Sunset at Baga and sunrise at Calangute... holding on to a changing Goa and the discovery of Pousada By The Beach

K reaches out for our favourite pork chilli fry & tongue toast at
Infantaria, Baga, Goa

Goa, the promised land... the late 1990s

“I was thinking of going to Lonvala one weekend.”

“Don’t,” said Amar. “It is like going to Lokhandwala ( a suburb in Mumbai). Dusty roads. Hot. Crowded. No good food.”

This was the year 1999. I was fairly new to Mumbai then. I was at the house of a couple who had sort of figuratively adopted me here, and who would often give me tips on Mumbai and on dealing with life, when we had this conversation.

While Mumbai's neighbourhood hill station, Lonavla, wasn’t deemed exciting enough by my friends, they had no such qualms about Goa

Goa was the closest Mumbai folks had back then, to Vegas or Hawai. A place to go and let one’s hair down without a worry in the world. A lot of alcohol, pork and fried fish was part of the script. There was more but then, what happened in Goa, stayed in Goa.

My first trip to Goa was in the annual office junket of the market research agency that I worked in then. We stayed at The Taj Aguada and the Holiday Village. That trip was all about the resort experience, and the good life. We were just at the start of our careers and it seemed rather magical. 

I then went with a couple of friends, Prom and Saby to Goa during the Diwali weekend. Sabina, was a Goa buff. She told us that she will show us the ‘real Goa’. A place called Baga. 

We fell in love with Baga and its beach shacks ( open during season) and its cottages and the sense of freedom it offered. 

A couple of year later, I introduced K, my wife, to Baga after we got married. Our first trip to Goa though was at the Holiday Inn, Goa, where we had gone on our honeymoon.

Falling in love with Baga ... mid 2000s

The point at the drive from the Goa airport
when you realise that you are now at Goa

K too fell for the charms of Baga when we went there on our second trip to Goa together. 

We kept returning to Baga year after year together, primarily to celebrate my birthday every February. Five years on a trot at one time. 

We discovered our favourite restaurants there… Infantaria, Britto’s, Lila Café, Casa Goa…our favourite shacks ... and our spot on the the beach... the bit between Baga and neighbouring Calangute.

K and I had many adventures when we went in search for the perfect hotel, starting with Paradise Village Resort to some place opposite Infantaria which later changed management and became horrid when we returned on a subsequent trip. Villa Goesa it was after that, as suggested by my office bosses, and then finally Waters, which we  discovered by chance, and loved and went back to for the red room  there more than once. 

The plan at Baga was simple. For three or four days, we’d loll on the beach, read books lying on the beach beds placed in front of the shack, sip beers and watermelon juices, munch on sausages and then amble down the beach for lunch at Britto’s, go back and nap in the hotel, head to the Subway (now shut) for cookies or to Infantaria for coffee, then stroll down the Baga Calangute lane before going to Infantaria for dinner, and, on special days, to Casa Goa for dinner.

We once stayed at the Park Hyatt when we get monsoon rates and loved its luxuriousness, but felt that this was more like a dream, than 'our Goa.'

Something's missing... Baga, 2014

Then we took a break from going to Baga for my birthday for a few years. We returned to Baga in 2014 and stayed at the Waters again. Our favourite room, 'the red room' seemed a bit frayed this time and we upgraded to the posher and arty room on the terrace. We went to our old favourites to eat and the food was still good, but something seemed a bit different.

Baga seemed hotter, dustier, noisier... 'frayed' as I said earlier ...and not that 'quaint' ... and, there were a few ‘full veg Gujarati thali’ restaurants that had come up which seemed so not Baga.

A whiff of the 'other Goa', mid 2000s

By then we had met some locals at Goa, thanks to a Facebook friend, Sanchita, when she invited us home.  Their lives and views of Goa seemed different from that of us as tourists. Apart from our hosts, a Bengali married to a Christian, no-one in that room ate pork it seems. They were the local Hindus, they explained. K and I were the only vindaloo and sorpotel and choriz fans that evening. Apart from our hosts. 

