Thursday, July 3, 2014

Goan delicacies Bharleli rusch

The Mackeral (Bhangda) is one fish which is found in every Goan household. We see them dried, in a kishmur, fried, masala fried….numerous ways in which they are served in restaurants. But I was on a quest to source a preparation which most restaurateurs do not focus on. And also to find out what the Gen Next feels about the preparation. I was lucky to get all that under one roof…the home of Vaishali Joshi in Vasco 


She had learned the preparation from her mother in law, the late Ms Prema Joshi. The lady was legendary in her Saraswat culinary skills and had imparted that knowledge to her daughter in laws. Joining us was the eldest daughter in law Lalita and the fifth and youngest Monica. And the subject for discussion was the ‘Bharille Bhangde’ (stuffed mackerel) as pronounced in Konkani. Now we are all aware that the mackerel is an oily fish and a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids. Moreover as the flesh of mackerel spoils very quickly, drying and salting is the principal preservation method in Goa for a rainy day. 

Vaishali had ensured that the Gen Next of the Joshi family was present for a discussion on the preparation. Looking at the fat fish (they were stuffed of course) which were tied with a banana stem, on the table on a bed of lettuce I wondered what the youngsters would feel about this traditional preparation. So here they were…. Neha, Charuta, Shamini, Vibhav, Mihir and Rishabh.- Gen Y and Z. What did they feel about Goan food in general…would the cuisine remain the principle focus in the years to come? They were asked. The educated youngsters were keen to air their views. From responses stating that palates and tastes today are flexible as there is a lot of choice, to the fact of unavailability of local ingredients (grated coconut a case in point), to spending half a day in the kitchen cooking……did not augur well for the stability of retaining the Goan cuisine as No ! in most urban household. So I decided to change direction and worked on the subject of ‘fish’…all Goans love their fish don’t they? Charuta confesses that after marriage to a Gujrathi her love for Goan food has increased as her husband loves the cuisine. Neha loves the bharleli bhangda as she loves the stuffing and the crisp taste of the skin. Vaibhav too is partial to the preparation. However, comments ranged from the taste and flavor being a bit too strong to a preference for the Hooman to the bhangda. The Gen Next today knows their minds and their taste buds too.

So what is the future of these delicacies? Lalita relates an anecdote of the past. Her late aunt in law Prafulla Dahanukar had invited Asha Bhonsle to try the preparation. Unfortunately she could not make it due to prior engagements, so Lalita was given the task of packing the bharleli banghda in a container and taking it to the airport where Asha Bhonsle was taking a flight. A few weeks later Lalita received a letter from the singer saying how much she relished the preparation. ‘Our preparations were really tasty,’ Lalita says, ‘and I still have the letter.’

The ‘rusch’ of the past…however times have changed and traditions are slowly dying. Perhaps it is time to ‘strategize’ and re market the excellent ‘rusch’ of our preparations, or else they will slowly be ‘stuffed’ into obscurity.

Goan bread Can one live on bread alone?

Give us today our daily bread….. yes bread does feature in various cultures and even brought the monarchy to become a headless one vide the guillotine when the French Queen Marie Antoinette supposedly said…"Let them eat cake" (Qu'ils mangent de la brioche) upon learning that the peasants had no bread. The story states that since brioche (bread) was enriched with butter and eggs, making it more expensive than bread, the quote supposedly would reflect the princess's obliviousness as to the condition of the people.

And now closer back home, the fate of ‘bread’ hangs in balance. A focus on the 100 year old bakery started by Vincent Pereira and now run by his namesake – grandson Vincent in partnerships one being his brother Anthony. Of the six brothers, only two have retained their ‘skill’ in this field, Vincent catering from this ‘old’ institution for the locals of Taleigao while his brother Anthony has built a bakery at his home to cater to small hotels and eateries (Café Bhonsle, Aram Café, Café Real, Vishal) to name a few.

But let’s go back to the past to understand what ‘bread’ meant to the Goans. It was the Portuguese that brought in the bread to Goa. The Jesuits found that in the coastal area of Majorda, the coconut palm groves produced sur (toddy) in plenty which was a great substitute for yeast. The Chardos of the villages (Varca, Nuvem, Colva and Utorda) learned the profession and the first batch of local Padiero (Poder in Konkani) - bakers were born. ‘Most of the bakers of North Goa migrated from the South,’ says Vincent. His wife Artimisia adds ‘and today we have to substitute the ‘sur’ with yeast due to the non availability of the same.’

We see the poder’s cycle standing in the small balcony of that house. ‘Yes we still do the morning delivery which starts around 5 am,’ states Vincent. ’Our bakery makes Poie, Kankon (bangle shaped bread), quatro (bow shaped), pao and even Undo on order,’ he says. All favorites still being made, we watch locals drop by to pick up their daily bread. So how did the delivery happen in the past? The local poder would garb themselves in old gunny sacks which brought in the flour. In their hand they would carry a stick (with cymbals attached to the top), which they would hit on the floor as they walked, the jangling noise would awaken the residents that freshly baked bread has arrived. The bread basket would then be lifted off his head to the stick which was placed on the ground enabling the customer to pick his choice. Today the invention of the bicycle and the truck horn is the symbol of the modern poder.

Inflation- Vincent remembers a time when his father would operate the bakery. ‘We would
have the bull gado to go to Panjim to pick up the flour, in 1980 a bag would cost us Rs 370/- for approx 90 kgs, ’ he reminisces, ‘today it is delivered here but the cost of the bag is Rs 2040/’. We use zamun wood and a tempo truck which lasts us for around 20 to 25 days costs us Rs 20,000/-‘. We look at the stored wood in the rain covered with blue plastic sheets. There is no place to stock it indoors. Moreover there is a problem of labor too. ‘This job is very labor intensive,’ he mourns, ‘I operate this bakery with 4-5 people. They are from the neighboring state and we have to provide them with salary (Rs5000-Rs 7000) per month, accommodation, food (fish has become so expensive today), cigarettes and even liquor. The locals don’t want a job like this and even the out sourced workers demand their dues.’

The future – We stand in the hot airless environment of the 100 year old house which gives us a glimpse into the past. The power has gone, so the machines were silent and only the old baking oven fuelled by the wood was working. One of the laborers had a torch attached to his forehead as he peered into the narrow aperture of the oven using the long handled spade to remove the baking trays. We were sweating, drenched in our clothes. Vincent had stripped to his waist getting the ingredients ready for the next batch of bread. ‘We make approximately 900 pao’s, 400 poies, 25-50 Kankons and Undo depending on order in 2 batches,’ he explains. With not much space available the bread was airing on gunny sacks placed on the floor. ‘With a lack of subsidy offered by the Government, we find it difficult to operate this place,’ says Armitisia pointing to the leaking roof and the mud walls of the 100 year old place. ‘We sell a bread for Rs 2.40/- wholesale, and Rs 3/- per poie which does not leave much margin of profitability to take care of repairs and maintenance.’ We look at the two sons of Vincent and Anthony who were helping in this enterprise. Would they like to continue this venture? They were asked. A non committal slight shake of the head was the response we received. Perhaps in the near future when it comes to our daily bread, we will follow the dictates of the Queen Marie Antoinette…..let’s eat ‘cake’, as the future of the poder is very much uncertain unless we do something about it.