Saturday, February 26, 2011

More of Goa

Our focus was on cooking but what about the rest of Goa?

First, our hotel the Taj Holiday Village was excellent. The staff was outstanding. Nice little single or double villas in traditional Portuguese/Goan style. The grounds were beautiful with lots of flowering trees and bushes. The pool was nice and like all pools in India unheated. Luckily the weather was warmer than Bangalore so the pool had warmed up so it was bearable - for the ten minutes that I was in it. And of course our "Towel Art" guy continued to amaze us. First towel Ganesha, then towel Hanuman (monkey), then towel crocodile. "Towel Gail" joined in for a group photo:

We only made it to the beach once - long and sandy and it went on forever. We went for a nice walk at sunset. Very quiet with just a few locals playing cricket at our end of the beach.

Then as we rounded the corner it became busier and around the next bend I thought I'd gone through a time warp - back to my backpacking days or to Waikiki, one or the other. Tons of people, shoddy lounge chairs with umbrellas and lots of characters strutting around. Some of these people must have arrived in the 60's or 70's and never left. Others looking like the mafia and of course the locals trying to sell their wares and the odd cow just hanging out.

Apparently the Russians have invaded. So many Russians are holidaying in Goa that signs have popped up in Russian and locals are even learning the language. The locals all said the same thing though - the Russians are cheap, they don't spend any money.

As for the countryside it is very pretty and lush. Lots of rice fields and palm trees. The architecture is interesting with Portuguese influence and many churches as Goa has a high Christian population.

The only thing left for us to do on Saturday was to shop, and shop we did, from dawn to dusk...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Goa Day 5 - Chef Rego

Friday morning Gail and I met with Master Chef Urbano de Rego. Chef Rego grew up in Goa and although he has travelled the world and cooked many types of food, Goan cooking remains his specialty and passion. Semi retired after a 41 year career with the Taj Hotels, he still consults. He has cooked for such dignitaries as King Hussein of Jordan, Henry Kissinger, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the Shah of Iran, George Bush Sr., and of course an enormous list of India's jet set and politicians. The man himself is as humble as can be and he readily sat with a couple Canadian foodies and imparted his knowledge upon us.

We sat outside at the Beach House, the restaurant that serves Chef Rego's Goan food. He showed us a traditional earthenware pot, still used today in Goan homes for cooking over fires of coconut husk, twigs and wood. A coconut shell spoon is used for stirring.

It was clear by listening to Chef Rego that he regards Goan cooking and Indian cooking very differently.

Goan cooking:
  • Uses fresh spices, ground with a hand grinder, not a machine. Indian cooking uses spice powder.
  • Is cooked the authentic way in clay pots on charcoal. Fresh water from the well is used, not the tap.
  • Seafood is bought fresh and put straight into the curry; it is often not even put in the fridge and never into the freezer.
  • the thickening agent is coconut. Indian cooking uses cashew nuts, tomatos, and onions as some of the thickening agents.
  • uses a lot of palm vinegar. Indian cooking uses tamarind and kokam.
Chef Rego says, "Anyone can become a 'food wallah.'" It is "25% God's gift, 75% hard work." Never having been to cooking school, Chef Rego had to work extra hard. He started out as an apprentice at the Taj Bombay and rose through the ranks emerging as one of the foremost experts of Goan cuisine.

The Portuguese left a lasting influence on Goan cuisine. Chef Rego went into detail about the foods that were introduced with the Portuguese - in particular pork, beef, chicken and mutton (in that order). The word vindaloo comes from 'vin' for vinegar, and also from 'albo' which is Portuguese for garlic. A fiery Pork Vindaloo is a favorite. We were surprised to learn that salted tongue, pork and homemade sausage are readily served in a Goan household. 

The Portuguese bread "Poie," leavened with toddy was another important contribution. The Portuguese brought with them a recipe for Galinha Piri-Piri (Chicken Piri Piri) from Mozambique. The Goans substituted some ingredients and fried it rather than grilled it and it became Galinha Cafreal (Chicken in Toddy Vinegar), a Goan specialty. Even dried red chilis which are now a staple in Indian cooking came from the Portuguese via the Americas.