We realised, for the first time, that there is more to Goan food and Goa then the shacks of Baga.

We then made some Goan friends in Mumbai who waxed lyrical of their villages back ‘home’. Again, very different from the metaphorical island of Baga.

Our next trip to Goa was not on a February, and it was rather different from our trips to Baga. This was in 2015.

We stayed at a plush hotel this time and at Panjim, the capital city, for the first time. This was The Marriott Goa. The hotel and its surroundings showed us a side of Goa away from busy Baga, and yet more real than the south Goa resort properties such as the Park Hyatt where we had once checked ourselves into a few years back. The sea seemed as if it was just outside the window of our room. The beach was not much to talk about though.

Was this the real Goa?

Who moved my Baga... 2018

We were back at Goa this year for a short two night stay at Baga earlier this month. This was to celebrate my birthday and this was  thanks to a last minute idea suggested by K who knew how much I like to do so.

She chose the hotel based on the suggestion of her friends who had gone there recently. The hotel, the new Le Meridien at Goa, is at neighbouring Calangute though. Not Baga where we usually stay. I was a bit unsure about this bit but decided to go with the flow. The quality of the hotel that we stay in has become very important to us and Baga doesn’t really have too many upscale and modern properties. Our budget for hotels has changed too compared to the days of our youth.

Pics of our room. The view was nothing much but it had a balcony and the room was lovely and elegant and comfortable. No bath tub though.

We stopped at Infantaria, at the beginning of the Baga Calangute stretch, on our way to the hotel, from the airport before we checked in to the hotel. Given it was a short trip, I didn’t want to miss out on our favourites and hence the decision to go to Infantaria firsy. 

I broke into a big smile the moment we stepped in. Infantaria is one of my favourite places in the world to eat at, and be in. 

Infantaria. the setting for many happy meals for us in Goa

Everything looked the same at Infantaria. Our favourite orders of pork chilli fry and roast tongue tasted the same too thankfully. 

The tongue roast had a velvety texture and had a slight chilli kick to it.

The pork chilli fry was pleasantly fatty and seemed kissed by a hint of vinegar which cut through the fat. I ordered a plate of beef croquettes while the food arrived and that was as good a welcome to Goa as any. The other guests were sitting upstairs but we chose to sit downstairs like we always do at Infantaria, even if it was empty. I had to order the Goan sausage chilli fry of course which I can never finish as K doesn’t eat rice and the portion is too much. Yet, I love it too much to not have it at least once on a trip.

Clockwise: Sausage fried rice, tongue roast, beef croquette and pork chilli fry

We wanted to go to Casa Portuguesa for dinner to bring in my birthday. However, when K called up the number of the restaurant that we dote on, the owner himself picked up and told her that the restaurant was shut for renovation. “It is a very old building you see and the road in front is dug up too.” I remember that he’d told us about a white ant attack the last time that we were here.

So we decided to go to another favourite, Britto’s, for dinner though we prefer to go there during the day as it is by the sea. We didn't have meals to spare and hence the urgency to go there.

We walked down part of the way from the hotel and then hailed a cab (Rs 300, air-conditioned) to drive us from the Calangute circle to Ronil’s at Baga from where we planned to walk down. It was rather hot that evening.

We were in a bit of a shock when we got off the cab. We saw that the entire Baga stretch was inundated, as was Calangute in the past, with new restaurants offering Punjabi, Moghlai, Chinese and Gujarati, pure veg  as they proudly proclaimed, run by Punjabis and Shettys it seemed. North India had indeed taken over Goa as a Goan minister was quoted having said in the papers, using rather unparliamentary language, a few days later.

There was the odd Linda still there at Baga and the dive bar at the turn to Tito’s with a few foreign tourists guzzling cheap beer and the odd vindaloo, but that was all it seemed, that seemed left of the Baga one knew. The narrow road was dug up and there was hardly any place to walk. Big cars and SUVs zoomed by, kicking up mini dust storms which seemed to mock our memories of a more rustic Baga. I could understand why the soft spoken Goan owner of Casa Portuguese had shut shop. I would have  done so too!

