Janice Rodrigues|NT BUZZ
Most Goans are fairly familiar with words like varan, karam, and tondak, but few know of places where they can sample these culinary delights. Other than a few of your friends’ houses you will not really find these foodie treasures in the regular menus of the myriad restaurants Goa boasts of. But fret not, for the next whole week you won’t have to forage around for some of Goa’s authentic vegetarian food, Cidade de Goa has it all at the Saraswat Food Festival.
Saraswat food is probably the most underemphasised aspect of Goan food. It is an answer for all those who think Goan cuisine is all about seafood, chicken xacuti and other non vegetarian dishes. Yes, Goa loves its home grown vegetables, its spicy and tangy curries and coconut mixed preparations. And all these delightful home secrets make their way into your thali at the resort’s Cafe Azul restaurant, during the festival.
The thali came pre-plated, in true Saraswat style, with ten small steel bowls of varying sizes, and their contents with different colours, making it a visual treat first. The aromas that wafted into the air were the second treat, and the third and final, but the most important was the treat to the taste buds when I sampled the food.
The mixed chunks of vegetable in the ‘khatkhattem’ are cooked to perfection lending a bite yet while at the same time melting away in your mouth. The ‘uddamethi’, a favourite of many, was really the star of the thali, with the ‘ambade’ lending an added tanginess to the gravy, the after taste of the methi seeds was perfect too. Pulses have always formed the major source of protein in the vegetarian diet, and the Saraswat cuisine is no different. Here they find their representation in the form of ‘chawli tonak’ and the ‘moogachi ghati’. Both these preparations were spicy yet delightful and the taste took me back to childhood memories of visiting friends during Ganesh Chaturthi. The plain ‘dal varan’ balanced out the spice of the other preparations.
The local Goan vegetable spectrum is incomplete without the red leaves of the amaranth or ‘tambdi bhaji’. Lending its colour and unique taste, the coconut based preparation, is truly a vegetarian’s delight. Usually the ‘karam’ in a Goan thali is more of a dry salad, however, here we had a ‘karam’ of cucumber and spinach which was more of a raita, with curds. The slivers of cucumber and spinach gave a certain crunch. Speaking of crunch, the ‘batata kappa’ and the ‘keleanchi foddi’, were fried to crispy perfection. With a choice of either steamed or boiled Goan red rice, the health conscious people can indulge in some healthy Goan food. To give the Indian twist, the chefs offer you a choice of the phulka over the regular chapatti.
No food is complete without dessert. And in the Saraswat thali it comes in the form of ‘mangannem’ and the Ganesh Chaturthi favourite ‘modak’. ‘Mangannem’ is one of Goa’s favourite sweets and the chefs at Cidade seem to know that well enough. The ‘modak’ was juicy but the ‘mangannem’ was the star among everything on the thali. Just the right sweetness with the chana dal and sago made this dessert a treat at the end of the thali.
So, if you’re craving for some good vegetarian Goan food, you know where to find it now.