Tuesday, June 16, 2015

monsoons in Goa: visit to a spice farm

It’s just the beginning of monsoons and perhaps my most favourite part of the year. The welcome breeze, the rain which is still so shy and tentative and not like the incessant downpour of July and August. June perhaps is the lovely time to visit Goa, because you may gamble in a day of great sunshine, for the beach, or a lovely cloudy day for church visits, or walking around the colourful fontainhas, discover heritage homes, or a light drizzle for the long drives.

We decided to head to the dudh sagar waterfalls, which tend to closed own once monsoons are in full swing, and are a major tourist attraction during the summers, if you time it correctly you might just miss the summer holiday ‘kiddie crowd’ and yet manage to see the majestic falls before they turn into a raging river.

Unfortunately for us our timing was off, the few days of ‘heavy rains’ had made rivers out of the two small rivulets on the way to the base of the falls.

One thing with enjoying Goa in the rains, plans are as unpredictable as the weather.

We were left with the options of the temples in and around Ponda: mangeshi, nagueshi, tambdi surla, and then we decided to do something we hadn’t tried before; the spice plantations.

The sahakari spice farm, unlike its name which means “owned by the corporation” is actually a private property owned by the family ‘sahakari’. A sprawling 130 acre farm has opened 2 acres as a spice farm demonstration.

At 400 rupees for entry and lunch it was a good deal.

We were greeted with flower garlands, a tea made of lemon grass and ginger, and snacks.
The walk through the green surroundings, a light shower making it even more lovely since we carried our umbrellas, and we were on a very informative round of the plantations.

Did you know that cinnamon and bay leaves two ever so popular spices are from the same tree? The bark forms the cinnamon great in cakes and coffees, while bay leaves in soups and curries.
Another plant with a versatile spice repertoire was the nutmeg. The fruit our guide explained wpuld be served as a pickle for lunch and which was a really great addition to the meal. The brown covering of the nutmeg seed is mace, a spice I only know of using in Biryani, and the nutmeg seed ofcourse.
Our guide told us various medicinal properties of the plants and also the insider secrets.
Here let me share a few with you

First of when buying cloves, go for the brown variety rather than the more popular black ones, they are the same cardamom except that the brown ones have more of the essential oils and have more medicinal qualities.

Peppers too maybe green, white, red or black peppers, but they are from the same plant and only differ in processing. Drink a concoction of white pepper in milk at night for good memory, and a concoction of black pepper in black tea in the morning for great motions J

cacao fruit for cocoa

bay leaves, the bark of which is cinnamon

yup, a king pineapple!

betel nut palms, the men who climb them are called Tarzans for their jungle prowess.

vanilla orchids require manual pollination and thus vanilla pods are the second most expensive spice after saffron, due to labour intensive cultivation.

this is the real deal, the vanilla in indian essences are synthetic.

Another fun fact I didn’t know was that there are two types of pineapples, the male or the ‘King ‘ and the female or the ‘queen’ . the queen pineapples are more sweet and popular, whereas the more sour king pineapples are ones which have more bromlein and great for weight loss, she said. How do we know which gender is the pineapple, easy, look at the crown of leaves, if they have spikes it’s a queen, if it has smooth leaves then it’s the king.

There were many such fun facts about the vanilla orchids, and the cashew apples, and all spice plants

Lunch was served on pressed bamboo plates and an on the house shot of cashew feni to whet the appetite.
simple home cooked dal rice, fish curry in a coconut curry, chicken xacuti a popular chicken preparation in roasted coconut gravy, a vegetatrian sabji, papaddums made with the inhouse fiery peri peri, and pickle made with the inhouse nutmeg fruit.

A souvenir shop was selling oils and essence, and even packets of spices to take back. What I wish they had were small potted plants of the all spice plant, for my home spice garden. But alas had to settle for some dry spices.

An interesting tour about spices we use so frequently in our cuisine, and yet don't know much about, a lip smacking journey worth every foodie, especially when in the rains.