Monday, February 20, 2017

The three best times to visit Goa (and no it does not include Christmas or New Year)

This blog post has been playing on my mind since November last year, and by December I was positively bursting to write it, and yet, it is only in February I have gotten around to writing it, but this one is an evergreen, this post I can see myself sending out to my friends even years from now;this post is for keeps.

For one it is about Goa, the second it is about the BEST time to visit the state, and NO it does not include either Christmas or New Year.

I will be giving you the lowdown of the WHY, HOW, WHERE and WHEN of it all, so read on.


WHY is it celebrated: Carnival is basically a time of revelry just prior to the start of Lent, and while I am completely ‘anti-religion, pro God’ , I think the fact that Goa actually has a dedicated time to celebrate all the good things in Life is a fantastic idea. Lent marks the Christian month of abstinence, and while carnival is a time for revellery, it is also a time to remember all the good in your life, all that brings you happiness and joy, sch as family, and music, love and laughter. To add to it, there is no such celebration at this large a scale anywhere else in India. It is totally unique to the state, totally fun, colourful, and a fantastic experience, with street dancing, masquerade parties, every city has its carnival processions which are like the Republic day Parade we see on television only this time it has only tableaux pertaining to Goa and some social causes such as ‘save the girl child’ , women empowerment ‘ . Read more about Goa Carnival here

King Momo, a quintessential part of Carnival

colourful ballons , colourful face masks, Goa carnival
 WHEN is it celebrated : It is always celebrated the Saturday, Sunday through to tuesday, before Ash Wednesday, so if you are reading this in 2017 (this year )then it is on 25 to 28 of February, but if you plan to come next year, just type Ash Wednesday on google and book your trip for the weekend before that.

HOW can I be a part of it : this is the easiest. Choose a city in Goa, preferably Panjim, because I fell they celebrate it with most pomp and show, with dedicated night street dances, great d├ęcor all over the city, (I might be prejudiced since I live here) . Get yourself a fun mask from the road side vendors, colourful caps too, carry a red and black attire, and hit the streets dancing. You can enjoy the festivities at the various hotels and restaurants which have carnival themed parties as well.
WHERE is it celebrated. : almost all the cities in Goa, have a dedicated day for the carnival processions, check the Goa tourism site for more info, or the FB pages of Goa tourism. But as I said, head to Panjim if in doubt.

you can be one of these rainbow haired revellers/tourists

NARAKASUR Chaturdashi

WHY is it celebrated:  Imagine celebrating Dussehra during Diwali, and you get Narak chaturdashi. Now, having lived most of my life in North India, with a leniage from West Bengal, and hailing from Maharashtra, I had never seen the likes of a celebration quite like the Naraka chaturdashi in Goa. Legend has it, and again I say, I am not pro- religion but I love traditions and cultures, if we can only separate the lore from creating hate and promote brotherhood, we would succeed. So then , Narakasur was a powerful demon, who was the son of Bhumidevi or Mother Earth, he had asked for a boon that no one but his mother could kill him and that meant that he was immune to all the gods of Heaven and warriors of the earth. As Narakasur got more and more arrogant and ruthless, he pulled the earrings right off the Goddess mother Aditi’s ears! The bleeding and hapless Goddess Aditi, came to Satyabhama , Lord Krishna’s third wife for help, and together Krishna and Satyaabhama attack Narakasur. Narakasur manages to hit Lord Krishna, and Lord Krishna feigns his injury, seeing that Krishna is injured his wife Satyabhama releases a volley of weapons on Narakasur and he actually succumbs. How? Well, Krishna as all of us who have grown up on tales of Mahabharata know is well versed in war politics and subtle subterfuge. He explains that Satyabhama is actually an avatar /form of Bhumidevi/mother earth aka mother of Narakasur.
Legend /lore what ever you may call it, it is a tale of a mothers love, a sons arrogance, and the love of a wife for her husband.

