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Falling out of Flavour

The foreign invasion of Goa is complete. You may find Lebanese at the beach shacks, but no local spices, sausages & curries. Is Goan food going out of Goa? Namita Kohli examines...

india Updated: Jan 13, 2008 00:36 IST
Namita Kohli

It’s the death of the local flavours; the signs are evident with every bite. And you know that when you find it’s not so easy to find the perfect vindaloo, the cafreal, galinha or the sorpotel at the beach shacks. You know it when you are told ‘you have to search a bit’ for the authentic stuff. You know that when Goan sausages don’t ring a bell at the Anjuna beach.

But the shacks have everything from the good old Chinese to Lebanese, Indian, continental, and even Israeli stuff. Why, I even managed to find some decent falafel with hummus. (For the record, there are even joints like Dhum Biryani, where the butter-chicken crowd hangs out for their fill of malai tikkas and ‘authentic’ biryanis). But the perfect fish fry with the reichado masala, or the ambot-tik curry, or even simple pleasures like the guava cheese don’t come easy. The section for Goan cuisine — both the Hindu and Catholic flavours — at most of the beach haunts is a small, almost apologetic one. There are the vindaloos and xacuti alright, but the spices are deliberately toned down and the local flavours are missing.

Part of the problem, it seems, is Goans themselves. “You see, the Goan is all for sossegad (a laidback attitude). They have sold off their lands to foreigners, who have taken over completely,” rues Chrys Fernandes. Fernandes, who moved to Delhi in the ‘50s now runs the city’s sole Goan joint, ‘Bernardo’s’, with wife Cres. They haven’t been back for a while now, but the couple say “friends from Goa often complain that authentic Goan food is hard to find even in Goa.” Though Chrys still has fond memories of feni and fish curry, he says he has never felt the urge to return. “Few years back, I went to a bar and asked for urrac (the first distillation of feni). But the waiter there didn’t even know what it meant!” recalls Chrys.

While feni is close to getting a GI status, the point Chrys is trying to make is simple: the local flavour is getting diluted. “Most of the shacks in Goa are now run by seasonal migrants, who obviously aren’t Goans and don’t understand the recipe,” says Cres. They are only there to make the most of the ‘season’. In short, where there’s a beach, there’s an opportunity.

“Businesses and restaurants have fashioned themselves on the demands of the outsiders,” says food critic Maryam Reshi. To illustrate her point, Reshi, half Goan herself, recalls the case of a friend who wanted to settle down in Goa, but came back since he found the place had ‘changed drastically’. Of course, there are authentic res-taurants like Martin’s Corner in south Goa and Mum’s Kitchen in Panjim, but that apart, most restaurants would serve Indian, Chinese, continental and Goan food.

Obviously, it’s the fallout of tourism that brings with it the demand for ‘familiar’ flavours. “Most tourists wouldn’t go looking for cafreal or sorpotel. They want ‘comfort’ food. While beaches like Calangute, Baga, or Colva do have Goan joints, in Panjim, the local cuisine is lost,” feels Delhi-based resta

urant consultant Manu Mohindra, who has set up several projects in Goa, most of which ‘also’ do Goan cuisine. “The locals don’t have enough resourc-es to put up restaurants. In that scen-ario,‘outsiders’ like my clients aren’t keen to promote local cuisine,” he says.

A change in lifestyles has also has its effect. Take for instance the chorizos or Goan sausages. “Sauces? You want tomato sauces?” that’s the kind of response I get when I ask a waiter at a beach shack for the traditional Goan staple. “Earlier, people would keep pigs in the villages since they didn’t have toilets. Now everyone’s moved out, and prices of sausages are also rising,” says Cres, who feels many traditional recipes are also bound to be lost, if they aren’t preserved. NGOs like Indology Goa, which organised a conference on the subject last year, feel Goan restaurants are losing out to due to lack of patrons.

Clearly, rampant commercialisation, lack of demand and initiative, seems to be taking its toll on Goan cuisine. The state government, points Mohindra, needs to balance the tourism potential with the local culture. “Look at Pattaya, where you get both the local and international flavours. In Goa, the growth is haphazard,” he says. It’a moot point, but it’s worth thinking about. As for me, the packaged bebinca (Goan sweet) and balchao masala at the airport were the sole consolation.