For nine months, all we had were Skype and WhatsApp to bridge the invincible time gap of 12.5 hrs that stood like a wall between us. In the excitement of seeing each other after so long, we hurriedly planned a short trip to Goa when I returned to India over summer. What I had failed to consider was the fact that two weeks prior to departing the US, I had taken my first shot of Depo-Provera and now my hormones were fucked up to the point that I was behaving like a raging maniac at the drop of a hat. I was oscillating between calm and angry every few hours. I felt bloated all the time. The fantasies that had kept me alive were replaced by technicolour dreams of how to plan the funeral of my libido. Add to that frustration, my digestive enzymes had declared a strike which meant I could hardly put any of the food I was craving for almost a year into my mouth without any fear of repercussions. Thus, after a romantic date at one of Goa’s best restaurants, we walked home except that our walk in the sea-tinged night air was anything but romantic; I was rambling inebriated and clutching my stomach, sweating profusely as we desperately searched for the nearest loo.
It is no secret that the Bangali loves to eat but more often than not we see our brethren meticulously searching for eateries that serve Bangali food in the most non-Bangali of places, say for example, in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. Far from Bengal and its redolent plains, we found by the Baspa a tiny establishment with a board that announced “এখানে বাঙালি খাবার পাওয়া যায় |” A group of delighted Bengali tourists marched forth towards this miracle while their children, visibly depressed at the prospect of being fed more bhaat dal, tried hard to make their voices heard to their parents who oblivious to the delicious local food they were missing shut them with the ubiquitous chup kor!
To encourage fellow Bangalis to embrace the world of foreign foods, we have devised the complete guide to navigating the menu at a Goan eatery. Enjoy a laugh and a glass of feni while deciding your order!
Ambot-tik: For the one that loves onomatopoeia. Ambot-tik is how your tongue clicks against your palate when you put something tart in your mouth. Balance it with sweetness and let out a sigh before biting into a chunk of seafood.
Balchão: Pickled shrimp relish that’s fiery and finger-licking delicious. Though it might sound like a goon from Uttar Pradesh, it is originally from Macao.
Panaji or Panjim, we wondered aloud minutes after deboarding from the bus that had brought us to the capital of Goa from Margao. It was the beginning of August. Rain clouds flecked the horizon. The bus station was empty except for a few bus drivers and hawkers who were prepping for the day. In the next two days over delicious curries and cans of chilled beer, we would learn that Panjim (the final ‘im’ that also appears in names of other Goan towns like Betim, Siolim, Candolim, etc. indicates a nasal ending, so the ‘m’ is never heard) is the older Portuguese name and the official name is Panaji. Locals usually pronounce it as ‘Ponnjee.’
Old Goa was one of the three principal cities in Portuguese Goa and Panjim, on the left bank of the Mandovi estuary, was originally a suburb of Old Goa. The city is laid out in a grid; the main roads run parallel with the seafront. In 1500, Yusuf Adil Shah of the Bijapur sultanate built a palace here that would later be seized by Albuquerque and renamed the Idalcao Palace. After malaria and cholera epidemics ravaged Old Goa, the Portuguese Viceroy moved to Panaji in 1759 but Old Goa continued to the de jure capital of Goa until 1843.
Panaji is often overlooked by visitors impatient to see Goa’s stunning beaches. We spent two beautiful days walking through the old Latin Quarters, dreaming about moving into a traditional Goan home and inviting friends over for potlucks, visiting churches, and lamenting that we didn’t have enough time to visit all the eateries we wanted to.
Our first instalment of Walkin’ It takes you on a walking tour of Fontainhas, popularly known as the ‘Latin Quarter’ of Panaji, a neighbourhood that William Dalrymple rightly called a “small chunk of Portugal washed up on the shores of the Indian Ocean”. It was established in the 18th century by Antonio Joao de Sequeira, a Goan who made his fortune in Mozambique. This area is a distinct reminder of Goa’s tryst with the Portuguese. The houses, painted in bright primary colours have white trims and terracotta tiled roofs. Narrow lanes, overhanging balconies, and an abundance of azulejos tiles give Fontainhas its quaint Mediterranean feel. The area is dotted with eateries selling fresh seafood and feni and old-world bakeries laced with the mouthwatering aroma of buttery bebincas and the ubiquitous Goan pao. Many of Fontainhas’ oldest residents trace their ancestry to Portuguese seafarers and traders who settled here and speak the language of their ancestors to this date.
Grab your comfy-est walking shoes, a bottle of water, your camera and notepad, and put on your sunglasses as we hit the streets! Photo-ops other than the stops themselves are marked with a ♣.
Fonte Phoenix: Located at the base of the Altinho Hill, Font Phoenix or Fountain of the Phoenix gives Fontainhas its name (fountain, fonte in Portuguese) and thus its the perfect starting point to our walking tour of Fontainhas. We wanted to see if the image of the golden phoenix wearing the viceroy’s crown still exists but we couldn’t climb down as the façade was being renovated. The current structure around the natural spring was constructed during the tenure of the Portuguese Governor, Joaquim Jose Januario Lapa in 1885. (Here, we would like mention that Fontainhas was built on reclaimed land rich in natural springs. Only two– Fonte Phoenix and Boca de Vaca– survive to this day.)
