Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday Brunch on the Mandovi Backwaters

Have you ever sat watching the ‘Travel and living’ TV show, saw those exotic places in the continent, watched the floating cruises vend their way across the mystic rivers and wish wholeheartedly that you were there. Your wish is about to be granted…no my friends, this is not an advertisement for a travel agency, but a promise of enjoying yourself on the very same river that flows through our state of Goa…..the Mandovi.

Mr Rajesh Khaunte, experienced the very same enjoyment on the canals of Amsterdam, and decided to bring it to Goa. ‘We paid 100 euros per head for a two hour cruise,’ he adds, ‘I wanted to bring to Goa the same experience in a more moderate way,’ he says. And so… The BarcoLento, Portuguese for ‘slow boat’, made its advent…it cruises every night on the river for a two hour duration, and on Sunday too for a fantastic brunch.

Someone once told me that ‘eating out is an experience’. I couldn’t agree with that statement more…and so we ventured out to a restaurant……or the poolside of a starred hotel…or a boat? That was the first for me, and it took me completely by surprise when Joe said, ‘ lets eat on a boat this afternoon ’.

So here we were on the quay, looking at this quaint wooden boat, with red and white drapes fluttering in the still breeze, a running thought echoing in my mind, ‘O damn here goes my Sunday afternoon…..4 hours of captivity,’ but to keep my better half happy, I fixed a smile on my face, hoping that my stomach would not get queasy by the movement. And here was Joe talking about food.

The upper deck (approx 80x18ft) was elegantly appointed with crisp red tablecloths…my immediate thought… ‘hey this is like a restaurant.’ The cane décor, the glass wash basins and the well stocked bar gave me the impression of dining in a stared hotel in the middle of a pool…but the advantage of having lush greenery and chirping birds all around.

‘The boat travels at 7 knots per hour and has a 130 horsepower engine….believe me the ride is as smooth as silk,’ Rajesh explains. With that positive feeling, my stomach settled down to partake on the snacks that started appearing one after another on the table to accompany the unlimited house brands which are served on the rate.

Well I had been on many local cruises, rows and rows of chairs, drinks flowing as the tourists jostled at the bar to be served, music blaring out Hinglish numbers as the boat rocked its way up the river.

But this was an experience with a difference. I was not even aware that we were midstream, the waiters under the supervision of the deck Captain Mathew D’Souza, was plying us with their snacks. First the munchies…by now we had passed the Mandovi bridge and were feasting our eyes on the lush greenery around us. But we were not given much time to brood…this was not just a scenic cruise. Jus Leo, the one man band Entertainment co-ordinator was whipping up a medley of foot tapping music while the hot Szechwan tikki’s were being served. I was always wary of food being served away from kitchens, but when I say hot…it means hot….no, the spice was just right….just delicious.

Meanwhile the face painter Jackie, had started her work, children and adults alike were testing her artistic skills. They were not disappointed. We had now reached Chorao, looking for sleepy crocodiles. But even the flavour of the piping hot…yummy chicken and potato Cafreal did not tempt them out of the marshes.

No disappointment my friends…Magician Savio was at the table conjuring tricks, and as the boat reached the Aldona bridge the music was at its full tempo with Minnie Mouse and Winnie the pooh in full Disney costumes, dancing a jig that had many of the diners stomping on the floor along with them.

We passed the Old Pandava temple, cheering children who had taken a dip to cool off, waving villagers…and then the buffet lunch was served. A three non-vegetarian, three vegetarian buffet meal was laid on the lower deck.

The crumb fried fish was soft…not the hard leathery type which could come when it is heated for a long time on the chaffing dish. I later heard that the Chef was on board. Chicken Vindaloo and Fish Curry….I am sure the recipe was obtained from a local Aunty. The vegetarian dishes…the corn gravy, mixed vegetable, the dal…we had a Gujarathi couple from England who were sitting at the next table. The gentleman had complained that he had a woozy stomach…pre cruise launch, but he was relishing the delicacies with full gusto.

By now, balloon sculpting was in full swing, the kids were having a ball…and so were the adults too, when every lady was presented with a red heart with two little dove birds cooing together. Time for dessert…a choice of fresh fruit or an Indian dessert, or both as I surreptiously decided. Luckily,Joe was looking the other way.

The advertisement states….if you want to be close to nature and experience the beauty of Goa in the most relaxed manner…cruise along on BarcoLento and it will sail you into an unforgettable experience. No idle boast. Rajesh had warned me that I would lose my heart along the way….the untouched and otherwise inaccessible Goa, and the traditional home cooked food, had stolen my heart. The only thing left was the colorful red, heart shaped balloon clutched tightly in my hand as we left the perfect venue for a delightful Sunday afternoon.

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