Their seemed to be a furious frenzy among the new tourist crowd. So different from the laid-back and lazy feel that Baga had in the past, when it was sought after by foreigners looking for a cheap place for a long holiday and by young folks from Mumbai, also looking for a cheap place for a short holiday. 

Baga New
Baga old

Baga’s current visitors, on the other hand, seemed to be folks on a mission who would probably use the Goan word for a chilled out life, susegad, only as a swear word while indulging in some good natured road rage.

We walked in to Britto’s feeling a bit shaken, just as we has earlier when passed by Casa Portuguesa which was shrouded in the dark. The only glimmer of hope in the evening was when we passed by the Cavala Inn, known for its jam sessions, with the strains of live rock music wafting out from its parlour.

Where's everyone at Britto's
There you are! Britto's by night

We were in for a shock when we reached Britto’s. It seemed absolutely empty. We could not see a single diner there! A far cry from the tourist season in the past where the seating area would be packed and you would have to wait for a table. I was stunned and in two minds on what to do. I hate eating at an empty place. Plus would the food be fresh if noone was eating there?

K suggested we stroll in to check it out and suddenly the penny dropped. Everyone at Britto's was sitting outside on the beach and not at the inner sections unlike before. We sat down with a sigh of relief. I then changed three tables, just as K would once make us change rooms in hotels at Goa till she found a good one. In this case, it was because there was a Bengali group sitting behind us with the back of one gentleman’s chair touching that of mine. The conversation, too close to comfort. The next table didn’t work too. The hookah smoke of a Russian group beside us came straight at us. We finally moved to a third table which I was satisfied with. The staff didn’t seem to mind.

New look prawn chilli fry at Britto'

It was hard to see the food in the dark but we went for our two favourites here. The first was prawn chilli fry whose spicing was as nuanced and enticing as always. The prawns were big, a tad over cooked, but the flavours made us smile. What did not make us smile though was that they had changed the serving plate to a rectangular one from the earlier round one and that there seem to be a lot more ‘foliage’ (large pieces of kokum and capsicum and tomato) than before. As if to give an impression of bulk.

The other dish that we always order here is the prawn bafad. It is a Mangalorean dish made with pork traditionally I am told. Britto’s does a prawn version. The curry is coconut milk based and reminds me of Bengali prawn malai curry. I always have this with rice, K has it by itself. The prawns were again a bit overcooked but the curry sublime. 

Prawn baffad at Britto'

Dinner done, as we sat under stars, listening to the Yo Yo Honey Singh songs and Jhumma Chumma  from Hum being blasted out from the beach tent restaurant nearby,  and which seem to have replaced the Bob Marley of the Goan shacks that we remembered.

K & I looked at each other and shook our heads. Without exchanging any words, we knew what the other meant.

“Baga has changed. The little baby has become a gangly teen.”

A new dawn at Calagute

Neville taking the order at Pousada By the Beach

I woke up the next morning feeling cheerful thankfully as one should on one’s birthday. After a nice breakfast at the hotel, where I lost my ros omelette virginity as you might have read in my earlier post, we headed out for lunch.

We decided to go to a place called Pousada By The Beach which had been recommended to us by a couple of friends, Monty and Chitra. They had gone there and loved it when they had stayed at the Le Meridien themselves. They recommended the seafood there.

We walked down the Holiday Street at Calangute to the beach. The lane was dotted on both sides by flea market-like shops and small hotels. The weather had cooled down by then which made the walk quite pleasant compared to the previous. In fact it had rained in the morning which was quite unusual for the season. 

On the way I was tickled to find a restaurant which said that they offered Bengali meals. A ‘thal’ (sic), I was told in Hindi when I asked, with dal, rice and rui curry. Well, I couldn’t grumble about Baga becoming full of Punjabi and Gujarati restaurants anymore after this! 

Goa now has a proper Bengali restaurant in Mustard. The menu there is curated by my friend Pritha Sen. While I’ve eaten there once and the Bengali food was top notch, I wouldn’t generally go for a Bengali meal on a short trip to Goa.

