When we planned our one-week family vacation in Goa in April, we built our itinerary around where to eat. It was the only thing on the agenda of sun, sea, sand, pool and sleep that needed planning. My husband and I both come from coastal towns – Kochi and Mangaluru respectively – and fish thalis are something we have grown up with. We had also done plenty of them on earlier trips to Goa – Fat Fish, Bhatti’s Village, Vinayak, Kokni Canteen and many others, all ticked off the list. So we decided that on this trip, we would give the fish thalis a miss and check out the international cuisine scene in Goa which is currently thriving.
We made a lovely AirBnB apartment in Candolim our base. On the first evening, we headed to The Lazy Goose in Nerul which overlooks the Nerul river. There was no view of the water at dinner time, but that did not take away from the lovely meal we had. The restaurant is known for its seafood and continental menu, with some classic Goan dishes thrown in. The Chilli Lemon Butter Garlic Calamari had the right amount of tanginess mixed into a silken butter sauce. The Pork Ribs with Mustard Potatoes are a hearty portion. The smoky BBQ sauce we opted for was a good choice and the mustard potatoes quite addictive. For pasta lovers, the Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli in creamy sage and spinach, tomato mustard sauce is the one to pick here. And we had to have the house special–the mud crabs. These come with a lot of pomp and show and with aprons to wear to encourage you into some messy and delightful eating.
There were several Japanese places on my list–micro-dining at Makutsu (Panjim), a revisit to Sakana (Vagator), Shiori (Siolim) and Roboto (Anjuna). We settled on Roboto and as fate would have it, my reservation turned into an invitation thanks to a coincidental call from the publicist of the restaurant. Roboto serves Gaijin cuisine—a term that refers to non-Japanese folk cooking the cuisine and bringing their own culture and palate into traditional flavours. All the dishes here have a base in traditional Japanese cooking–musu (steaming), yaku (grilling), nama (raw food) and tataki and ageru (frying). We sampled the Takaki Beef and also the salmon. The latter, encrusted with sesame and served over avocado and a mango-ginger sauce brought in several flavours without overwhelming the fish. We don’t usually opt for potato-based appetisers at restaurants, but the Ochikeron Potato Salad with the add-on of bacon made us change our mind about that exclusion. From the ramen section, we tried The Hiyashi Chuka Seafood (a Hokkaido-style dry ramen bowl) which was hearty and flavourful with a miso tare base. The Ton (pork) Katsudon was another winner. Interestingly, Roboto sources ingredients as close to home as possible, making its price points affordable for an upmarket Japanese dining place. And PS: their façade makes for some excellent photo backgrounds.
The next day, after spending most of the morning at The Museum of Goa (MoG), we headed to Sopo in Assagao, for some Burmese food. What we didn’t know at that time was that the restaurant is owned by Siddharth Kerkar, a well-known artist whose family runs the MoG. No wonder the many art installations and paintings across the many levels of this restaurant. The Yam Som O (Burmese pomelo thoke), a salad with crispy shrimp flakes was a good way to start the meal. From the wok section, we asked for the pork chilli (strips of pork tossed with Burmese tomato paste and pineapple sauce, with garnishes of spring onion and bok choy). The various textures of meat, crisp vegetables, the bite of the sesame and the hit of chilli made us repeat the order. Next up was the Ameltar Akin (tender beef steak) done to a textbook medium rare as we requested served with a sweet potato mash. This one made us regret ordering another round of the pork because we now did not have the tummy space for another round of the tenderloin. And a khowsuey was a must–a hearty Prawn Ohn-no khowsuey was polished off promptly.
Another day, and I was invited to another meal at the newly opened Slow Tide in Anjuna, a space that stands as a tribute to the many nationalities of people–from the USA, Europe, Afghanistan, Pakistan, among several other countries—who made Anjuna their home in the 60s and 70s. The dishes and drinks here pay tribute to the people who came here and some are a take on their culinary influences. The Spanish Red Snapper Crudo gets a touch of India with a coconut fish curry sauce and spiced poha for texture. There is also Catalonia grilled Broccoli, served with white bean, roasted garlic and Romesco sauce; a Lisbon-styled grilled pork loin in green sauce; the Jaffna Crab, Chiapas Street Style Maize and more. Besides the seasonal cocktails made with urrak, we tried some of the tributes, like Sailor Fred (a banana rum-based drink dedicated to Englishman Fred, who sailed in a catamaran to Africa from India); and the Berlin Peter, a toast to Peter from Berlin who loved his Ganga-Jamuna juice (orange and sweet lime).
We also stopped by Antonio at 31 in Altinho for Spanish tapas and cocktails. Truffle Mushroom Rissois, Squid Stuffed Prawns, and Bone Marrow with Poee were great and going back to explore more of the menu is on the cards. Another chance find was Ruffles in Candolim, which along with the standard multi-cuisine fare, does some classic British – think Steak and Kidney pie, Steak pudding with steamed suet pastry—in portions that claim to be for one but can easily feed two or even more. And, one place we went back to almost every night was Gelaterio Da Costa, also in Candolim, where we ate our weight in gelato. The Belgian Chocolate, Strawberry sorbet, Yogurt with Blueberry, Raspberry cheesecake, After Eight (yes,) must be on your must-try list. We also had Miss Margarita (Vagator) on our list for some Mexican grub to sample their collection of tequila. But that is for another time and another Goa visit.
Ruth Dsouza Prabhu is a Bengaluru-based journalist.