Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Culinary Escapade of Goa

Goa on a platter...Fun...Food...Frolic
A Historical and Cultural legacy

What does one do on a holiday? Go sightseeing, relax, sunbathe and gorge on the tempting delicacies that the place has to offer.It was with this idea in mind that author Odette Mascarenhas embarked on her 'escapade' to unravel the culture, history and cuisine of Goa and serve it up on a platter.

It encompasses the different talukas together with the recommended places to eat and visit. With a review of Goa's 40+ restaurants to visit, their specialties will tempt your palate, your taste buds fired with expectancy on what should follow.

The author believes that after a holiday, one should have a recollection of memorable moments spent there...and this book provides it. Reliving traditions, festivals and folklore of the past...a culture which is slowly dying, but still retained in villages. Or perhaps once back home, with a hope of trying out Goa's unique preparations from the top six chefs of Goa... 24 recipes of Hindu Goan, Christian Goan and even Portuguese cuisine.

From a tourists point of view, a panel was instituted to rate and review 40 good restaurants in Goa plus 60 others which could be visited to enjoy a different experience. from speciality based cuisines, to the haunt of local Goans where the fresh catch of the day or a unique curry could have one's taste buds begging for more.

The book also explores the history of Goa throughout the ages...Kadamba, Saraswat, Portuguese the numerous conquests added flavor to the constant evolving culinary preparations as well as to the culture of the land. So backed with the knowledge that the book provides one would be empowered to experience the most enticing 'escapade' of their holiday.

Available at Leading Book Stores in GOA.
Price: Rs.275/-
For Bulk Order enquiries contact: +91 9326101776

Monday, January 11, 2010

Simply the Best

Goa is known for its music, culture and food, and we found a place that showcases to the tourists just that…21 cocos. The brainchild of Mike Braganza, he and his wife Rachel has a buzzing place at Candolim, the lane just after Axis Bank. It was Sunday Night and music permeated the air….Irish Welles was crooning music that captivated our senses as we walked into the brightly lit and buzzing restaurant.

The first thing that caught my fancy were the 21 baskets above the bar holding 21 golden coconuts. ‘Why 21?’ I asked him. ‘Because that is my lucky number..’ was the simple reply. ‘and cocos?’ I asked in my best reporter voice hoping to cover the fact that hubby dear was going ‘loco’ over the irish Welles captivating voice. ‘the English always think of coconuts as cocos,’ Mike smiles. Well it was true. When the Portuguese took the coconut as part of their trade to England, they thought that the hairy surface resembled their ‘witch’ coco..and the ‘nut’ was added later. So that is how the name stayed.

And somehow Mike had managed to lure them into his restaurant. The place was packed, the glow of the pillars the bright orange of the waiters shirts created an environment of ‘happening’.

‘So what would you like to drink?’ a waiter asked. Looking around at the crowd…English with a few Indian NRI’s Joe immediately said ‘Cosmopolitain.’ I decided to keep my ‘senses’ intact and went in for a fresh lime soda. ‘Try our minty flavor..’ recommends the waiter. So I nodded expecting a sprig of mint as a garnish. To my surprise the greenish lemon concoction sported no sprig…the mint was blended in. I took a long sip…refreshingly different. ‘we blend it in our blender,’ Mike explains, ‘its great for a hangover.’

Although I did not need it…maybe Joe would need it later, he was blissfully lost in the music (I must admit that Irish Welles has a great voice), Mike had recommended the Tandoori tikkas. I looked up in surprise. But he nodded emphatically…and so onto the table came the chicken tikka and the minty kebab.

I would not have imagingined that a place like this could produce such succulent preparations…even the mint chutney was good. But it was the minty kebab….somehow the flavor of mint had captured my senses including my tastebuds……mixed with curd the marination was one to die for. And the diners were swooning there too. One of them with a rich baritone had now taken over the mike…(no not our Mike, he was very much with us) and was singing one of my favorite retro songs……’in your eyes, I get lost, I get washed away….you are simply the Best…’ I temporarily forgot Joe and the food….he sounded so much like Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones…all rolled into one.

With great reluctance I decided to focus on what Joe had ordered. The menu had listed old favorites…liver on toast, crumbfried chicken, cream soups. Well the choice was crumb fried prawns with Tartare sauce. The flattened prawns were decoratively arranged on a platter.the tartare sauce had a twang to it…..genuinely family fare, I thought my foot tapping unconsciously to the music.

By now more and more diners were involved in the music….the speciality of the house the Pepper Steak and the Penne in a seafood sauce was in front of us. The tempting hash brown potatoes and thick peppery sauce in the sauce boat did wonders to the meat…..if one likes to savor a good old fashioned steak then this is the place.