In Biscuit and Chai's Pousada By The Beach

Josh in Khaki shorts, chef Victor in the middle and Neville
in the black cap

Goan food,  and not Bengali, Punjabi or Gujarati,  is what I would seek in Goa and in Pousada by the Beach, we got the very best that afternoon. 

The restaurant looks like a shack on the beach but you have to walk through the door of what looks like the wall of a villa to get in. It doesn’t have any ‘air conditioning’ barring the breeze of the sea, and fans of course. The toilets are very clean unlike in the shacks and yes, this is a premium place. The kitchen looked well equipped too. It's open from 11 am to 7 pm everyday.

It is run, as I found out there, by the father and son duo, Neville and Josh (Joshua) Proenca. Young Josh is a  trained chef who has worked in luxury hotels chains before joining the family restaurant. His father Neville too has worked in luxury hotel groups too, though not in the kitchen. 

We didn’t know them, or know of them, before we stepped in. Nor did they know us. Yet, their natural warm nature, and ace front of house act, made us feel most welcome.

Celebrating my birthday with Biscuit and Chai

Josh came out first and took our order. He then introduced us to the two dogs that they have on the compound, and who are their mascots. Two chubby girls called Biscuit and Chai who both love a cuddle it seemed. One doesn’t eat wheat and has only has fish, Josh told us. The other loves beef and was most upset apparently when it was not available we were told as way of introduction. 

I love dogs and chatting with the two and petting them made for the perfect birthday gift.

The place was empty when we walked in. Goa wakes up late plus the overcast skies had kept people away, and it seemed like that we had our own beach bungalow to ourselves. The weather was perfect too. More people walked in as we settled down and the vibe still remained very susegad or 'chilled' which, as you can see, is a favourite word and life philosophy of mine.

Josh took our order after giving us suggestions based on the brief we gave him...Goan, traditional, something we have not tried before, no chicken. 

Clockwise: rice, poi, feijoada, prawn caldin, peri peri calamari
Lunch at Pousada By The Beach

Neither K nor I  wanted an alcoholic drink so we asked for some fresh coconut water. That’s when papa Neville came up to say hi and asked if we had a hangover. ‘People ask for coconut water here when they have a hangover.’ The coconuts were from the tree in the restaurant’s compound explained Neville and they were rather nectary as we discovered while drinking them.

Neville later told us that they had started Pousada By The Beach as an endeavour to present Goan food, the way it is had at home, to the world. ‘Not the chilli doused vindaloo of the west,’ said Neville with a wan smile and his efforts were borne out by the scintillating lunch that we had that afternoon.  Do keep in mind that Josh and Neville are Catholics and the Goan food here is that native to their community. They had opened the restaurant in 2009 and their chef is a gentleman named Kevin whom they introduced me to later. 

Peri peri calamari. Goan restaurants love their fries!

We started with the peri peri calamari. Josh explained that the peri peri masala in Goa is a red Kashmiri chilli powder based one which has powdered garam masala in it too. When used in stir fries it is called peri peri. When stuffed in a fish, it becomes the rechad masala, said Josh with a twinkle in his eyes.

The dish was a feast for our eyes and all our senses. The vibrant spice palate made our tastebuds dance in joy to the march of the calamari, which was not overcooked or chewy. There was a bit of chilli heat to the dish no doubt, which made me wake up no doubt, but not grimace. The heat was balanced off with a touch of tanginess and sweetness. The focus of the dish was on the squids, with the spices adding in a dash of adventure to them as squids do not have a distinctive flavour of their own. This turned out to be a great start to our lunch.

Peri peri prawns at Jazz Bar at Le Meridien

We had peri peri prawns at The Jazz at the Le Meridien for dinner that day. Those were redder in colour than the squids at Pousada, packed more of a chilli punch too, but were yet quite enjoyable. The prawns at the Jazz bar were the best cooked ones that we had on the trip in terms of it being left moist and not over-cooked. 

