Monday, October 31, 2011

The bread of life

The Portuguese had food on their mind from the moment that they arrived in India – after all it was the scent of spices that lured them across the oceans in the first place.

Right alongside, the diet of the subcontinent changed permanently: potatoes were introduced (India is now the world’s largest producer); chilies came in for the first time. Corn, cashews, guavas, pineapples, custard-apples, papayas, all came into the Indian diet through the Portuguese.

But bread came to be the most famous import of the Europeans, who found no substitute in India’s versions of unleavened chapattis and rotis, thin dosas and appams, soft breads made from ground rice and lentils.

Wheat bread did not merely signify subsistence; it was required for the celebration of Mass. The early Portuguese presence in India was missionary-heavy, and they made bakeries and baking into a priority. It was missionaries who trained a large number of converts from the ‘Chardo’ caste (of Kshatriyas), from South Goa in the arduous art of baking bread in wood-fired clay ovens, and found an alternative to yeast in fresh coconut toddy.

Every traditional bakery in Goa, has its bicycle salesmen fan out across the neighborhood and beyond, honking insistently on bulb horns ‘Phonk phonk, phonk’ and you know bread is on its way to every home in the state.Everyone buys the same article for the same price: the government-mandated Rs. 2.50 per undo, katre or poee. It’s beyond a daily staple, and more like a basic human right: if every Goan doesn’t get his fresh daily pao, every politician knows that the government will fall immediately.

Bread is right at the forefront of this cultural exchange – in fact, the original Portuguese word ‘pao’ itself is a amazing cross-over phenomenon, incredibly widespread, and used in every Asian language from Japanese to Marathi.

It take’s a great deal of trouble and time, and require considerable expertise to bake bread consistently and efficiently. For us it has been part of our life style, the silent part of our daily mornings without which many of our discussions and debates are not complete an integral part of the menu in various cafes and restaurants spread across Goa making bhaji’s, omelette's, and all the dishes taste better.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

“Jhulley Ladakh.”

“Jhulley” means greetings, thank you, good wishes, bye all in one in Ladakhi. You say Jhulley at the beginning and end of every conversation. The built up to the trip was climatically dramatic. We went wearing raincoats to the airport in Goa, by the time we were in Delhi we did not need it, then we changed to light clothing as it was dry and slightly hot in Delhi, by the time we were in Ladakh we were freezing in the dress as it was quite cold and we could feel the cold breeze as soon as we came out of the airport. In a matter of hours we came from heavy rains to dry & hot climate to the cold winds of Himalayas.

Leh is one of the highest livable cities in the world, higher than any city in Europe. Being at 13500 feet has its perils – nausea, headache, breathlessness are all part of the package here. The first couple of days are the most difficult as you try to cope up with the high altitude then your body slowly adjusts. In the meanwhile you discover more about the Himalayas through the people, their dressing, food and lifestyle. Ladakhis ever so warm, humble, soft spoken are the perfect interface between you and the extreme and harsh terrain. They kind of make you comfortable and there is a sense of security when you are with them. The climate is unimaginably extreme with temperatures at -20 degrees during the winter. The climate and terrain have left with very few options and opportunities for the locals. The economy mostly relies on tourism which lasts during the summer months from April to September. The rest 06 months you are on your own mostly indoors with nothing to do. About a decade back this was the exact situation in Goa, so it did not come as a big surprise to us, though the heavy monsoons of Goa are far far better than the – 20’s of ladakh. Off late Goa is slowly moving towards year round tourist arrivals, an act very hard to replicate in Ladakh due to the sheer extremity of its climate and inaccessibility.  Small shops, handicraft stores, artisans, employees of restaurants and hotels conveniently move from Ladakh to Goa to enjoy year round earnings as the tourist season of Goa is from October to May during the winters and that of Ladakh is from June to September during the summers.

The food is very simple, again a reflection of the geography. I was expecting it to be more non vegetarian but Ladakh surprised me again as many of the locals prefer vegetarian though they also eat meats occasionally. Dal, sabzi, roti and rice were what we found cooking in local houses. Due to tourists arriving from different parts of the globe Leh has a good variety of cuisines. Gastronomically what stood out was tea, coming in black, lemon, with milk and Ladakhi variations. The tea was so good that we had it many times a day. It kept us warm and also tasted delicious. The Ladakhi variation of tea is salted and you have a special type of tea leaves to make it. They were kept in special local flasks which we found every where that kept it warm. We continued drinking Tea many times a day till we started descending to Manali and as we were descending the quality too started dropping till it became regular again.

