Sunday, May 26, 2013

Variety is the Spice of Life

They say ‘Variety is the spice of life’. And what is life without some spice? Coming back to our culinary world - imagine having a curry without spice…would resemble a stew, would it not? And those spices have given an identity to our cuisine although many of them have been brought over through ‘trade’ by the Portuguese and other seafaring traders.

Which gives us another ‘peek’ into our culinary art, the importance of spice? We took a trip to the area where the spice plantations are in plenty – the Ponda Taluka. It was a long journey off the main highway but we finally reached ‘Savoi Verem’ to the heritage ‘spice’ gardens of Sudesh and Sachin Shetye. ‘Don’t call this a spice plantation,’ says Sachin, ‘this is a Kulaghar…a heritage which we have nurtured over the years.’ 

We look around the thatched restaurant with long forgotten artifacts like the ‘petnem’ used for compacting the soil to create paths for water irrigation (too labor intensive to do so today) we are informed and the ‘kalle’ fashioned out of cashew tree bark to scoop out the excess water. Yes there was a lot of hard work and toil perhaps much of it gone unnoticed except by a few of the foreigners who visit the place to ‘see’ the authentic traditions of the past. Do our children know how cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg are grown? Have they enjoyed the tasty crunch of a love apple as compared to the kiwi fruit which decorates most of our confectioneries these days? Have they seen the kokum fruit being dried on the roadside…the very fruit which gives the sour tangy flavor to our curries?

‘When we serves the Hooman,’ Sachin states, ‘some of the locals ask for a strainer to find the small prawns we add from the Manosi close by,’ he smiles. Yes we have forgotten that it was the small shrimps with the ‘choos’ (head) that added the taste to the curry. We have grown so accustomed to the king prawns which are great when they are fried…but in the curry? Think of the flavor and taste.

Did we know that the Bangda Hooman has three to four different ways of being prepared in the Saraswat style? I have never had a chance to taste one where methi is added. ‘Two strong flavors?’ I ask Sachin. ‘Yes,’ he remarks ‘my mother Shalan Shetye had learned the different preparations which we showcase in our restaurant.’ Here is a challenge to all the Culinary Club members…how many types are you aware of? And if so how many preparations do you feature in your restaurants? Are our diners looking for variety or run of the mill preparations we should ask ourselves?

Yes this is our forgotten heritage. The flavors in our ancestors curry pots are now being regulated to six or seven preparations which we find in every restaurant in Goa. In the so called ‘off season’ the monsoons, why cannot chef’s work on their USP’s instead of competing with each other…give the diners a choice. ‘I am willing to share,’ remarks Sachin, ‘I still remember the owners of a 5 star hotel in South Goa asking for the recipe of the Hooman, I gave it to them with the rider that the chef should learn how to make it and serve it to the many tourists who go there, I wonder if it is being done.’ Sorry Sachin I have been to that place, the owners might want it but we still have to ignite that love and passion for all things Goan in the chef’s who take over the administration of the place. After all are we not Ambassadors of our state…even if we are on transfer here.

And what role do our shacks have to play? Are they just structures belting out music, Indian makhani and grilled seafood besides other things along our shores? The off season is the month for a master plan. Shacks for Hindu Goan food, Shacks for specialties, Shacks for seafood…and yes shacks for Indian and continental too. Just like restaurants on the main land the shack owners should also work on understanding how to market their USP’s. 

Take a tourist walking along the beach – could be Candolim…Calangute….Baga….Benaulim…Colva…’ to name a few of the popular beaches. How does one get ‘variety’? Do those eating places believe in showcasing our heritage? Do we have pride in preparing the best? We should work on a model to showcase our authentic cuisine (i.e. if the shacks serve food).  Remember – a person who stays in Calangute on a three day holiday is not going to travel to Ponda for a ‘taste of heritage Goa.’ 

A time to plan…they say variety is the spice of life…… Let’s make it a ‘khula’ (open) ghar (house) this season. Or did I mean Kulaghar (heritage) one too. The monsoons are a great time to plan the spice for the season.


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