Benaulim has been crying out for a new watering hole for a while and on my latest jaunt back home I was happy to see that we have finally got one.
For those looking for something a little different from the usual beach bar outpost that's most common along this section of the South coast belt, Kudos fills the gap nicely - offering a contemporary space, smoothly done up in dark wood, leather, metallic cushions and back-lit panels, with a textured stone bar and a calming cascading water feature dominating the lower ground floor. Three microbrewery tanks are parked in one corner of the lower level (with plans to start offering locally brewed beer soon) while a wood fire pizza oven is tucked into the diagonal corner.
What I could spy of the top floor (What can I say? The susegad spirit prevented me from actually climbing the stairs) looked spacious and well lit, and on a Saturday evening both levels were buzzing - mainly with a local crowd, which is always encouraging in Goa.
I dropped by for a quick drink and bite with my dad and ended up perched at the bar, where a refreshing white sangria, delicately laced with cloves and other spices, proved a good recommendation by the barman.
Having already had a rather late lunch at the beach earlier that day, we picked on a few bites, including some honey-glazed pepperoni -wrapped prawns which had a punchy sweet and spicy kick and some freshly-baked thin crust pizza - definitely one of the better pizzas I have tasted in Goa.
There were a few inventive additions to the menu - including a Goan chorizo pizza - but I decided to stick with the traditional and picked the pepperoni, saving the chorizo for my main, a "Pork Me!" sizzler (someone was having fun naming the dishes!) which was served with veggies, chips and bakri.
Sadly we were too full to try the dessert sizzlers - but I did see one bubbling brownie topped with ice cream being whisked to a table and was sorely tempted. Will definitely be back to try some next time :)
Anyone else been to Kudos recently? Any other new additions to the Majorda-Colva-Benaulim-Cavelossim stretch I need to try on my next trip? Firefly Goan Bistro & Bar has long been on my must-try list. Definitely need to make it there the next time I am home!
As a kid, April was one of my favourite months.
In India, April is the start of the "long holidays" - two months of sunshine, beach time, no books and no homework, marking the end of the school year and the start of commitment-free living.
Summer was also fruit season - the best time of year to stuff our faces with juicy tropical fruit like mangoes and jackfruits - no year-round imported supplies of weak-tasting fruit for us, something I still miss today when wandering around the supermarket aisles laden with the same selection of fruit all year round. Back home you waited months for the fruit season and the anticipation made the eating all the sweeter!
Long summer evenings also meant walks in the hills where we'd watch people picking golden cashew apples off the trees. For someone who grew up around these strange fruits, it still amuses me to see the look on people's faces who are unfamiliar with the cashew apple to come across it for the first time.
"That's where cashew nuts come from?" It's a question I've heard so many times from friends hailing from more temperate climates.
Yes, this is where cashew nuts come from. In Goa everyone is as nuts about the nuts as the rest of the world but we are also particularly fond of the fruit for one important reason - cashew feni.
Anyone who has visited Goa won't be able to go far without being urged to try some cashew feni. The act is usually likened to a dare. "Go on try it and tell us what you think" is the usual opener - presented almost with an expectation that the person won't like it, which I have never quite understood.
Feni is, to be fair, a unique tasting liquor. I'd liken it most to Mediterranean arak or Turkish raki for its bite, minus the aniseed-y flavour. But it's reputation as local firewater/ moonshine is ill-deserved. It's a uniquely Goan drink that is consumed as a shot to whet the appetite, most commonly with lime juice and soda water as a long drink, or at night with sugar that's set alight to burn off a cold (the latter is my favourite cold-curing recipe.)
But I am waffling. Our Goan feni has got an unfair reputation over the years and so I was incredibly pleased to see that this reputation is being corrected recently by a friend who seems to have got it into his head that more people need to discover this drink for what it really is - a true alcoholic treasure of Goa.
I say, it's about time someone gave feni a make-over :)
As someone who has ashamedly never seen the feni distillation process in action (and has missed yet another season to watch it being made this year) I asked Hansel Vaz, my former classmate and now one of the owners of Cazulo Premium Feni, makers of organically-sourced feni from small local distillers in Goa, to give me a photographic tour on feni-making, and he very kindly obliged.
So here's the very first Platetrotter guest post, from Hansel, taking us on a fantastic tour of the feni trail in Goa.