I remembered the peri peris of Calangute a week later on Valentine’s Day thanks to their red colour. Quite the apt dish for the day.

Prawn caldhin at Pousada By The Beach

Our mains arrived next.  We had ordered the prawn caldin or caldhino or caldinha. A dish I’d possibly never had before, though I had heard of it. I had not come across the caldin in most of the Goan restaurants that I’d been to in the past. The caldin is a cumin, turmeric and green chilli based curry, I was told, which uses coconut milk and juice too. The curry at Pousada was most divine. The flavours were well balanced. The coconut flavour was not overpowering, the taste of turmeric and coriander distinct and the chilli kick, present but not dominating. 

Neville had told us earlier that they offer dishes in high, medium and low spice levels and we opted for medium through the meal.

Poi at Pousada

With each main dish was served short and fat grained steamed rice and poi, the local Portuguese influenced Goan bread which is soft overall and hollow inside. The crust is coated with husk which gives it texture. Josh told us that there is only one baker who still makes poi in Calangute and that they source their poi from there. Goan bread bakers are called poders and many villages have their local poder I am told. Our friends Sue and Nathan, who lived in a Goa for a few months, would tell us about the poder who’d cycle up to their homes everyday to deliver poi. They make their own poi at hotels such as Le Meridien in Goa. O'Pedro in Mumbai makes its own poi but the own I had there was a lot more chewy compared to the ones that I had in Goa. The pav in Mumbai is softer than poi in Goa from whatever little I saw.

The caldin worked well with both rice and the poi. K had the curry by itself. The light green colour and the thin consistency of the caldin would remind you of a Thai green curry. However, they use turmeric and coriander powder here for the caldin, and not whole spices pounded in a mortar and pestle as it was in the Thai curries in the cooking class of Chiang Mai. Plus no fish sauce or galangal in the caldin of course, or baby aubergines or lemon grass stalks or kaffir lime leaves wither, but you could say that the Goan Caldin and the Thai Green curry belong to the same overall family just as the cheetah and the lion both belong to the cat family! 

The prawns in the caldin were large, a tad over-cooked, though less so in comparison to what we had at Britto’s the previous night. Another stellar dish overall at Pousada overall after the peri pei calamari.

Pork feijoada at 

The other dish that we had was the feijoada, which is pronounced phez-wad. The dish has Portuguese and Brazilian origins I was told. A pork and beans dish which was primarily consumed by plantation workers and those who were not that well off. The bulk was given by the beans and flavor by odd bits of pork. They add palm toddy at Pousada said Josh and Neville proudly and the flavours were rather intoxicating.

I first had the dish in Mumbai, cooked by a friend named Sunanda. She is East Indian and made the East Indian version of the dish based on her family’s recipe and then made a Goan version too based on what she’d got from a neighbour. Both were delicious.

I recently had a glammed up version of the feijoada recently at the newly opened O’Pedro restaurant in Mumbai. Duck, cooked two ways, instead of pork was used here. The focus of the dish was the duck. The dish had fewer beans visible than you could count on your fingers. It did not seem to have any connection to the feijoada that I had at Sunanda’s... or at Pousada.

A Goan friend of ours, Gia, told me that they make the dish with Goan sausage and beans too at home.

Duck feijoada at O'Pedro Mumbai with poi

The feijoada at Pousada by The Beach though, would have been approved of by Sunanda’s mom and aunts and neighbours I am sure. The kidney beans (rajma) and tender, fatty chunks of pork got equal weightage in the dish here. They had used toddy vinegar in the gravy at Pousada. This added a bewitching intensity to the dish and offered a tempestuous contrast to the calmness of the caldin and the two mains combined well after the brilliant start offered by to calamari, to make for an amazing meal.

Serradurra ar Pousada by the beach

We were too stuffed for dessert and didn't order any and were pleasantly surprised when Josh, who didn’t know it was my birthday, still got us a serradurra on the house. I was introduced to this Goan dessert by chef Samantha Nunes at the Marriott Goa a few years back. The menu billed it as a ‘Goan Pavlova’ at Pousada, and this biscuit and cream based dessert was the just the creamy and cool soothing ending which the life defining lunch at Pousada called for.

