Choriz pulao & xit kodi salvation is what you need to get over the tyranny of resort buffets and korma on the beach in Goa. My Martin's Corner story.


A memorable birthday lunch at Martin's Corner, Goa. 7th February 2019


I had first heard of Martin's Corner in South Goa, when I had gone to the Taj an Goa for an office meet in 1999. I was a market researcher at IMRB then. Some of my colleagues had gone out to eat at Martin's during that trip if memory serves me right. It took me 20 years to finally to make it to Martin's myself and my timing could not have been any better.

Yet another Goan birthday story


I usually write my birthday post in the second week of February. My birthday falls on the 7th and I try to post about it by the 10th

I have been way behind in terms of blogging this year I admit. I do plan to spend some more time here now and fix that. Though at times I do wonder if people read blogs anymore and whether it is worth the effort. Then I tell myself that I had never looked at the readership numbers when I began blogging and perhaps it is time to do a Gavaskar again and not look at the scoreboard while batting, I mean blogging!

In case you had not known this already through my social media feeds, we went to Goa on my birthday this year. If you have been a reader here for long, you might be wondering what is new about that! There was a time after all when K & I went to Goa for 7 or 8 consecutive years on my birthdays. Then we took a break from going to Goa on my birthday, before we went back again a couple of years back.

K & I bringing in my birthday at the Lalit, Goa. 7 Feb 2019

The king of the north begins to falter in the Goan Game of Thrones


In our earlier trips to Goa on my birthday, K & I would always stay at Baga at north Goa. A stretch that is touristy no doubt, but whose easy going feel we loved.

When we went back there in 2014 after the break that I spoke f, it was apparent that Baga had changed. It had become visibly busier and dustier.  Earlier, it was more a place where foreigners and young folks, read the 'non-family crowd' from Mumbai that would hang out. There was a higher proportion of visitors from the north of India than before now and family groups at that. With the change in demographics, came up a slew of restaurants serving ‘pure veg’ thalis. Unthinkable at a place which was once a pork and seafood surf and turf paradise for us. 

Last year's experience at Baga was even worse. We stayed at neighbouring Calangute that time. At the young and smart Le Meridian Hotel which we liked. Discovering the lovely Goan restaurant on the beach, Pousada By The Beach, was the highpoint of the trip. 

However, when we went to Baga, it seemed like the place had been hit by an apocalypse. The ‘pure veg’ restaurants serving Punjabi and Gujarati fare had completely taken over its food scene. The roads seemed to be in shambles. The sense of desperation that one feels at Saki Naka, the horribly trafficked industrial area in Mumbai, seemed to permeate here too. While our old favourite restaurant, Infanteria, still was holding its ground, the food and crowd at the other favourite, Britto’s seemed to disappoint. Casa Goa,  a restaurant which we love, was shut. The owner told us on the phone that the digging of the roads had got to him and hence he didn't open shop this year.

It seemed it was as if it was Paradise Lost in Baga.

Family matters at South Goa


With my niece at Palolem, Feb 2019


There was something different about this year’s birthday trip to Goa. We stayed at South Goa for a change this time and not the north. Almost on the border of Goa and Karnataka to be precise, well beyond where the south Goa hotel hub is. This was at the Lalit Hotel and Resort

The reason for this was that this was also a family trip for us. Way back in 2009, my wife, brother and mother had gone to together to Goa on our birthdays. My brother’s falls a day before mine. 

Ten years later, we recreated the trip in a sense. Our family has expanded though. The lovely little girl my brother was dating then, whom he had gone and bought a gift for secretly while K and I acted as a decoy for my mother on that trip, is his wife now. The two have a little daughter who is now almost 3 years old. You might know her as Pompei from my blog. If on that birthday ten years back, my brother was chased angrily by my mother across the beach for his indulging in water sports, this time my little brother was the hyper-anxious Bengali parent keeping his eye on the little one.