An Illustrative Guide to Goan Feni by Hansel Vaz
We were lucky - like the chilly, tomato, potato and a few more exotics, the cashew too was not native to Goa. This ‘alien’ was indigenous to North Eastern Brazil, and against all odds, hopped across continents and sailed across oceans to finally land on the Western shores of this erstwhile Portuguese colony in India, to a land then still known by its colonial name - Estado da India. The cashew took to our red soil and tropical climate so beautifully, that today we call it our own.
Who knows? It probably was the taste for imported curiosities that led the cashew fruit (aka the cashew apple) to a more glorious future! By 1740, spies in the Portuguese empire were already secretly documenting that Goans enjoyed an alcohol distilled from this exotic fruit, unlike anywhere else in the world. Our ancestors were already inventors.
If you want to make good Cashew Feni, you have to first begin with picking the right cashews. The local variety - the ‘balli’ coloured in gentle yellows, oranges and vibrant reds (left) is best suited, as opposed to the emaciated monochrome ‘scientific hybrids’ that are also cultivated (right).
Early afternoon is when ‘cazkars’ – cashew pickers - organise themselves to methodically comb the orchards for naturally fallen cashew apples. Tree-ripened naturally-fallen fruit are full of sugars and low in the astringent sap, so make the best feni. Dressed like ninjas - covered head to toe - to avoid insect bites and scratches, they arm themselves with a ‘canto’, to spear fallen fruit into a basket.
Cashew apples are dropped into the ‘colmbi’, stone basins that have been carved into solid rock, where another set of workers de-seed the nuts from the cashew apples, to prepare for the stomp.
It may look fun, but it is serious work - stomping the fruit to gently express its juices. Men work in pairs and trample the cashew fruit to a pulp.
The pulp is then made into a mound and trussed together with a vine. Heavy rocks are placed on top to press the remaining juice out of the pulp overnight.
The juice is strained and allowed to naturally ferment in earthen pots. No nutrients, catalysts or artificial yeasts are added, and nature takes over from where man left off - converting natural sugars into alcohol.
After fermentation, when the wash stops bubbling, it is ready for distillation. Traditionally feni was distilled in purposefully-crafted earthen pots, now replaced by more practical copper pots.
Traditionally the alcohol vapours were condensed in an earthen pot called a “launi” by constantly pouring water over it with a coconut shell ladle. Now a copper coil immersed in a water tank does the same. The vapours cool in the copper coils and are allowed to collect in the “launi”. The vapour phase of the alcohol is most crucial - while the copper coil removes unwanted sulphates, the earthen pot imparts beautiful earthy notes to the spirit.
Then it's time for Urrack, second Cazulo and finally Feni.
Urrack (14-16% alc v/v) - the first distillate - is a lovely cooling drink, and is velvety smooth, so lovely that the drinker often mistakenly over consumes. What follows is described as a velvet glove.
Third distillate feni is too strong to drink, and so it has been discontinued, and in fact the second distillate Cazulo is now sold and accepted as Feni.
What is interesting about the distillation process, is that each distillate is re-distilled with fermented juice in carefully guarded proportions, to give you not just a higher strength alcohol but a more flavourful next distillate. What is unique in Feni, is that unlike other alcohols, Feni is directly distilled into 42.8% alcohol. Most alcohols would distill to 80-90% and are then cut with mineral water to a strength of around 42-45%.
Fine feni is stored in glass, and not oak, as wood has nothing more to provide to an already robust and flavourful spirit. Carboys and Demijohns round off and chip any rough edges as the Feni is allowed to recuperate from the tumultuous distillation process for at least a year.
And finally, the Feni is tasted, graded and bottled to be enjoyed with some fine company and conversation. As we say back home, "Saude!"
MEET THE GUEST PLATETROTTER - HANSEL VAZ
An extremely engaging chronicler of his many adventures, with a way with words that instantly manages to transport you to foreign shores, Hansel is a geologist who splits his time between Goa and Papua New Guinea, where he has eaten pigs in pits and is probably the only Indian to have discovered snow in the Pacific Islands.
You can read more about Hansel's travels on his blog Fishbonehans and find out more about feni on cazulofeni.com - including some great feni cocktails.
I still remember the first time I ever tasted a candy cane. I was about five and a great aunt who was in town for the holidays had, much to our great excitement, brought us a bag of the peppermint sweets from America.