Ladakh is one of the most sparsely populated regions and is also the second largest district of India. The first being Kutch, ironically both are deserts, Traveling through this desert you realize how small you are, miles and miles of hills standing tall as it has through the centuries. All your achievements, all that you have seen, experienced and lived by all look small. The fastest growing economy, the large sky scarpers, the wealth all seem to be of least importance here. The legends, the stories and the sheer Geography do instill that in you.  

The tourists however seem to enjoy whatever Ladakh has to offer, it is an exotic and different experience compared to any other destinations in India. Photography, biking, cycling, trekking, camping are experiences which tourists seek. International tourists have been visiting Ladakh for the past 20 years, domestic tourists have started exploring Ladakh since the break of the millennium and thanks to the hugely successful movie 3 idiots it is now getting mileage. The sand dunes of Nubra Valley, Pangong and Tsomarari lakes, Tsokar salt lake and the drive from Leh to Manali are not to be missed. The Khardungla pass which is the highest motor able road at 18500 feet. The Changla pass and Rohtang pass drive are all memorable experiences.

As were taking one of our many halts at Changla pass on our way to Pangong lake it suddenly started to snow lightly. All the tourists started celebrating and dancing in the snow, the local’s were sitting dejected as the snow had come much earlier than expected and they have a long harsh winter to overcome while the tourists or “people from the lower areas” as they call it will stay warm in the plains


Monday, August 22, 2011

Restaurant Review – Dandey’s Grill House

Most accessible restaurants in Goa have the similar cuisine & similar menu, you look around and you will have signage’s saying – Goan, Chinese, Indian, Mughlai, Tandoor & Continental and the menu will have the standard butter, chilly, xacuthi variations along with a few steaks. What ever happened to innovations our menu is frozen for ages. The ones which offer different experiences make you slightly poorer and guilty for a while. The restaurants in 5 star resorts, according to us are over rated and seldom value for money. We, after all are from the “Sasta …. Sundar….. Tiaku” (a phrase in Hindi used to describe consumer behavior in the early 90’s which emphasized on products that looked good, lasted long and was cheap as well)  era of consumerism and like the menu we have also conveniently frozen our selves in certain aspects, though we are breaking free slowly.

So for a different menu and different culinary experience do visit “Dandey’s Grill House” which serves you good variations of steaks, the food is very simple and tasty, they have the regular variations of steaks in pepper and barbeque sauce with mash potatoes & grilled vegetables apart from various other choices. The chefs make what they know to make and they make it well, they don’t try to pretend to be the perfect steaks the way European’s do. The menu has not changed much for the last couple of years since we discovered it but at least the menu is different and you look forward to read it as it does not serve the regulars. There is a touch of localization in the final product, which we like. The service is excellent and this is a no frills restaurant, come here for the food and not for the music or view or for socializing.

Dandeys is located on the Sangolda valley, though it is located on the main road connecting Calangute from Porvorim it is kind of hidden away, a kind of place where you walk in and recognize most others even if you do not know them personally. Some how this restaurant has not caught the fancy of tourists, may be it is not marketed that way. Having tourists would add to the business & we are sure this is a place which guests who like good food will instantly like but we don’t mind their absence as we get a more personalized service and a kind of homely feeling while dining here.

The restaurant does not get too crowded and they survive on a small and growing clientele who keep going back to them for simple & good food. Chicken Cordeblue, Beef stake and fish peri peri are the dishes we keep ordering. Their garlic bread is also very different; it is normal slice of white bread infused with garlic paste and toasted with butter. They have a range of choices in starters & deserts from squid’s batter fried, prawn’s chilly garlic, some different tandoori kebabs to brownies in hot chocolate and sweet pancakes. The cooking is consistent, all dishes are pre plated. Apart from the food, the service is very warm and friendly and quick also, we never had to wait long for our order.

The only let down is the vegetarian selection, as there aren’t many, probably because it is frequented by locals who are hardcore non veggies. Over all Dandeys Grill house is a very warm, homely hideaway where you get good food different from the standard menu offered around you and it is value for money.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Goa Unplugged..........

Goa Unplugged……..