My mother was staying with us then and we flew in to Goa together from Mumbai. My bother and his family flew in from Delhi.

With my mother growing older and a toddler being with us this time, staying at a resort hotel made more sense and hence we based ourselves in south Goa. The prices of most other luxury resorts were very high and Lalit seemed to be the cheapest of what was available. Possibly because of the distance from the airport, I later thought. Or the slothful service of the staff at the hotel ... tardy checkouts, impossible to get the promised buggies, chaos at breakfast, horrid cappuccinos. Or the fact that the rooms, while spacious, had the dated look of Goan resorts of the 2000s, and the bathroom was smelly.


Us two brothers celebrating their birthdays together with mom

On the positive side, the resort is located on the beach and that was something that my brother and mother were keen on. Unlike the interiors of the rooms, the landscaping of the property was very nice. The beach was very clean and there was enough place for the little one to run around. Most importantly, mom was happy that the she was with my brother and me on our birthdays.


View from our room at the Lalit
I managed my customary Goan birthday snap

The best part of the trip was that little Pompi would not let go of my fingers and it seems like we are finally besties now!

Jethu and Kimu together again

Hotel restaurants had been where hope went to die ...Jay Rayner


The food at the Lalit was a big problem for K and me though as there was no Goan food on offer and we both love the local food. 

The buffet at Lalit, which was part of our package, reminded one of a Lonavla Hotel rather than a Goan one. We have experienced buffets at places such as the Marriott and Le Meridian in Goa where the chefs there had visibly put in a lot more into what they had at the Lalit. The food at the Lalit in Goa was very, very mediocre and lacklustre in contrast. They did have a token Goan fish curry at dinner but the curry lacked salt and the fish both passion and compassion. 

There was no pork, no poi, no beef, no love, on the table.

They had a beach shack at Lalit and we went there on the first evening but the food there too was desultory. Hardly any Goan food was on offer here either. Almost no pork barring a vindaloo which I did not bother to try. And the seafood that we ordered was covered with an excess of spices and had none of the robustness and life of good Goan cooking. The peri peri squids & rechado prawns that I called for made me cry in memory of how wonderful these dishes were at Pousada by the Beach, and how much of a travesty they were here.

The shack was clean, by the sea and had clean toilets though.

The masala food at the shack at Lalit. You get the gist.


There were a lot of budget lunch places in the highway outside the hotel but the trip was to short and too family focused for me to go and try them.

Mangalorean lunch homes in the road away from Lalit.
Not walking distance though.


Bhaaji and korma on the beach


We did go one night to a nearby beach called Palolem to a restaurant called Dropadi. It was recommended to me by readers on Instagram as well as by the driver of the cab we had hired locally. He later told us that he was related to the owner. That explained it.

The view from Dropadi

Like Britto’s in Baga, Dropadi is located on the beach too. The clientele the night we went consisted entirely of foreigners. The focus of the restaurant was on serving chicken korma and cheese naans it seemed. Being from the north, my brother and sister in law were keen to try pomfret and crabs. We ordered both. Tandoori pomfret and 'crab in Goan spices'. The meat was nice and juicy in both cases. Hidden in an excess of masala though. 

Rava prawns at Dropadi


Of all the dishes that we tried at Dropadi, the rava coated prawns were the only memorable one. There was no pork or beef on the menu here. The squid in the squid chilli fry was rubbery, the prawn ambotik looked and tasted like the Mithi River, a swamp in Mumbai. 

Juicy fish in the pomfret at Dropadi

Ambotik that lost its way at Dropadi


The toilets were clean though and it was an acceptable place to come to with a senior citizen and a toddler.

Crabs for the girls


As my brother observed, Palolem beach where Dropadi is located, was possibly the way Baga once was. Clean. Slightly buzzy with many foreigners around (a ramification of this was the many vegan cafes around) and yet not too crowded.

A nice place to hang out in in my opinion, if you are not fussed about having good Goan food. 