But the dessert still had to come….suggestion ‘Drunken Apples.’ Aha! Gotcha. After his second Cosmopolitain Joe agreed to try the dessert. Apples stewed in wine and grape juice combined with a scoop of vanilla icecream….

We sat back just as the other diners did….there was no hurry to depart. This was a place made for fun and family. As we said our goodbyes, I regretfully looked back for my ‘Frank Sinatra’. Perhaps I imagined it, but in the background the strains of ‘Simply the Best’ echoed in my ears.

Hook…line…and sinker

I happened to see an article in the ‘Urban Taste’; well it’s a daily in London, which spoke about eating out 09 in London. It featured dishes from a restaurant called ‘mint leaf’ and the name of that chef was Ajay Chopra. He is here in Goa, I was told, and you must taste his creations…they are awesome. I needed no second invite, to dine at the hands of the chef who has catered to A-list Celebes, urban socialites as well as Former President Bill Clinton and our very own Dr Manmohan Singh. I was the privileged one.
So with great expectations I went on to the Goa Marriott Resort where this chef has joined as the new Executive Chef. Oberoi Hotels, J W Marriott’s, and then the mint leaf chain of restaurants in London, brushing shoulders with the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Angela Harnet…what more could one ask for.

‘Where are we headed,’ Joe asks. ‘To simply fish…’ was my response. Now trust him to take that sentence literally, but we were actually headed to the waterfront restaurant aptly named ‘Simply Fish’ to sample chef’s innovative preparations. He has recently re-designed the menu for that restaurant.

There is one thing that I would definitely recommend (if you have not tried it before) is the ambience. Seated on the waterfront with the sound of the water lapping against the bank, the slight breeze ruffling through your hair, the candlelight flickering in the dark….don’t blame me for getting romantic. I would definitely recommend a special occasion here. But that is just one part…we were here to experience the other. Now with such a CV one would expect an older profile of the chef. We were pleasantly surprised. His warm outgoing personality had me hooked. ‘Go fish,’ Joe murmured under his breath. I threw him a stony glance which said. What’s sauce for the goose…..?

So from the kitchens…he was on the range himself, came the taste tickler, the ‘amuse bouche’ I was told. Grilled prawns with lemon mustard on a triangular piece of toasted bread. An interesting concept, I found as I let my teeth sink into the masala rolls spread with a combination of tomato chutney, mustard and celery pesto. Ummm…and we had not yet started on the actual meal.

Well one can have a choice of the ‘catch menu’ where you choose from a large variety of seafood, the a la carte or the table d hote (fixed) menu. We were going to sample from the a la carte. ..Starting with the appetizers. The southern spiced potted crab, the tandoori lobster and pickled beetroot carpaccio and the mint and chili grilled king prawns. Now as you can see there is a fusion of ingredients...as the chef had told us, ‘fresh ingredients subtly mixed with herbs.’ Well I went potty about that potted crab, especially when I dipped the crisp fenugreek bread into the mixture, and the prawns? The flavor of the mint mingled with the lime chutney and green pea relish. Did I fail to state that this chef believed in ‘trendy dining?’ Now you will not get marinations like this in the numerous restaurants dotted along our coast. The flavor of the fish was enhanced, especially when I had that lobster. You see that dish was served with a spiced rocket and apple salad….fly me to the moon. I had always made a mistake of having a salad as an accompaniment. I now realized the creativity involved in the choice of ingredients and the sauces.

But we were now onto the soup…the old favorite lobster cappuccino and the Canadian clam chowder. Now if you think the chowder was a mash of ingredients think again…the chef’s words ‘food inspires me’, played on in my head as I dipped a roast garlic straw into the ‘delicately flavored’ preparation.

And there is still the ‘mains’ to arrive. The Grilled tiger prawns with corn mash, pan seared catch with kokum crab crust and the seafood pot. If the names sound exciting let me describe the food. I beamed across the table. ‘Line mutt marao,’ Joe mutters. But I was smiling from ear to ear. That crusted fish…I played around with it in my mouth hoping to catch the flavor, as I mixed it with the moilee sauce. Yes, kokum crusted and a kerela sauce. ‘Its curry patta flavored spice,’ chef explains. But it is the sea food pot that had me begging for more. Clams, squid, prawns, mussels in a sauce one would die for…a tomato and coconut gravy that spiced me up to the gills. It was with great regret that I was unable to finish those tiger prawns though a bite into one made me smile like a Cheshire cat.

‘I’m sunk,’ I groan as I look at the tempting dessert. ‘Now you are making sense’, Joe states as he dips his spoon into the creamy pistachio parfait with honey glazed fruit. Could I resist that? No siree. If one thinks of a fitting end for the meal, go for it….Hook…Line…and Sinker.