Pousada By The Beach is not a place where you come for a cheap meal. The meal cost us Rs 2,900 (Feb 2018) but was worth every bite and moment spent. 

Pousada means a place to rest in Portuguese Neville had told us, and with its idyllic setting by the beach, a rather rare uncrowded part at Calangute at that, the warmth of its owners starting with Biscuit and Chai, and the food which tells you that all is good with the world, Pousada By The Beach, seemed to offer just that.

Soaking in the calm of Calangute

Later in the evening, we stepped out of the hotel and walked down the roads leading to the Calangute circle, roads which were wider and emptier than the war-zone like Baga Calangute stretch, with its cashew wholesale shops, pretty impressive Café Coffee Day Outlets and Haagen Dasz too.

K and I told each other that perhaps it is time for us to shift loyalties from Baga and base ourselves at Calangute when we want to be at the north of the wall in Goa. We will ignore the presence of the Pind Baluchi there of course and not grumble about its presence, because Goa is not the place to come grind your teeth.

The truth is, that there are many Goas, and happiness lies in  finding your own Goa, and this trip will remain special as the one where we found Biscuit and Chai’s Goa and fell in love with it.

To know more about our earlier trips to Goa, do read my book The Travelling Belly. Here is the order link

Goa 2018...till next time

Wendell Rodricks's Goa... Poskem

Talking of getting under the skin of Goa, I would strongly recommend reading the book Poskem written by fashion designer and proud son of Goa, Wendell Rodricks, for doing so.

I first started following him on Facebook and was enamoured by the stories that he would post from Goa over there. Stories which spoke of his life in Goa, of people from Goa, its history and its culture. This was a Goa different from what I as a tourist was privy to so far and so much more interesting too.

I was most excited to hear that he was writing a book based on Goa called Poskem. I wanted to get hold of the book as soon as it was out and an opportunity arose when Wendell did a book launch in Mumbai. After having exchanged notes on Facebook ... Wendell is indeed quite an accessible and responsive celebrity ... it was lovely to meet him in person too.

I bought a copy of the book at the launch, got it autographed by him and took it home. I read half of it that night. Finished the other half the next night. It has been ages since this has happened as I am now at a stage where I find it difficult to finish books at one go unlike when I was younger.

Well, the print was of a large font size and that helped but truth be told, the book is an engaging read too. The book deals with the phenomenon of young children referred to as Poskem in local parlance, who had no-one, and who were taken in by rich Goan families and their stories. It tells the story of four Poskem who were living in different Goan families, families which represented different communities and social classes, and their stories. Incidentally, there are detailed sections on food and each chapter has a recipe in a narrative form. Wendell is quite the epicurean as I found out. However, there are also snippets on Goan history and culture and one got to know, through the narrative, a bit about the Portuguese influence on Goa and the history of their stay here and then there departure, the life of the local Hindus and that of Goans who had migrated out. One got to peek into Goan villages and the simple homes there and in the more aristocratic ones in its cities. The story traverses fluidly from the past to the present to the world of magic reality too. The tone of writing is conversational and not professorial. 

By the time I finished reading Poskem, it felt like that I had to get to know so much more about Goa than I did before I read it and the experience reminded me of my childhood days and of getting to know about Indian history through Amar Chitra Katha Comics... and I mean this as a compliment.

At the Poskem launch in Mumbai

Appendix: Pictures and videos from the trip  


Beef croquette at Infantaria

Pork chilli fry at Infantaria

Goan Sausage fried rice at Infantaria

Infantaria, my happy place
Pousada By the Bay

Fresh coconut water

The view from Pousada

The beach by Pousada

Pousada from the beach

Le Meridien, Goa

Birthday dinner at the Jazz Bar at Le Meridien

Cafreal pav and peri peri prawns and Gaon choriz rolls (not in the pic)
at the Jazz bar

Pousada by the Bay Video

Infantaria Video

The Britto's video