Pork chilli fry salvation at Martin's Corner


Martin's Corner, Goa, Feb 2019

K and I thankfully found salvation at a place called Martin’s Corner on my birthday. All thanks to my readers, with whom I had shared my woes about the ‘food not worthy of Instagramming’ that I had been subjected to in Goa on the trip. 

The restaurant was more than an hour’s drive from the Lalit and the cab bill was around 2,000 Rs or so but every minute of the drive and every Rupee spent was worth it. I had heard of Martin's (nothing to do with Martin's Hotel in Colaba) years back, but had never made it there before as it is located too far from the north where we were usually based.

Buzzy on both the afternoons that we went there and yet the service was so
on point at Martin's


The menu card at Martin’s said that the place had started off as a shack with 4 tables in 1989. Run by a gentleman called Martin and that his wife, Carafina Pereira, used to cook the food on offer. Mr Martin is no more but Mrs Pereira continues to run the restaurant which has grown to become a large and buzzy place with many tables and very, very clean toilets, and a much larger staff size whose service was courteous and efficient.

We are more fond of the Catholic dishes in the Goan repertoire and that is what we got at Martin’s. I broke into a big grin when I read the menu and saw all my favourites on it. The smile on my face continued through the lunch and K shared my joy too. 



Finally found our Goa smiles back at Martin's Corner

Our daily bread and more


So what did we eat at Martin’s?

Ox tongue roast at Martin's Ciorner


We had the ox tail roast which was spiced with ‘Goan masalas’ and which had a sharp tartness of vinegar to it to cut the meatiness of the dish. The tongue was so delectably tender that we did not need a knife to cut it. Goan ox tongue roast is a dish that we had first fallen in love with at Infanteria, where they have a slightly more saucy version, and which is a must order for us when we go there. We could not get enough of the one at Martin’s either as we loved it here and packed whatever we could not finish to eat later.

Pork amsol/ chilli fry at Martin's


We tried another Infanteria favourite, the pork chilli fry, at Martin’s. They call the dish amsol here and it was very different from the Infanteria one. There were no green peppers here. Nor did it have the touch of turmeric that Infanteria has. Here, it was the tangy hit of whole dried kokum that was the foundation of the dish and the inherent sweetness of fried onion which offered a contrast. Both combining beautifully to celebrate the great quality pork in it.

Vindaloo at Martin's Corner


The pork vindaloo that we ordered was a tad sweet for our tastes though the meat was of good quality. Just to give you an idea of why Martin's made us so happy, Dropadi offered a mutton and not pork vindaloo.

Kismur at Martin's Corner


I ordered the local Goan bar snack, kismur. It is made with tiny shelled shrimp and finely chopped fried onions and green chillies. The dish tasted rustic and alluring at Martin's and called for a beer though we stuck to juice. K did not take to this as she does not like small shrimp.

Sausage pulao at Martin's Corner

The revelation of day was the Goan sausage/ choriz pulao. At Infanteria, I have the Chinese fried rice that they make with Goan sausage. I think that the sausage pulao is a better use of choriz and the flavours of this sharp, pickled sausage were managed better here. I packed whatever I could not finish and had it for dinner at Mumbai the next day. 

By which time, this became my favourite pulao ever!

Keep coming back to you

We liked the food at Martin's so much, and were so disappointed by the dull breakfast buffet at Lalit the next day, that we skipped lunch in the hotel, took a detour on the way to the airport and returned to Martin’s for lunch again. This time my mother was with us and once again we had a fab meal. Plus the unheard of happened, we managed to hurry the folks in a Goan restaurant, a state known for its sleepiness, as we had a flight to catch!

Fish curry at Martin's Corner

We ordered for the surmai fish curry (xit kodi in local parlance) for mom. It came with rice and fish fry too on the side and a delectable tendli pickle. The fish in the curry was juicy and not overcooked and the curry, a lovely bouquet of the flavours of freshly grated coconut, red chilli and kokum berries. Zestful and yet light.

