By Sinead Mcmanus
Down a dark little alley in Caranzalem the narrow mud road is bumpy around its meandering curves, only a minor contrast to the well-worn tarred road main road. It suddenly cuts you off from the bustle of the village, where the local taverns echo with laughter, the shops buzz with school children and stray dogs chase little piglings across the street. O Cozinheiro does just this – it sits away from the daily humdrum of village life but injects into its ambience a lively atmosphere of its own.
Joe Martins is a man who knows his business. Having worked on cruise liners for nearly a decade, and then spending two decades running the restaurant here in Goa, he’s well versed with hospitality and good food. The menu is simple, with no frills. Its honest is reflected in the taste of the food.
With the Caranzalem football ground right opposite, the evening brings with it the soft sounds of crickets and glimmer of glow bugs. O Cozinheiro is set in an old Indo-Portuguese house and the vacant area before it provides ample parking space for guests.
Only a couple of tables dot the verandah leaving the impression of it being tiny. But past the kitchen spilling onto the garden are a host of wooden tables and chairs. Choose a corner and it could be a lovely setting for a comfortable down-to-earth candlelit dinner.
Strangely the restaurant is one of the few places in Panaji that serve good, affordable Portuguese-influenced Goan food. There’s everything from your comfort food of sausage pao or prawns balchao to daintier items like fish roe and fish cones.
Classic 70s tunes mingle comfortably with potted plants, red-and-white life buoys hang on the wall and the delicious smell of home cooking wafts through the garden. Joe comes round now and again to chat with guests, lending further comfort to the ambience. On Thursdays, a live band serenades patrons.
The prawn reichado is lip-smackingly delicious and there’s only so much one can do to resist ordering another plate. The squids in the chilly fry are perfectly done and tossed with a beautiful mix of capsicum, French beans, onions and green chillies, and served with a side of piping hot crispy unde or pao, fresh from the bakery.
Joe takes personal interest in everything. He goes to the market each morning for the catch of the day and grinds all the masalas himself. He highly recommends the pigling cabidela and feijoada, those tantalising pork dishes that bring expats home every year without fail.
The tongue gravy is tender and comes with salad and chips, while the ambot tik with its large chunks of shark meat in zesty gravy is offered with either rice or local bread.
And there’s no better way to end the meal than a large dollop of serradura, that queen of desserts that sends you to heaven with every spoonful.
By Sinead Mcmanus