Maruti Temple1: The most important landmark in the Hindu district of Mala is this bright orange temple that is decked with lights every night. It is located on the Altinho Hill. Huff and puff up the slope and you will be rewarded with gorgeous views of Fontainhas and its red-roofed cacophony of maroon, yellow, and indigo houses shimmering in the sun.
Once the paradise of the hippies, Vagator today remains largely quiet. Unassuming and serene, its lazy off-season demeanour is reminiscent of post-party slumbers. The Vagator we visited, the Vagator that features in our complete guide is perfect for the traveller seeking solace, perfect for the couple looking for slow winding afternoons and bluesy punch-drunk nights, and perfect for the family seeking some quiet time together. The trance parties of the 80s have gone undercover now. A few “secret” moonlit rave parties take place once in a while but you have to be on the circuit for the know-how.
More domestic tourists have started arriving in Vagator which was once the haunt of westerners. There are two beaches in Vagator: Big Vagator or the main beach which has to bear the brunt of the tourist buses that unload selfie-stick wielding hoards in the afternoon. It is not safe for swimming because it is studded with wave-smoothed rocky outcrops. While these flat, rocky surfaces can be perfect for lounging in other seasons, in the monsoon we advise against climbing them because they can be slippery and the currents below are strong enough to tear you off your perch. The beach is also the rambling place for pye-dogs. For a more peaceful time, head south to Little Vagator or Ozran. Backed by red laterite cliffs and thick palm groves, this strip of three connected coves regularly features as one of Goa’s most coveted landscapes. On the southernmost is a carved face of Shiva staring skywards. In the high season, these beaches are full of shacks blaring trance & EDM. For reasons we haven’t yet deciphered, you can spot sizeable herds of stray cows here. Be warned that a rather steep descent leads to these coves. To the northeast of Vagator, on the other side of Chapora Fort, is the sleepy hamlet of Chapora which continues to be the haunt of hippies and smokers and wears a distinct scent of charas on its briny breath.
Minutes after we had stepped on Goan soil and inhaled the sea-salt laced air, Aninda’s resolve to be on a strict diet disappeared. Within an hour of reaching Panaji, we were scouring the streets to find places to eat in Panaji. What we didn’t know is Goa wakes up late and eateries do not open their doors before 9:30 am and as we loitered through Fontainhas, I fell in love with the impeccable charm of Panaji’s old Latin Quarter while he grew more restless to begin an affair with Goan food. In the course of two days, we overshot our food budget though we hadn’t even eaten at all the places we had planned to! Both of us like to try local dishes and we discovered that Goan cuisine occupies a very interesting intersection between traditional Hindu Saraswat cuisine and Portuguese Catholic cuisine. Toddy or coconut vinegar, coconut, kokum, red chillies, chouriços, cashews, and tamarind are important ingredients in Goan curries.
Our favorite eateries in Panaji:
A number of factors make Black Sheep Bistro our favourite place to dine in Panaji. Owners Prahlad and Sabreen Sukthankar are firm believers in the farm-to-table philosophy and serve food that is “globally inspired” and prepared using “locally sourced” ingredients. The menu changes seasonally and the best idea is to ask the servers for recommendations. We had the Squid-Prawn Plancha, Crudo Nouveau made with freshly caught Modso fish, Blackened Creole Chicken, and the Chocolate Salami (a nut-studded chocolate cylinder made to make you sigh) for dessert. Each dish is a harmonious celebration of the bountiful produce of Goa. The food at Black Sheep Bistro is a sensory experience and it was one of our trip highlights. The owner is a certified sommelier and there is a curated collection of wines and innovative cocktails on the menu. Black Sheep Bistro is housed in a pale yellow Portuguese villa. The interiors are chic and have paintings by local artists on display. Apart from the food, what impressed me was a note on the menu encouraging patrons to converse with servers in Hindi and other local languages. Reservations recommended. (₹₹₹ |)
5/146, RUA 31 DE JANEIRO, PANJIM, GOA
It is too early when we arrive by a Kadamba Transport bus from Madgaon* and swaddled in rain clouds, Fontainhas is sleepy. At Old Quarter, the night guard is brushing his teeth. Check-in is at 2:00 pm. We ditch our bags in a closet whose archaic lock mechanism makes me smile and we drag our tired feet in the lilting rain, determined to stay awake and play explorers but more about that later.
Old Quarter’s main building houses four dormitories, a café and a spacious sitting area; single and double privates are located in a restored heritage property 5 min down the street. All The Hostel Crowd hostels, and there are four in Goa, have a girls only dorm. The lower level of the main building houses two dorms, the reception and a lounge. The cozy sitting area is painted bright white and matte black. It is on the upper level and is accessible by a staircase above which, strung from the ceiling, is an installation of a cascade of books. Handsome wooden desks and benches, comfortable chairs with plump cushions and plenty of natural light make the sitting area welcoming.