If you visit an arts festival, don’t miss the food. With workshops, tastings and exhibitions, these events highlight how food informs, interjects and influences everyday meals. “Our vision is to showcase the craft of (making and growing) food. The more you practice a craft, it will elevate into art at some point. And, just like art, food appeals to all five senses,” notes Prahlad Sukhtankar, the curator of culinary arts at the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa.
The eight-day event, that runs from December 15-22, has a diverse line-up for food enthusiasts. There are lunches featuring tribal cuisines of Goa, a tasting of dishes from the Meitei community of Manipur, a sanna-making workshop, a library of food books, an exhibition of ‘missing vegetables’ and more. These span wide-ranging interests; from cooking, farming to simply enjoying a good meal.
As a curator, Sukthankar attempts to highlight the ‘best bits of food stories’ through chefs, bartenders and artists: “In just three years, Goa transformed into a culinary hub with new restaurants, a growing interest in the state’s sub-regional cuisines and people settling here from different parts of the country. My job is to get everybody together to tell their story.” In the process of putting together the line-up, he says, two categories emerged—rediscovering forgotten or indigenous ingredients and using Goa-specific ingredients to create original flavours. He says, “We are trying to explore these aspects either through workshops or through meals.”
To showcase Goa-origin ingredients in a new format, there’s a drinks workshop that teaches participants how to make different styles of cocktails with feni.
An example of rediscovering forgotten ingredients is a menu curated by one of the most celebrated chefs in Goa, Avinash Martins. He runs Cavatina in South Goa and has earned accolades for presenting the state’s regional food in a contemporary manner. At the fifth edition of the festival, he is curating a lunch menu, available on all days, featuring dishes from the indigenous cuisines of Goa. The food will be cooked by women, homecooks, from the Velip and Gaonkar communities of the state.
Dishes prepared by the Catholics— sorpotel, vindaloo and poee—have become flag-bearers of the cuisine of the state. Those belonging to the Saraswat Brahmins are catching on. But, there is little awareness about the native cuisines of Goa before the Portuguese settlers came in, and introduced chillies and tomatoes, intrinsic to Indian cooking now. In the native dishes of Goa, therefore, tomatoes are conspicuously missing. The souring agent is kokum (Garcinia indica) and the almost unknown otumb. The latter has been used in a tangy gravy ambté and will be served with podé (rice crepes) at the festival. There is a murlyanche shak (gravy made with tubers) and patodiyo (a rice flour sweet steamed in turmeric leaves). Martins says, “There are many native terms that I am still learning.”
The chef echoes what a visitor can expect from the food experiences at the Serendipity Arts Festival: learn more about food, and discover dishes that haven’t got their due in the sparkling new restaurants of Goa.