touched it with his or her left hand (see p.48). Fresh coconuts are the healthiest fruit of all. Their milk and meat are chock-full of vitamins, and a fair-sized nut will tide you over between breakfast and supper time if you're marooned on the beach. Itinerant vendors usually carry a couple, but in more off-track areas you're better off asking a toddi tapper to cut you one straight from the tree. Goans prefer to eat young green nuts, whose flesh is softer and milk sweeter. The top is hacked off and two holes punctured with the tip of a machete: you can drink the milk through these or with a straw. Afterwards, the fruit wallah or roddi tapper will crack the nut open so you can scoop out the meat.

Among the less familiar fruit, the chickoo, which looks like a kiwi and tastes a bit like a pear, is worth a mention, as is the watermelon-sized jackfruit, whose green exterior encloses sweet, slightly rubbery segments, each containing a seed. Papayas are also sold at most markets, and green custard apples crop up in fruit sellers' baskets, although you'll probably need to be shown how to peel away their knobbly skins to expose the sweet yellow fruit inside.

Drinking


drinks Goa

With bottled water, tea and coffee widely available, you may have no need of soft drinks. These have long been surprisingly controversial in India. Coca Cola and Pepsi have recently made comebacks, after being banned from the country for seventeen years - a policy originally instigated to prevent the expatriation of profits by foreign companies. Since the return of the cola giants, militant Hindu groups have made them the focus of a new boycott campaign against multinational consumer goods. The absence of Coke and Pepsi also spawned a host of Indian copies such as Campa (innocuous). Thumbs Up (almost undrinkable), Gold Spot (sickly sweet fizzy orange), and Limca (rumoured to have connections with Italian companies, and to include additives banned there). All contain a lot of sugar, but little else: adverts for Indian soft drinks have been known to boast "Absolutely no natural ingredients!".

You may choose to quench your thirst with straight water (treated, boiled or bottled; see also p.20), or brands of sweetened fruit juice: Frooti is debatably the best of these. If the carton looks at all mangled, though, it is best not to touch it as it may have been recycled. Duke's mango drink, which comes in a clear glass bottle like Coca Cola, is also worth a try, and most refreshing when mixed with soda.

Goa's greatest cold drink, however, has to be lassi - a mixture of curd and water that is drunk with sugar, salted or mixed with fruit It varies widely from smooth and delicious to insipid and watery, and is sold at virtually every cafe, restaurant and canteen in the state. In addition, freshly made milkshakes are commonly available at establishments with blenders. They'll also sell you what they call a fruit juice, but which is usually fruit water and sugar (or salt) liquidized and strained. With all such drinks, as appetizing as they may seem, you should exercise great caution before deciding to drink them: try to find out where the water came from first

Alcohol


Alcohol in Goa

Drinking alcohol is not the shameful activity it is in most other parts of India. Indeed, the easy availability and low cost/tax-free status of beers and spirits in Goa contribute in no small part to the state's popularity with domestic tourists: busloads of bar crawlers from neighbouring Karnataka and Maharashtra pour in on Saturdays and Sundays to take advantage of the liberal liquor laws. The flip side, however, is that the more frequented beaches tend to be plagued by gangs of drunks at weekends and public holidays; the state also has more than 60,000 registered alcoholics - way above the national average.

Beer is consumed in vast quantities. The biggest-selling brand is Kingfisher, but Kings is also drinkable. The slightly bitter and unpleasant aftertaste in all Indian beers is caused by glycerine, a preservative which you can remove by pressing your middle finger over the mouth of the bottle and turning it upside down in a glass of water- when you remove your finger under water, the glycerine, which is heavier, will flow out of the bottle into the glass.

Few visitors acquire a taste for the traditional Goan tipple, feni, but locally produced spirits, known by the acronym IMFL (Indian-made Foreign Liquors) are generally palatable when mixed with soda or some kind of soft drink. Dozens of types of whisky are sold in bars, alongside Indian gin, vodka, rum and brandy; stick to big-name brands (as advertised on hoardings) and you shouldn't go far wrong.

In addition to spirits, Goa produces several varieties of wine, including a popular sparkling medium dry known as Wnho Espumoso, or Vinicola. You can buy this and other brands in large general stores in Panjim, Mapusa and Margao, and in most upscale restaurants. None approaches the quality of their Portuguese forebears, but the ubiquitous Goan port is passable and highly potent

Feni


Fenni

Distilling was first introduced to Goa more than four hundred years ago by Catholic missionaries. While the priests stewed up grape skins to make Portuguese firewater (aguardente), however, the locals improvised with more readily available substances such as coconut sap and cashew-fruit juice. The result, refined over the years to a rocket fuel concoction known as feni (from the Kontaki verb root fen, meaning "to froth"), has become the common man's tipple: a crystal-clear spirit that is, according to one aficionado, "to the Goan life what the sky is to a bird: a medium of limitless wonder and potential".

The most common variety of feni is made from coconut sap, or toddi. Three times each day, the toddi tapper shimmies up his individually numbered trees, which he normally rents from the local landlord on a share-crop basis, to release plastic seals bound around new shoots at the heart of the palm. The toddi then dribbles into a terracotta pot. At this stage it is slightly sweet, but by the end of the day the liquid becomes cloudy as it starts to ferment. Urrack, produced by boiling up the freshly fermented toddi and straining it through cotton, is 'rarely drunk. More often, it is distilled a second time, sometimes with cummin or ginger added as flavouring.

The juice used to make the stronger and more expensive cashew feni is squeezed from the yellow fruit of the cqja tree, brought to Goa from Brazil three hundred years ago by the Portuguese and now the source of the state's principal cash crop, cashew nuts. The extraction work was traditionally done by treading the pulp in large wooden barrels; nowadays, though, mechanical presses are more common. Once extracted, the juice is distilled in exactly the same way as its coconut cousin. However, cashew feni has a distinctly different taste, sometimes compared to Mexican tequila.

Both types of feni may be drunk neat, but you'll find them a lot more palatable diluted with water, soda or a soft drink (Limca and a twist of lemon works wonders with coconut/ent). A couple of tourist bars in the major resorts also offer pleasant feni cocktails (one hotel even advertises cashew feni "slammer" nights). If you overindulge, though, brace yourself for the Mother of All Hangovers the following morning: Goa's national drink, whatever you disguise it with, is rough stuff.