The stripy candies were hung on the tree, wrapped tightly in clingfilm, and we waited for what seemed like an eternity to eat them on Christmas day. They were magical - belonging to the land of Christmas story books, cartoons and snowy Christmas films from a land far, far away.
Because candy canes weren't something you would ever come across at Christmas time in Goa when I was little. No gingerbread houses, mince pies or sugar plums either.
What you would find were trays of dodol, cocada, perad, doce, neureos, bebinca, cashewnut marzipan and my all-time favourite, kulkuls - a typically Goan selection of sweets, most of which were made only in December, so you had to wait an entire year to get a taste of them again.
Everyone made a significant quantity of each different kind of sweet, enough to have an ongoing supply of them to serve anyone who dropped in during the holiday season and plenty more to pile into boxes or trays lined with flowery paper doilies to send across to all the neighbours on Christmas day. Christmas Eve to me still smells and tastes of sugary sweets being rapidly piled into boxes, labelled with "Seasons Greetings" and tied with big fat bows and - a uniquely Goan problem - balanced precariously on bowls placed in trays of water until delivery, to make sure the ants didn't get to them before our neighbours did!
Kulkuls are a favourite not just because they are the ultimate Christmas treat - light enough to be perfect for breakfast, tea or after dinner - but because of the evenings I'd spend as a kid watching my granny, mum and aunts make the little fried sweets in the run up to Christmas.
The sweet cookie-like dough was rolled out across the dining table and cut into little squares that everyone would then shape into little shells (well, the adults would make shell shapes while the kids would make something that looked vaguely like shells). The well-formed kulkuls were deep fried, sugar-dusted and stored in large tins for guests while the badly-rolled versions were eaten hot from the pan almost immediately by us - there's nothing quite like sweet lumps of fried dough to get you in the Christmas mood.
Lucky for me, my parents have brought a load of kulkuls to Dubai - more than enough to see me through the holiday season. It's definitely beginning to taste like Christmas! Now all we need are groups of tuneless carolers to come a-singing at our door and it will be just like being back home :)
When it comes to restaurants, what’s the secret ingredient that guarantees longevity?
I found myself thinking about it on two separate occasions recently…
I’ll start with the second, one that’s a bit closer to home… or more correctly, is home.
On a short visit to Goa over the Eid holidays this past week, I found myself (as I often do when I go home) sitting in the corner of our family restaurant Longuinhos, happily making my way through a plate of sausage rolls, prawn patties and croquettes. It’s something I remember doing all my life. It’s something I’ve heard my father and uncles say they’ve done all their lives. It’s probably something my grandfather –who opened the restaurant and whose photo still adorns the wall behind the counter – probably did for a large part of his.
Our restaurant is 63 years old. And it’s still much the same as I remember it from the time I was too little to look over the top of the till. It looks much the same as it did from pictures taken at dinner parties in the 60s and 70s – an old-school colonial-era restaurant, a little rough around the ages, but with an easy and timeless charm. And I think, in a world of characterless glass buildings and identikit Starbucks outlets, that’s a good thing.
Owing to its location bang in the centre of town, there’s hardly a minute that passes by during a morning where you won’t see someone drop into Longuinhos for a chat and a bite, exchanging the latest bits of news on everything and everyone over a hot croquette.
It got me thinking? What is it that’s kept people coming through those doors for 63 years? Is it the consistency of the food? Location? Continuity of management? Familiarity? A happy mix of all of the above? Would it have worked without one or the other?
Funnily enough, I’d found myself thinking about the same things only a few days ago when I attended the 10th anniversary celebrations of PAUL Arabia.
I’ve been to a lot of PAULs – I’ve supped on my fair share of onion soups in their delicious edible bread bowls, have devoured numerous slices of mille-feuille and have tucked into more salads and tarts than I care to count. I’ve been to PAUL in the UAE, in Beirut and in France, the country the famous boulangerie and patisserie originally hails from.
So while already a fan, I was still pleasantly surprised that a chain this big still looks at itself primarily as a family-run business, proud of its heritage, concerned about consistency, close to its customers.
Maxime Holder, Chairman of PAUL International, took to the stage talking about his father and his sons, and how they were busy preparing themselves to join him in running the company. It was a speech that focused less on financial success and more on longevity, continuity, and an adherence to quality, tradition and all the other ingredients that had helped make the company the success it is today.