Prawn fry at Martin's Corner

K wanted fried prawns and the rava coated fried prawns that we ordered spoke to her heart. The semolina casing was thin and gave a crunch to the texture of the dish and yet ensured that the juicy prawns were the hero of the dish. These were light years ahead of the rava prawns that we ate at Dropadi in terms of quality and the finesse of cooking. I would not even compare the prawns at the shack at Lalit with this. That would be like comparing the football teams of Portugal and Poshchim Putiary (a minor club in Kolkata)

Rechad and rava crumbed mussels at Martin's Corner


I asked for the crumb fried mussels in rechado masala based on recommendations that I got on social media. It was seafood perfection once again. The rava coating, once again thin and subtle, the mussels inside left creamy and not overdone. The slight chilli heat of the rechado spicing made this a dish I would never forget.

Goan sausage chilli fry at Martin's


We could not leave Goa without having a Goan sausage chilli fry of course and we ordered that at Martin’s. Once again, cooked with sheer artistry which reined in the tartness of the sausage and yet ensured that flavours were robust and texture offering all the love of one's security blanket. The chefs inside had visibly done justice to some good quality chorz or chaurico given to them. A tribute to the Portuguese influence of Goan Catholic food, made intrinsically Indian now. 

Yes, the Goan sausage chilli fry is a dish that is as ‘Indian’ today, if not more, than the tandoori chicken!

Leaving Goa with a happy smile at Martin's Corner

Moving ahead


When I spoke about my Martin’s experience, there were some on my social media who told me that they felt that Martin’s is too ‘commercialised’ now and that one should go to places such as Nostalgia instead. I cannot comment on the latter, but having a fair bit of Goan food over the years, I can say that the food at Martin’s hit the spot. 

There is of course always a risk of attracting such opinions (of the 'its sold out' variety) when hole in the wall places evolve and grow with time. In many cases, this could be true too. Plus I have not been to the old Martin's. Nor am I a local or a Goan. 

However, as we saw with Kwality in my previous blog post and now with Martin’s, I do feel at times progress can be a very good thing. 

In this case, it salvaged my birthday!

Happiness at Martin's Corner

Cake?


Footnote: We could not get a very good cake on my birthday and the Lalit ones were rather meh. I moped about this when we returned to Mumbai and dropped broad hints to K. 

It worked! She surprised me with a cake that should ordered from Anurita Ghoshal of Eight By Anurita in Bandra. K's brief to Anurita was: "he likes pure dark chocolate cakes. No fruits. No berries. No mint. No alcohol. No marzipan."

Anurita delivered and it was obvious that both women knew exactly what I want when it comes to birthday cakes.



When being passive aggressive worked. With the cake that K
ordered from Anurita Ghoshal
Appendix:

Address: Address69, Binwaddo, Betalbatim, Goa 403713

Our meals on each occasion at Martin's cost us around Rs 2,500 - 3,000 . We did not have alcohol or dessert. We could have ordered a bit less.

A video that we shot at Martin's Corner


My article in the Times Kitchen Tales in the Times of India where I spoke of Martin's. Link here: http://timeskitchentales.com/feature-stories/2019/02/26/how-to-cook-your-way-across-india/
Related posts:


Do read this lovely article by Jay Rayner from which I borrowed a line in this post: https://www.theguardian.com/food/2019/mar/17/jay-rayner-20-years-observer-restaurant-critic?CMP=share_btn_tw

More pictures from the trip

Martin's Story



 Little brother grows up
At Dropadi


At lalit
The long drives  in south Goa were back breaking for me but there was a lot to see for sure







Comments

Omanicious said…
Happy Birthday Kalyan ( Well, Belated.)

Please-O-Please do not think of stopping to blog. I am sure there are so many like me who keep coming back just to read your stories. Your videos are fantastic but its your written word that has pure magic
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@omanicious...thank you very much. I am not going to stop but comments like these sure are reassuring. Thank you :)