From his mother's kitchen Chef Rego learned the tastes and traditions of Goan cooking. Throughout his career he incorporated her recipes into his own creations. Cooking should "come from the heart, cooking is an art," he says. Still, his favorite place to be is in the kitchen teaching and working with food.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Goa Day 4

Cashew Nut Xacuti
Sweetcorn Curry
Corn Cutlets
Egg Curry
Gujrati Dal
Masala Chai

The menu may seem a little odd but there was a reason behind it. As I mentioned Gail has been contributing recipes for an online magazine called Spezzatino. Each issue has a theme and the upcoming issues are nuts, eggs, and corn. Gail had asked Judy to come up with some recipes that could be used in the magazine. Plus we wanted to learn how to make Masala Chai so she threw that in for us as well.

I would have to say that the corn cutlets were really good - something I would want to make at home. The other dishes were so-so. To be fair the recipes were modified to accommodate Gail's requests and I would try a couple of them with the original ingredients. For instance the Xacuti is usually made with mutton or chicken and the egg curry with fish - meen kari (fish curry from kerala). The turka dal we made on the first day was so good, I wouldn't bother making this dal again.

I was glad to finally learn how to make masala chai. Judy was quite interested to hear that in the west we have tea bags of "Chai tea" - which she pointed out doesn't make sense at all since chai means tea = "tea tea." Masala is the blend of spices used: cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns. Add to the milky water, and yes, steeped with real tea and the outcome was an aromatic and flavourful masala chai.

This was our fourth and final day of the cooking school. Normally it is five days but we chose to go to the market and spice plantation in one day instead of two. Plus we were looking forward to our meeting with Chef Rego on Fri. (more about that next post).

Judy was so full of knowledge and we came home with a lot of great recipes and notes. Both Gail and I agreed it was well worth it. The cooking area was a good size, with lots of cooking vessels and very pleasant surroundings right on the river. Recommended!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Goa Day 3

Goan Prawn Curry
Fish Cafreal
Cabbage Thoran (cabbage with coconut and mustard seeds)
Cachumbar (finely chopped salad)
Mixed Veg
Pakoras (Indian Tempura) with
Coconut Chutney

Day three at cooking school was all about South Indian and Goan cooking. The main differences between North Indian and South/Goan cooking was that we used whole spices to grind our own pastes; in the north spice powders are more commonly used. And secondly the use of coconut instead of yoghurt.

Here you can see Shoba using a traditional 'Adao' to grate the coconut.

and then she double strained the coconut through a sieve:

The only problem was that we were making all the dishes at once - now I can't even remember which dish the coconut was being strained for - Prawn Curry or Coconut Chutney? I would work on one dish, Gail another and then Judy would call us over to show us something else. It was fine and everything got done with Judy coodinating. As I look at the photos I think it was for the prawn curry.

I was glad to see how the pakoras were made. The key here is to salt the onions first to get rid of excess moisture, deep fry the batter twice, drain well and eat right away so they do not go soggy.

Again Judy stressed heating each spice with a bit of oil prior to mixing it with the other ingredients:

After another long day of cooking we got back to the hotel to find our clever housekeeper had made us Towel Hanuman, the Indian Monkey God:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bryan Adams Concert in Bangalore


Just got back from the Bryan Adams concert here in Bangalore. Had to go and support our fellow Canadian and Vancouverite. We even wore our Canada t-shirts (but he didn't notice us). Great night, we were super close to the stage and could see him and the band really well. The highlight for me was 'Summer of 69' - everyone got into it and was loud and singing and dancing. 'Cuts Like a Knife' is apparently a ballad here in India - no one was moving or singing along - but he kept trying to get everyone into it.

Played all the hits and some new tunes as well. All the songs came back to me easily, great to sing along to the hits from the 80's and 90's.

We bought gold class tickets for 3500 Rp ($75). We had our driver pick up the tickets earlier in the day and then we went down at 7:00pm. Huge lineup to get in - like about a kilometer long so we just kept walking all the way up to the entrance and lucky we did because the lineup was for Silver ticket holders, 1500 Rp ($25). We got to walk right in! But I was choked when security checked my purse and told me no cosmetics were allowed in the venue - huh?? They made me throw away my lipstick and lip gloss! Can someone explain?