It was a good speech… and a good evening. Here are a few highlights:
I’m a breakfast person. Always have been and always will be. It’s a rare day indeed (and in my world a sad one) that I have to start getting things done without having a bite to eat.
In fact, let me rephrase that – it is a rare, sad, grumpy and unproductive day if it begins without breakfast. I really don’t get much done on an empty stomach.
Unsurprisingly, finding a great breakfast spot on holiday is something I take particular pleasure in. Nothing heightens that lovely feeling of being poised at the beginning of a brand new day in a brand new city than finding a lovely place for breakfast.
I was in Istanbul a couple of weekends ago and was on the lookout for Kaymakçı Pando, a little café tucked up the streets of the Besiktas quarter of Istanbul, not too far from the grandiose Dolmabahçe Palace.
Kaymakçi Pando, unsurprisingly sells kaymak – the luscious Turkish clotted cream that feels and tastes like something between creamy butter and breakfast cream, along with other typical Turkish breakfast favourites. The café is no more than a small room piled with tables and chairs, with the owner tending a giant bowl of steaming milk at the entrance, walls plastered with cuttings from various papers praising the Pando’s famous kaymak (and pictures of the cows I assume the milk used to make it comes from), and a ceiling fan slowly whirring above – I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to sit down and plot the rest of my day.
The old owner is a descendant of the Turkish Bulgarian family of Sestaki and it was his grandfather who learned to make the creamy kaymak from working for a rich pasha under the Ottomans. The clotted cream treat is as much a favourite now as it was then – served with a generous helping of honey.
We of course opted for the bal-kaymak (the sinfully delicious kaymak and honey combo) as well as a hearty portion of Sucuklu Yumurta (fried eggs with spicy sujuk sausage), all served with fresh bread and juicy tomatoes, cucumbers and local cheese. Heaven on a plate!
The charming Kaymakci Pando will definitely make it to my list of favourite breakfast spots, and in tribute to it, here are the others that would join that list:
Longuinhos, Margao - Goa
Okay, you may accuse me of being a bit biased here, but there are fewer places in the world I could end up for breakfast that would make me happier than my very own family restaurant back home in Goa. From the mellow morning light filtering through the large windows, the familiar sounds and sights of my home town waking up to a new day and the smell and taste of what few would dispute are the most delicious sausage rolls in the whole of Goa, Longuinhos definitely ranks up there in my list of favourite breakfast spots. Add a steaming coffee, crispy meat and prawn patties and a few croquettes to the plate and you get a great taste of how many busy Goans start their day.
The FCC, Phnom Penh - Cambodia
With its breakfast balcony taking in the gently flowing Tonle Sap, the most vivid blue skies stretching beyond and the laid-back vibe of Cambodia’s capital seeping out of every inch of this colonial-era gem, The FCC Phnom Penh is definitely the place to begin discovering this fascinating city. Order a fried egg sunny side up, a smooth dark cup of coffee and a roll slathered with tangy lemon curd and get out your book – this breakfast spot is made for lingering morning meals.
Il Lago, Geneva - Switzerland
The bright frescoed walls of the cozy Il Lago restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva form the perfect backdrop to grab a moment watching the beautiful people wander across the Place des Bergues, en route to (what I imagine) are their jobs making fancy watches and passing UN resolutions (ok, I admit, there may be other things people do in Geneva). But I digress… my point is that Il Lago serves up the most perfect Bircher Muesli I have ever eaten -sprinkled with jewel-like fresh berries - and the lightest croissants too. I think I actually picked the crumbs off the plate so I wouldn’t waste them!
Mana Nui Inn, Easter Island - Chile
My memory of the little B&B I stayed in on Easter Island will forever be tied to breakfast on Easter Sunday, when the owners placed little chocolate bunnies amidst our breakfast spread. In addition, a view that dreams are made of – pristine Pacific waters and huge clouds gathering in the dawn light – and a daily changing menu of freshly squeezed tropical juices like guava and banana, platters of cheese and cold meats, pancakes, fresh buns and eggs, made this little morning hall one of the most memorable places I’ve ever had the pleasure of tucking into a delicious breakfast.
What are some of your favourite breakfast spots around the world? I'd be happy taking notes :)
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