WHEN is it celebrated : celebrated on the evening prior to chhoti Diwali, according to North Indians. So technically it is Naraka chaturdashi, then next day is what Goans celebrate as Diwali, rest of India as Choti Diwali, and the day after that is Lakshmi Puja or Badi Diwali. The perfect long weekend, almost every place in India has a holiday for Diwali, but absolutely no one celebrates Naraka chaturdashi like Goa!

spot the baby Narakasur made with paper plates 

HOW can I be a part of it : Imagine larger than life demons, some of them with eight packed abdomens, some with snake tails, others with fangs and sharp teeth, imagine alien’esque long ears , antennaes and four eyed , five headed, bat winged, demons of every size and shape all over the city scape. Children from various housing societies get together to make their version of Monsters Inc, all the pent up creativity is converted into these humongous thermocol giants and you can see them in almost every city/town/village in Goa, for one evening/night only, since they are burnt in the wee morning hours.  You can make your own Narakasur, instagram the daylights out of the sights, or see the enactement of Krishna versus narakasur at the various city sponsored competitions.

WHERE is it celebrated. It is celebrated in every city in Goa, choose one and travel the small roads within to discover some faboulous halloweenesque demons. We call it Narakasur hopping, you know like Bar hopping, or even the Bengali Pandal hopping during Durga Puja.

these larger than life demons have oodles of creativity and some serious sass

International festival of India IFFI

WHY is it celebrated: To celebrate the movies, India has made Goa the permanent venue of IFFI, and while the last two festivals have religious overtones, if like me, movies, storytelling and world culture is your religion then IFFI is a festival worth celebrating.

WHEN is it celebrated : Mostly on the last week of November, earlier it was a ten day extravaganza , now it is for a week, so check on the official pages of IFFI whatever year you are planning to come a few months prior.
Irani, Korean, Japanes, French, German, whatever almost every nation is showcasing movies at IFFI 

Moviw buff? you cant miss IFFI

HOW can I be a part of it : you have to register online for this one. No spot registrations. It costs around 1000 and upwards, depending again on the official website. They need things like copy of photo, identity, address, and just when you think this is just not worth your time and effort, let me tell you it is. Why do you want o attend you can write that you love movies and random things like that, do not be afraid that it is only for serious movie goers, this I tell you from experience. For years I thought only the elite could attend the IFFI, but no it is not.

WHERE is it celebrated.: INOX panjim and Kala academy as of now, the powers that be have been threatening to some day have a dedicated area for IFFI, and equally large scale dreams and promises come election time, so watch this space for more, but as of now, it is safe to say, it will still be celebrated in INOX and ESG near the old GMC building.

So that’s it folks. Attending any or all of these festivals starting with carnival in feb/march to Narakasur and Diwali around Oct/nov, to IFFI in Nov/December, will not only give you bragworthy stories to tell back home, some envy worthy pictures of Goa , but memories of a lifetime.

other interesting festivals in goa cashew trail , taste of Goa festival fado nights,  serendipity art festival 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fado nights in Goa

every first tuesday of the month, the seaside resort of Cidade de Goa, in Dona Paula, converts into a city in Portugal, as the famous fadistas of the state come down to celebrate a night of Fado.
If you are a fado enthusiast, and live in Goa, this may not be news to you. But if you are a traveller to Goa, or like me, unaware of this traditional portuguese musoc, with its lilting music filled with love and longing, then read on.

To experience the magic of Fado music, as well as truly enjoy reading about Fado nights I would highly recommend watching this  youtube video of Fado night which I specially created for my readers. you could also follow me on instagram @kuhelib and search for the hashtag #noitedefado for exclusive pictures not shared here in the blog. 

The Fado nights celebrate Fado music sung in two styles, such as Lisbon and coimbra , two cities in Portugal. As I previously mentioned we are transportedted to the cities of Portugal, and the place in particular is Alfama. Alfama is one of the oldest districts in Lisbon, and it is famous for the Fado bars and restaurants, thus it is fitting that the Chef speciality restaurant in Cidade de Goa, is named after this historic district, as well as play host to the Fado nights every month.

famous Fado singer Sonia Shirsat.