Anyway, great evening, gold ticket holders had a huge area to stand in right by the stage and not even crowded . Silver ticket holders were behind a barrier and crammed in - not nearly as nice I'm sure.

Goa Day 2 Continued...

When we checked into The Taj Holiday Village Goa we mentioned that we were there to do a cooking class and also interested in meeting the Chef at the Taj. After touring around all day on Tuesday to the market and spice plantation we were tired and already full of good food. We were just relaxing in the room when we got a call inviting us to meet Chef Rego in one hour at the restaurant.

Up we jumped, showered and dressed and Chef Rego was waiting for us when we arrived. We found a table outside overlooking the ocean where he explained that he has worked for the Taj for 41 years and still loves to cook. Such a humble and passionate man.

We explained what we were doing in Goa and our interest in food - Gail is a chef, we were attending cooking classes and we both wanted to write articles about our experiences. Gail especially wanted to get some information on the Portugese influence on Goan food. Goan food it turns out is Chef Rego's specialty and he was a wealth of knowledge about the Portugese influence - they introduced dried red chilis, potatos, tomatos, sweet potatos, papayas, Poie (baked bread leavened with toddy), cashew nuts, pineapples...

We talked for a bit and then the Chef suggested we get together sometime during the day to talk more. We agreed to meet on Friday and then he asked if he could cook something for us - how could we say no? He cooked two of his signature Goan dishes - prawns and chicken - as well as some delicious stuffed naan. We were thrilled - two nights before he had cooked for the President of India...and this night he cooked for the two of us! 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Goa Day 2

Day two of our cooking class in Goa took us outside the kitchen. We started off with a traditional Indian breakfast, then off to the local market, and finally a hot and sweaty drive out to a spice plantation.

We met our cooking teacher Judy, in a small Indian restaurant in Panaji at 8:30am. We ordered dosa's with coconut chutney, idli, and onion uthappam. All tasty and filling. Coincidentally, Judy owns a shop right across the street from the restaurant. She sells home decor and Gail just happened to be in the market for bedspreads so we found ourselves browsing and (Gail) wanting to buy a few things. Unfortunately Judy's credit card machine was not working so we decided return at the end of the day and try again.

Panaji is a pleasant town on the river; clean, treed, and uncluttered. We made our way to the indoor market where sellers sat on raised platforms with produce all around.They haggled with customers and we found some a little cranky - in fact a woman almost threw a bunch of cilantro at Gail when she tried to take her photo.

Judy showed us all the fruit and vegetables, and then we went into a spice shop where we bought some Indian saffron and a few other items. Rice is usually sold in big open containers so that people can feel it. Hence it is a good idea to rinse/clean the rice once you get it home.

Outside and down the lane we came to the fish market with rows of people selling all sorts of fish, clams, crabs etc. We did not venture over to the meat section which was fine with me. I've seen enough chicken, beef, goat and who knows what else - hanging in the open with flies all over it, and smells that I try to avoid at all costs.

From the market we left Judy, and Deva took us out to a spice plantation to see how spices are grown. The 45 minute non a/c drive took us inland through rice fields, along the river and for the last 15 min. a bumpy, dirt road. We were hot and sweaty, with our clothes sticking to us by the time we arrived at the spice plantation.

The plantation was not what I expected. Unlike herbs, fruits or vegetables spices are not grown in a garden. Our guide took us for a walk in the forest and pointed out the various spices growing as vines, trees, roots and bushes.

We saw peppercorns growing on vines and winding all the way up tall tree trunks; cinnamon - the inside of the bark of a tree; ginger and tumeric roots growing underground; nutmeg trees and more.

Afterwards we were treated to a delicious Indian buffet for lunch and then back to Panaji to buy copper pots at a little kitchen store. Dropped by Judy's store but the credit card machine was still not working so off we went back to the hotel.