A time to experience apna Goa a little differently, ever wondered what Goa is beyond the beaches, seafood, water sports and night parties. “Goa goes through a beauty treatment during the monsoons”. With the beaches to risky to venture into all you can do is eat, drink party and sleep. Actually not a very bad thing to do, but we are sure you have done it many times in the past and will keep doing it every time a public holiday comes on either Friday or Monday. If you dare to look beyond and experience the other side of Goa here are a few options that you might want to try.

The islands of Chorao & Divar
Green, fertile, in the middle of Mandovi River: with areca nut plantations, coconut trees, paddy fields and many temples and churches. What Goa must have looked like when the Portuguese chanced upon it, it is here for you to discover. Surrounded by ferry’s which take you along with your bikes and cars to the island on all sides, here is where you can enjoy the real pleasure of cycling, driving and biking with great roads, paddy fields, churches, temples, Konkan rail all to be explored and photographed.

Located in eastern Goa, Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary is a major attraction for nature-enthusiasts and wildlife lovers as well. Just few years back Netravali was declared a wildlife sanctuary by the government of Goa to protect its Western Ghat range. Here, you can spot wildlife like Black Panthers, Great Pied Hornbills, King Cobras, Giant Squirrels, and Slender Loris. Apart from these wildlife species, you can also see a number of other animals also.

Chorla Ghats
Located exactly on the north-eastern side of the Goa-Karnataka-Maharashtra boundaries, Chorla ghat is in fact a virtual paradise in the monsoon. Being a part of the Western Ghats and the Sahyadris, Chorla ghat boasts of a lush green deciduous forest spread all over its region. You will find not one, not two, but many waterfalls of different heights here and there. During monsoon roads tend to make a heavenly-looking passage, covered with thick fog all the time which keeps on swaying with the wind. Sometimes disappearing, sometimes showing up, the dusky route could keep you in ambiguity.

Restaurants which should not be missed  
Brittos Baga - Right on Baga Beach famous for fresh seafood and European selection 
Souza Lobo - Right on Calangute beach one of the oldest restaurants in Goa famous for the seafood and Goan food. 
Infantria - Right on Calangute - Baga road. An all day dining restaurant famous for its pastries, salads and European food 
Florentine - Right in Saligao on the Panjim Calangute route a restaurant famous among the Goans. The restaurant is particularly famous for its Chicken Cafreal and Caramel Custrad.
ALua - Right in Sangolda on the Panjim Calangute route. The ambience is of an old Portuguese house and the food is extremely delicious.
Dandeys – A restaurant with an unique menu for stakes, sizzlers and continental fusion food.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bollywood loves Goa……..It’s implications.

Alcoholic husbands & brothers wearing berets and pants with suspenders, mini skirt wearing young women easily available, drugs sex etc. A story for 3 old men to have a good time in their late life time or that of the drug nexus in the state, Goa has been the backdrop of many bolywood movies. The portrayal of Goa & Goan’s has created an image among many of a free for all sin city in India. 

The reason why bolywood keeps coming back to Goa is less for the demand of the script and the storyline and more about the financials & convenience. The ESG or Entertainment Society of Goa which is a government body gives a single window clearance for all permissions for filming in Goa, unlike in Mumbai and elsewhere you need permissions from local governing bodies, railways, police etc. In March 2011 alone there were about 20 films being shot in Goa in different parts. The handicap in this initiative is the non availability of good equipments of shooting for this the Entertainment Society of Goa is planning to start a film school in the near future.  This will help nurture talent as well as make the latest equipments available for filming.

Goan’s though will have to pay the price for an stereotypical and one dimensional image created by an industry who probably do not understand them as well. Having fun & enjoying life with a couple of drinks is perceived to be immoral & loose. The latest controversy was about the film “Dum Maro Dum” where in a character says “here liquor is cheap and women are cheaper than liquor” caused quite a stir. At the same time could you expect any better from bolywood who have always been typecasting?  Have the most glamorous parts of the Goan life style and mannerisms been just conveniently adapted into the narration? Some directors have been very sensitive and used the Goan landscape & beauty very well as a backdrop, like Shyam Benegal , Sanjay Leela bansali Farhan Akthar etc. 

Goa has also lost out in being portrayed correctly because of its less presence in Bolywood, there are no eminent Goan writers, directors or producers. To the flip side of it the various movies filmed with Goa as its backdrop has given free mileage and a brand identity to Goa’s thriving tourism Industry. In the post recession times where many destinations felt the heat, Goa could tide through the rough times with a very good flow of domestic tourists.

