The road well travelled…The Food Classics of Baga, Goa…Infantaria, Brittos, Lila Cafe, Casa Portuguesa
After going there for almost every birthday at one point it was hard to believe that we were back again in Goa’s Baga after a gap of four long years.
Nothing seemed to have changed. Except I’ve greyed since my last visit and there are a spate of pure vegetarian restaurants that have sprung up at Baga.
I find the latter more disconcerting. Baga after all is the promised land of pork and prawns.
I don’t know if you are the sort of traveller who loves to explore a place on landing but when it comes to Baga we find comfort in the familiar. We stayed in the hotel, Waters Resort, for possibly the fourth time running. The same room too. Till they upgraded us as the aircon didn’t work in our room. Over a lovely spot to stay at in Baga. Pretty property. Great location. A feel good place. If it’s a short stay and you can afford it then it’s worth upgrading to the suites, which are more like superior rooms. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the red suite they upgraded us to from the red room but it was very tastefully done and was the sort of room you felt great returning to.
We ate at our old favourites and were pleased to say that the food their tasted the same. Thank God for that. Including at one place where we returned after five years. That is the stuff classics are made of.
So what are our Baga food picks?
1. Infantaria…given we had three meals over a 3 night stay this has to be our favourite. Within that, the pork chilli fry with its delectable pieces of belly fat has to be our favourite.
We tried the sausage fry, Goan sausage that is, and it was a show stopper. Spicy but yet not overtly so and nor was it too sour.
K had ordered an ox tongue roast during our first visit there years back and we tried it again this time. There was a certain freshness to the luscious meat which was just tantalizing. We wondered why we hadn’t ordered it during our visits in between. This alone is a dish worth travelling to Goa for.
I ordered the sausage fried rice once which was so bewitching that I ordered it again. There was something about the marriage of bits of eggs with spring onions and scrunchy bites of Goan sausage with the odd bit of heavenly fat which made this dish so addictive that despite resolving to have just a few spoons I wiped the bowl clean on both occasions. The zany addition of the tempestuous Goan choriz to the eggy Chinese fried rice suddenly made fusion a good word on the table.
K wanted to have a fish curry and we tried it at Reis Corner at Mapusa after someone on twitter sent us saying we should go eat where Goans eat and not where tourists go. Well, while Goans do go to Reis Corner, the food was rather disappointing with too strong a coconut wallop in the curry, hardly any prawns in the prawn chilli fry and a pedestrian surmai cafreal. Nor was the meal particularly cheap. As Robyn Eckhardt of Eating Asia wrote, ‘where tourists go’ needn’t necessarily always be a bad thing and Infantaria proved her right.
The forgettable meal at Reis Corner
K ordered a fish curry at Infantaria and the curry was perfectly balanced and they had one slice of kingfish in the curry and one semolina crusted fried kingfish which we both agreed was the juiciest and best fish fry that we have both had.
One Infantaria tip is that the crowd at nights than at night.
Also the beef croquettes which taste so good and that K is addicted too are rarely available so order them if you ever see them.
And ladies, don’t bank on the toilet, it’s rather grimy.
2. Next on our list of favourites has to be Brittos. We keep going back their for the juicy prawn chilli fries. Their chilli fries are sweeter, have more tomatoes and have cubes of parboiled potatoes instead of fries in comparison to that of Infantaria.
Another classic here is the prawn baffad which Nancy D’Sousa of Pali Market tells me is a Mangalorean dish. The curry is symphonic, similar in notes to the Bengali prawn malai curry and the prawns once again cooked just right.
We order these two dishes every time we go to Brittos and have always left deliriously happy.
Again, like Infantaria, the taste of our favourite dishes at Brittos too remained unchanged despite the four year gap. You can sit on the sand and close to the sea here though we prefer to sit at the restaurant section in front.
3. Projnan, had introduced us to Lila Café on the Baga river a few years back and we have become fans of its laidback rather European charm since. Lila is open from morning to 6 pm and is shifting next year to Anjuna apparently.
I normally go for the water buffalo ham baguettes at Lila’s. This time, in deference to one’s advancing age and cholesterol scores and the pork frenzy at Infantaria I chose the tuna baguette. Loved it. Slices of fresh tuna in the most amazing baguette with the most enticing crust which gave in to bites of amazingly soft bread. Probably the best baguette we have ever had.
K was pretty happy with her pork sausages here.
The loo is pretty decent at Lila.
4. If you were to ask K she would put Casa Portuguesa as her number one reco. Our visit here was in 2008 at her insistence and it turned out to be fabulous. We were back six years later this time and thankfully nothing had changed.
Casa Portuguesa is in a 300 year old Portuguese house run by Francisco, the smiling, very hands on owner of the restaurant. At any given point you will find Francisco taking the orders, rolling up his sleeves and joining his staff in serving guests and cleaning up tables and then taking out his guitar and soulfully crooning out Portuguese Fado songs.
The ambience of the place is very old world aristocratic right down to the candle light dinners.
The food is great. My earlier blog post on Casa Portuguesa showed that we had the duck and the clams and pork curry last time and loved them.
This time we went for the Portuguese caramelized onion bedded seafood stew which had clams, squids, prawns and a local fish called tamoshi and then followed this with slices of roasted delectable suckling pig.
The service here is so special that the waiter told us that the stew would be enough for the two of us and when we ordered the piglet, he himself offered to get this as a one by two portion. Talking of the service I must mention the complimentary bread which comes at the start with butter and a lovely olive spread. Unlike in Mumbai they don’t charge service charge here. They just pamper you and look after you well at Casa Portuguesa.
This is a Baga must visit though keep in mind that they are shut on Mondays and only open for dinner.
5. You can’t not go to the beach and hit the shacks if you are in Goa in season. This year it was terribly hot even in early February and we could only enjoy the beach in the evening as we were scorched when we went there in the morning. Still it felt good to take a break from Baga, reading a book on Calcutta lying on the beaches of Goa.
The trick about the shacks is to take the Villa Goesa entry to the beach which puts you in between Baga and Calangute where the crowd is a bit less. We went to Swally’s one evening simply because it had nice chairs on the beach and sipped on some juice.
During our morning visits to the beach K’s hunt for pork sausages for breakfast went a bit awry. Opinhal served some nice beef sausages one day but the next day they had neither nor pork so we went to Love Shack who assured K that they had pork sausages and then came with a plate of Goan sausages much to her angst. She had forgotten to specify ‘English’ sausages.
‘The shacks are no longer what they used to be’ was K’s verdict while she reminisced about the pork sausages that she had earlier had at these shacks.
6. Shopping…the Baga Calangute dust track of a road is lined with shops selling clothes but thankfully this time K said that she had outgrown these and frankly you get similar stuff at Linking Road in Bandra. Lot of Mumbai folks buy alcohol in Goa as its cheaper. As for us, we stocked up on cashews for the family and salted cashews for me which I am a slave to. Incidentally the price and the quality of cashews are honestly not very different from those that one gets in Mumbai or at least Regal Plus in Bandra.
Please remember that if you ever gift me cashews then make sure they are salted.
We went to the new Mocha after dinner a couple of times where K went for a decaf cappuccino (they make the cappuccinos better in the Bandra Mocha Mojo was her take) while I sipped on giant hot chocolates on the terrace looking down on the crowded streets at night.
They have a good clean loo too
It was great to return to Baga after a gap of four years. I sincerely hope that our next trip won’t be after so long.
After all few joys can compare with that of going back to the clichéd ‘home away from home’.
PS My bad run with camera lenses continues. I landed at Goa to find out that my DSLR lens was smashed. Hence the iPhone 4s pic through the trip.