More to come about our evening meeting Chef Rego next post...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Goa North Indian Cuisine (Day 1)

On The Menu
Day one of cooking school was North Indian cuisine and we cooked seven dishes:

Chicken Tikka (spicey, dry sauteed chicken)
Pudina Chutney (mint chutney)
Jeera Aloo (potatos cooked with cumin)
Cucumber Raita (fresh, minty yogurt dip)
Tarka Dal (tempered lentils)
Sofiani Biryani (chicken and rice feast)
Gayjar Halwar (sweet carrot dessert)

We got picked up at the hotel at 9:00am by Deva, our taxi driver for the week. We drove about 20 min. to a typical Portugese/Goan style home rented by On The Menu. Situated on the river, one enters the house through a courtyard. The home was airy with high ceilings, a simple kitchen and four double burner gas cooktops hooked up to individual tanks in the living area.

Judy Cardoza, our self taught cooking guru for the week told us about growing up in Uganda and then moving back to Goa. She talked about her love of cooking and how she cooks by instinct, not by recipes. Luckily she did provide us recipes for the days menu.

Gail and I learned many things about Indian cooking on day one, most importantly that Indian people (Goan in particular) always eat fresh food. They don't buy in bulk and store food in the fridge and freezer. They buy what is fresh in the store today and what is in season. Immediately it dawned on me that one of my biggest problems in India is finding everything in one store for whatever I have decided I want to make for dinner. A better way/the Indian way is to go to the store and see what is fresh and in stock and then decide what to make for dinner. Perhaps that is the key to "one stop shopping" in India!

Other important things were learned on day one:
  • Garam masala consists of cumin, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon.
  • Indian food cannot be rushed. It takes time for the spices to infuse.
  • Do not use olive oil as it has too much of its own flavor - use sunflower oil. Always heat the pan prior to adding oil.
  • Chilis: darker and smaller are hotter.
  • Use Greek style yoghurt or high fat milk/buffalo milk and always whisk it.
  • Tumeric is used for its color but has little taste. Also has an antiseptic quality.
  • Use meat with bone-in for more flavor.
  • Never add spices in dry form; always heat in a little oil first, then stir into whatever you are cooking.
  • Salt brings out the flavor in spices.
  • Tandor is common and often shared by families (social networking).
  • When using whole spices don't just stir but apply pressure with back of spoon to release the flavors.
  • The key to crispy onions (for the biryani) was to salt them and let them rest (as one would an eggplant/aubergine). After 20 min. squeeze out any water, heat oil, fry in batches and drain well.
We tasted everything as we went along, before and after adding spices and it was such a good learning experience. Every dish we made was excellent. I was especially happy with the chicken tikka and chutney, the biryani and especially the dal - I've never tasted a dal with so many flavors. At the end of the day we sat outside, overlooking the river and enjoyed our feast.  

Monday, February 7, 2011


Gail and I just got back from a week in Goa. Today I'll just give a quick overview of what we did and go into more detail over the next week or so.

We did a five day cooking course with Judy Cardoza of On The Menu. The 5-day course consisted of a day of North Indian, a day of South Indian, and a day of Goan cooking. We also visited the market and a spice plantation. We learned so much about Indian cooking techniques, spices and lots of interesting anecdotes.

We stayed at the Taj Holiday Village and loved it. Had a great little villa, the pool was nice and the gardens colorful and lush. Beautiful views of the sunset everyday. The staff were excellent and friendly, especially our favorite housekeeper who created towel art for us. On the second day he made Towel Ganesha for us:

Gail and I both plan to write some articles about the cooking experience and so we asked to speak to the chef at the hotel. Chef Rego spent two hours talking about his passion - cooking of course! - and he is such a humble and nice man.

Saturday was a day to shop hard and bargain hard! We shopped from ten in the morning til ten at night: at the hotel, on the street and at the night market. We ended the night back at the hotel restaurant where an Indian group was celebrating a 40th wedding anniversary. The Bollywood tunes were playing and they were dancing. We had a great time watching them and then even funner when they made us get up and join them.

It was a busy, nonstop week, full of new experiences. More to come over the next week...