All said and done Goa is now a integral part of Bollywood and it offers its unique culture and laid back attitude along with its natural beauty to be captured and portrayed in whichever way it makes sense to the story but as with every industry bolywood is also a extremely commercial one where in it relies on the avid movie goers who pays to buy the ticket. Probably sex, drugs and a stereotypical image is what sells.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Goa to Markets - "Thank You Very Much"

Goa should be thankful to markets. The hippie markets of the 80’s put Goa on the tourist map. Back packers from across India would gather at Anjuna beach in North Goa to exchange stuff and sell many of their possessions before they went back to their homelands. This small gathering slowly started getting famous, many came to Goa enjoyed the hospitality, natural beauty, pristine white beaches and also took part in the flee market. Bikes, jackets, fishing rods, woolen wear, cameras, binoculars etc were either sold or bartered. In the years to come many realized the potential of Goa in Tourism and it went on to become a famous destination.

A good decade after shopping malls started tasting success across the cities in India, now Goa has its first shopping mall. Markets have started changing here which seemed immune to the retail revolution happening around. The local markets here are very simple though vibrant and colorful in its own way. The normal markets are open all days except on Sunday when majority of the shops are closed or operate only for half a day, how ever there are special days of  markets when locals from all surrounding villages bring their produce for sale. In Mapusa a city in North Goa this market is on every Friday. Markets like the Friday market in Mapusa happen all across important cities and towns in Goa on different days. These markets are a treat to visit for the experience of a typical chaotic, energetic, loud Indian market. On these days the markets are generally over crowded as the locals come in thousands to buy, as you can buy the best, freshest commodities at the cheapest price. Apart from the agricultural produce, daily house hold stuff etc you can buy home made wines, exotic local vegetables, artifacts, furniture pottery etc.

More often than once you bump into some one you know. Sometimes the buyer and the seller are good friends, sometimes neighbors. Once I was bargaining hard with a elderly lady over the price of some fish pickle & a friend bumped into me and got involved in the negotiation and at his behest the lady offered me a very low rate later I realized that the lady was my friends aunt. There are no permanent shops in these markets and you could sell anything you have from any where. These markets are also spaces to socialize and catch up. In a place like Goa where every one knows every one the markets does the job of Facebook as well. Once I noticed a elderly couple roaming around in the markets distributing wedding invitation as it was easier to meet most, rather than going to meet them in their houses.

The guys who stay away from these markets are the village electricians, plumbers, painters so as to stay away from all the demands of promises not met. Actually this would have been a ideal platform for them to network and sell but not here, not yet.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Carnival of Carnivals……..

A Carnival of Carnivals……..

Merry making, singing and dancing are all an integral part of the Goan Life. There is a renewed vigor and excitement in doing it when you know that you will have to socially abstain from it for the next 40 days. The end result a Carnival which is celebrated world over in Catholic dominated countries just before Lent leading to Good Friday and then Easter. In India we celebrate the similar concept in another form called “Gattari” just before the Holy month of Shravan.

In the past people used to come together drink, sing, dance and have fun on the Mandovi promenade depicting various social and mythical characters followed by masquerade and ending with lovely Goan food and fenny.

Over the years tourists have relished and enjoyed all of what Goa has to offer. The increasing footfalls in certain pockets of the state attracted various brands. Initially they came in the form of hoardings and then the creative and the most competitive of them found more ways of attracting the eye balls and that was the end of a very simple form of cultural and social get together.

LG, Vodafone, Kingfisher and many others have taken over this celebration of the locals with all their money power. Carnival is now just another form of buying our attention to achieve their targets. The entire emotion of the festivities is gone. No longer do you see the old meeting up and the young rejoicing and dancing, they are replaced by the various event management companies that pay you for dancing and performing on their floats.

We have made a Carnival out of the Carnival. I think it is the same with all social celebrations where people of different walks of life come to gather just to enjoy, look at the Ganesh Mandals in Mumbai, all you see is the smiling face of local politicians.

One day we will be able to see the carnival celebrations depicted in various forms at some museum but what is it that we can do…

The price tourism has to pay………………………  


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Goa – Mumbai by bus, train, air, car, and bike………..missed the water ways.

