I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain. Both his writing and his TV shows have had a big influence on the way I approach food writing. The high point of most Bourdain food and travel shows is when he is invited home by locals and spends time with them. Gets to know them. And, of course, eats with them.
I was lucky to have had a similar experience while bringing in my fifth successive birthday at Goa last Saturday.
The origins a of Bourdanesque evening
It all started when Sanchita, my Facebook friend, saw my status update on my visit to Goa. She immediately invited K and me over to a dinner at her place. To celebrate her birthday a week in advance. And to bring in my birthday. Sanchita is a Bengali married to a Goan Catholic. Two communities who believe in celebrating life at the first opportunity. With food of course.
So off we went to Sanchita's place at Mercer near Panjim. She greeted us with a smile so warm that it would be impossible to believe that we had never met her before. Sanchita was the epitome of a busy host. Running around from corner to corner ensuring that everyone was looked after. She had cooked Goan food as requested by moi. And would do the dishes later as she was maidless. She is too energetic to be a Bong. Or a Goan. I had a tough time trying to find her stationary so that I could click her.
Her husband Anil is a big hearted host. A Goan in the truest sense. He'd grown up here. Not much of a eater imself, he ensured that our mouths were full and glasses were not empty. A soulful singer with a very charming voice. And a very, very talented painter! I don't claim to understand art. I was unimpressed by Picasso. But the vividness of Anil's colours. The bold strokes of his brush. The layers within the paintings. The variety in his work. The raw, uncorrupted passion with which he spoke about his art, were all very humbling. And to think that this is not what he does for a living! Anil said that he wouldn't want to paint for money. He said the joy would go out the day someone dictated him to draw 'two coconut trees and the sea'. So by day he works in accounts and studies law. He comes into his own when faces the easel.
Why does this sound so familiar?
My evening was made when my looks of longing worked. Anil gifted us three of his paintings. I felt as if I was the luckiest birthday boy in the world. Can't wait to frame them and put them up.
And then there was their son Jatan. He loves cricket. In true Goan style he plays the game to enjoy it. Cricket for him is a game and not a coaching class activity. Like his parents, an earnest host, paying attention to all the guests at home like a true gentleman.
I was fortunate to meet Anil and Sanchita's friends. Warm Goans to the hilt. Anil had grown up with most of them. Lalitha, Milind, Chris, Delano, Kevin and many more wonderful people who welcomed K and me as if we all knew each other all our lives. At no point, did we feel like strangers.
This was the first time that I got meet 'real' Goans. People who live here. Not just those who are part of the tourism industry. An interaction which didn't involve the exchange of cash.
Our exposure to Goan cuisine so far had been limited to the Catholic dishes of pork vindaloo, pork sorpatel and pork chilly fry. There was a polite silence amongst the Hindu Goans in the room when I announced my love for Goan pork dishes.
Twelve O'clock came and went as K mouthed 'happy birthday' to me. Everyone suddenly remembered my birthday at one am! Anything earlier or more punctual would be atypical of this laid back paradise.
Authentic Goan food with a Bengali touch
Yes, this is a food blog. Just as Bourdain's show is a food show. Well the food was abundant and excellent. Right from Sanchita's olive, cheese crackers and tuna crackers to accompany the well stocked bar. To the fish roe fry. Roe from a four feel long king fish. Boiled. Sliced and sauteed in mild spices. Virginal and yet very very evolved. The roe had a diaphanous texture similar to that of Hilsa roe. Bound by a sausage skin-like consistency outside. It was sooo good that K, who is neutral to roe, popped quite a few herself.
Dinner was lavish, Goan, home made. Cooked by a Bengali! Food binds all as they say. A lovely sorpatel. Full flavoured. Tantalising meat. Again had vindaloo lover Kainaz diving into the sorpatel with glee.
And there were the butter, garlic baby squids. Mellow and soothing after the more robust Goan curries of sorpatel and xacuti. All of this was held together by poi, the crusty, husk based Goan bread. And biriyani made by Milind. With his mom's recipe as his wife Lalitha proudly told us. The secret, I believe, lies in the tomatoes that this venerable lady added.
For dessert there was Bebenca, the traditional Goan dish. Warmed and had with ice cream as Delana and Lalitha said it should be. I admired the softness of the Bebenca. Sanchita told me that it was made by a lady in the village. These homemade Bebencas have a shelf life of forty eight hours. Commercial Bebencas last for a month in contrast thanks to additives.
Today, 12th February, is Sanchita's birthday. Please join your hands and sing a very joyful birthday song for this wonderful lady. Who knows, with luck you could be on her guest list too.