Sunday, May 26, 2013

Variety is the Spice of Life

They say ‘Variety is the spice of life’. And what is life without some spice? Coming back to our culinary world - imagine having a curry without spice…would resemble a stew, would it not? And those spices have given an identity to our cuisine although many of them have been brought over through ‘trade’ by the Portuguese and other seafaring traders.

Which gives us another ‘peek’ into our culinary art, the importance of spice? We took a trip to the area where the spice plantations are in plenty – the Ponda Taluka. It was a long journey off the main highway but we finally reached ‘Savoi Verem’ to the heritage ‘spice’ gardens of Sudesh and Sachin Shetye. ‘Don’t call this a spice plantation,’ says Sachin, ‘this is a Kulaghar…a heritage which we have nurtured over the years.’ 

We look around the thatched restaurant with long forgotten artifacts like the ‘petnem’ used for compacting the soil to create paths for water irrigation (too labor intensive to do so today) we are informed and the ‘kalle’ fashioned out of cashew tree bark to scoop out the excess water. Yes there was a lot of hard work and toil perhaps much of it gone unnoticed except by a few of the foreigners who visit the place to ‘see’ the authentic traditions of the past. Do our children know how cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg are grown? Have they enjoyed the tasty crunch of a love apple as compared to the kiwi fruit which decorates most of our confectioneries these days? Have they seen the kokum fruit being dried on the roadside…the very fruit which gives the sour tangy flavor to our curries?

‘When we serves the Hooman,’ Sachin states, ‘some of the locals ask for a strainer to find the small prawns we add from the Manosi close by,’ he smiles. Yes we have forgotten that it was the small shrimps with the ‘choos’ (head) that added the taste to the curry. We have grown so accustomed to the king prawns which are great when they are fried…but in the curry? Think of the flavor and taste.

Did we know that the Bangda Hooman has three to four different ways of being prepared in the Saraswat style? I have never had a chance to taste one where methi is added. ‘Two strong flavors?’ I ask Sachin. ‘Yes,’ he remarks ‘my mother Shalan Shetye had learned the different preparations which we showcase in our restaurant.’ Here is a challenge to all the Culinary Club members…how many types are you aware of? And if so how many preparations do you feature in your restaurants? Are our diners looking for variety or run of the mill preparations we should ask ourselves?

Yes this is our forgotten heritage. The flavors in our ancestors curry pots are now being regulated to six or seven preparations which we find in every restaurant in Goa. In the so called ‘off season’ the monsoons, why cannot chef’s work on their USP’s instead of competing with each other…give the diners a choice. ‘I am willing to share,’ remarks Sachin, ‘I still remember the owners of a 5 star hotel in South Goa asking for the recipe of the Hooman, I gave it to them with the rider that the chef should learn how to make it and serve it to the many tourists who go there, I wonder if it is being done.’ Sorry Sachin I have been to that place, the owners might want it but we still have to ignite that love and passion for all things Goan in the chef’s who take over the administration of the place. After all are we not Ambassadors of our state…even if we are on transfer here.

And what role do our shacks have to play? Are they just structures belting out music, Indian makhani and grilled seafood besides other things along our shores? The off season is the month for a master plan. Shacks for Hindu Goan food, Shacks for specialties, Shacks for seafood…and yes shacks for Indian and continental too. Just like restaurants on the main land the shack owners should also work on understanding how to market their USP’s. 

Take a tourist walking along the beach – could be Candolim…Calangute….Baga….Benaulim…Colva…’ to name a few of the popular beaches. How does one get ‘variety’? Do those eating places believe in showcasing our heritage? Do we have pride in preparing the best? We should work on a model to showcase our authentic cuisine (i.e. if the shacks serve food).  Remember – a person who stays in Calangute on a three day holiday is not going to travel to Ponda for a ‘taste of heritage Goa.’ 

A time to plan…they say variety is the spice of life…… Let’s make it a ‘khula’ (open) ghar (house) this season. Or did I mean Kulaghar (heritage) one too. The monsoons are a great time to plan the spice for the season.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Stories from the past

Filhos  Banana pancakes
While the first year anniversary Of the Goan Culinary Club brought back memories of the traditional tea time ‘favorites’ - Filhos, Manos, Atoll, Alla Belle, Sheviyo with jaggery, and Kongyeo with gur.(jaggery), one can but wonder what the common man ate on his/her day to day routine when the palate craved for something substantial. Did the poie grace the table all the time? Or could there be a sweet substitute…a sort of ‘sweet’ styled bread…one preparation stood out- the Manos.  No pretensions of being a lip smacking creation - looking at it one will not see it as an appealing snack either ‘presentation wise’ or ‘taste wise’ when pitted against the Filhos (banana pancake) and the Kongyeo with gur (sweet potato with jaggery). So we were compelled to ask our host Mr Peter Fernandes of O Coqueiro as to why he put this preparation on this day.

‘It brings back memories,’ he says, ‘my grandmother would have it on the table constantly. Even when we travelled to market or for any work– distances were great and ‘time’ depended on circumstances .To take a bus, we had to walk from home in Pilerne village to O Coqueiro junction. It was a long way, so my grandmother would have a bottle (an old liquor bottle) of tea and the Manos tied up for the journey. We would stop on the way and take a sip of tea and a bite of the Manos as refreshments,’ he smiles at the memory. ‘In fact even when we were waiting at the doctor’s dispensary for our medicine (and it would take a long time) she would whisk out that bottle for that needy sip and a bite of the Manos.’
Considered to be very common for breakfast and tea in the past, we asked panel member Chef Urbano Rego about this preparation. ‘It was served during the litany at the village cross and after the wedding when the husband visited the brides home too’ he remarks. Says Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues’besides a tea time snack I remember seeing it served for ros too.’

So is Manos easy to make? ‘No,’ remarks Peter. And this was something that graced all homes in the past. Made of rice, coconut and jiggery the process is long and time consuming. The pre preparation of soaking itself is overnight (approx 12 hours) and one hour of preparation time. How did the ladies of the house mange it? The methodology of soaking, grating, mixing, cooking, baking…well somehow our forefathers used all the methods of cooking in this preparation.
When competing with the ‘quick fix’ snacks of our time …the ready to eat fried stuff in packets perhaps we should learn a lesson or two from the past when it comes to a healthy living. No sugar, produce from the field and the ‘fresh’ aspect of consumption. Prepared in the night, the manos was eaten for breakfast and the leftovers finished over tea. No preservatives, no long ‘shelf life’…all fresh.