It's been a decade of traveling in this sector by all the possible modes. The route is very scenic and beautiful, especially through the trains but unfortunately most of the travel happens in the nights so most of us miss the topography and laid back country side of Konkan. The buses filled with happy and jovial tourists, young Goans traveling for interviews in Cruise line ships and the Middle East returned Goans traveling with large luggage used to hip hop through the ghats and roads of NH17 through Konkan to finally reach Goa. The better air connectivity and the introduction of Volvo buses have now managed to segregate the travelers further. The trains are generally filled by the large Konkani population from coastal Maharashtra settled in Mumbai. The trains generally get empty after Kankavli and Kudal just off Goa.

Earlier the water ways were active and the Damania shipping company used to ply between Mumbai and Goa, they wound up their operation just before the millennium. Never got a chance to travel by water to Mumbai, hopefully services shall resume again some day.

It’s a very good drive to Goa  but after a very heavy monsoon this year the roads in patches are very bad. The bike ride is not at all recommended on the NH17 and it would be better to take the coastal highway which has a much lesser traffic of buses, cars and trucks. 


I wish there were better restaurants on this route. Most of the restaurants are sad and poorly maintained. There might also be some hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. Buses always stop in restaurants which have place to park and maneuver the vehicle also a little bit of  “Chai Paani” for the driver and cleaner but I haven’t found any good place worth recommending during my self exploration by car and bike.

There is this incident when I and a couple of my friends were driving down from Mumbai to Goa and we were hunting for a impressive place, debating each restaurant we saw on the way and finally we hit a stretch where there weren’t any to debate on. We did not want to go back to any of the ones which didn't impress us as hope was pulling us ahead to find one in the next corner, time & patience was running out and the great blame game had begun when I spotted a thela wala under a tree. He was about to close for the day. The only things he served there was Egg Burji, Pav’s and Tea. Too our shock and surprise he had done very good business for the evening and had only ONE egg left with him, He obliged to make a burji of that one egg for the three of us. We asked him to cut some extra onions and tomatoes to increase the quantity. At the end we laughed it out and had a burji of onions and tomatoes with some egg in it for an overnight drive to Goa.   

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Year in Goa

The New Year has just arrived and probably by now all the new year resolutions that were efficiently pursued for the past few days might have started to erode and give in to our temptations and desires. The one New Year resolution that I managed to keep for the past 2 years is to enter into the New Year away from the land I love, probable the only time so far I do not like to be in Goa. Post Christmas the Lakhs of Party lovers start descending on the shores of Goa to welcome the New Year which means many of  us who frequent to the beaches, restaurants and friendly pubs must surrender our land and retreat to safer heavens.

The coastline of Goa becomes one large party place. The tourists come with bags of money which we need but along with it comes accidents, traffic jams, long lines, petty fights, crowded beaches and garbage every where. All the things Goa is not associated with. I wonder how much these heavy spending guests enjoy. During a picnic to essell world a amusement park in the outskirts of Mumbai the entire class rushed to one of the rides. Our class was a large one with about 85 students the rest of the rides were fairly empty as we were among the only few on a weekday in the morning. The ride was good but some how there was a hype about this ride and fellow students me including started coming back for a repeat experience, most of us had to wait for about half an hour as almost whole class was focusing on the one ride. After about two times me and my friend decided to move on to the next one. I actually enjoyed the next better than the one I had spend more time on but felt it difficult to express to my friends who were all in awe of the ride. Today I realize that it was nothing but our desire to follow the crowd. I wonder if it is only Human or an Indian phenomenon to follow the crowd.

In about the past 07 years in the travel industry I have come across so many varieties of tourists who were fascinated about the entire event of celebrating New Years Eve in Goa. One of them argued with me saying that he will come 3 days before the 31st of December as he had been told that the borders of Goa get sealed and no one is allowed to enter Goa from the 30th of December. There is another guest of mine who comes every year for New Year along with his friends and pays the advance for the next year. There are some who like me do not probably enjoy the entire experience but still come to be with friends. The demand for the region is so high that you spend at least 300% more for anything.

The experience of New Year in Goa is enjoyed by many even though you have to pay a bomb for everything and still go through long lines and traffic jams and loose the entire experience of a laid back Goa, I have still not figured out what is the big deal.

Bike during rest of the year                                           Rs.150\-
Bike during New Year                                      Rs.1000\-

Homestay accommodation during rest of the year          Rs.800\-
Homestay accommodation during New-Year                Rs.4000\-

Beer during rest of the year                                           Rs.40\-
Beer during new year                                                    Rs.120\-