The ambience and the setting of the restaurant itself is unique. seating at various multilevels, with alcoves and balconies, such that it feels as if you are seated in a townsquare , with sloping roofs, and even street lights as part of the restaurant decor. the floor tiles resemble the pavements of the streets and one of the wall even has a landscape of the cityscape of Alfama, Lisbon.
The fado nights are a reservation only event, and since it is a much awaited event, each month there are only that many diners. make sure to make your reservations in advance, and Might I suggest the balcony seating to get the best panoramic views of the restaurant and the singers.

The unique restaurant setting , which resembles a town square.

Chef at Alfama, proudly displays the 4 course meal to be served through the night.

beautifully plated, contemporary Goan and portuguese dishes.

against the backdrop of the city of Alfama

As a foodie, whichever place I visit, food is always upper most on my mind, and yet at the Fado night Food plays second fiddle to the music. The night begins at 8 pm, where in the musicians come in and do a round of the tables, especially because as the Cotta family patriarch said that they have been playing at Alfama restaurant for the past 12 years almost in continuity, every first tuesday, and some of the patrons have been coming for almost as long. There are some ardent fado lovers in the state of Goa, and one of them happens to also be the consul geeral of Portugal. Families who have friends and relatives living in Portugal, those who speak the language and who have listened to Fado music as children and might even have dabbled in singing a few Fado songs are many in Goa. And to see this unique side of Goa, one must come and attend a Fado night.
For the rest of India it might come as a surprise, that so many Goans have such love and respect for their former 'rulers' , but unlike the British who ruled over the rest of India for 300 years, the Portuguese were in Goa for almost 450 years, and in this time many of them integrated themselves into the very fabric of the society here.

Goans culture and heritage is very unique as compared to the rest of the country, and we see that in the dressing style as well as the food of the state. As tourists , most are content at visiting the beaches of Goa, but as a true traveller, I welcome you to delve deeper into the lives and histories of this fascinating land. And Attending a Fado night is not just about the haunting quality of the music, the passionate songs of love, envy, wrath and longing, it is about experiencing and keeping alive the heritage and traditions of a place.

salada de caranguejo e camarao, crab xec xec salad with marinated shrimp
the first course was the pretty as apicture crab xec xec, and marinated prawns which were delicious if not a bit sparse.The green bean salad was an explosion of flavours, unexpected tones of sweet and sour, and texturally crisp and fresh , this one was a winner.

salada de feijao verde com tomate alho assado e rucula, green bean salad with cerry toamtoes, roasted garlic and arugula.
After anoither twenty minutes of music, we were served small tea cups of soup, and now we were at 9 a clock. we were given twenty minutes to finish each course, until the lights were dimmed for the music. once the singers begin to sing, no movement of staff or guests are allowed. The doors of the restaurant are locked, and you are invited to lose yourself in the music.
By 10 o clock the main course was brought in, and by then we were ravenous. Somehow, I feel there should be some snacks, or some appetisers to help us bridge the gap from one musical interval to the next.
The staggered meal allowed the chefs to plate the food meticulously, and the food did come out fairly quickly once the lights came on, and yet we found ourselves craning to see when the next course was coming. Art cannot be fully appreciated on an empty stomach.
Maybe bread rolls, or even crackers along with our wine would be a nice accomapaniment.

galinha grelhada a portuguesa, portuguese BBQ chicken with carrot mash and garlic tossed spinach.

borrego assado com molho cremoso de amaranth, slow cooked lamb assado bun with creaqmy amaranth sauce.
  The portuguese have been credited with bringing the pao to India, it was initially meant to be a steamed Bao, which is what is served at the dinner, which over the years got a baked version , the Pao.
stuffed with slow cooked lamb, and the locally grown 'tambdi bhaji' or red amaranth leaves, it was an interesting play Goan flavours.
The fish curry rice, got the continental twist with the  seared Modso, with Apricot balchao, over a bed of Cous cous. Very fancy, but we were ravenous by now, and a hasty picture before we dived right into devour the meal.
peixe modso frito com couscous de balchao de damasco e molho de laranja, pan seared modso with apricot balchao couscous and orange sage sauce.

Another half an hour later, and honestly, we did not know how the time flew, we were amazed to know that it was 11 o clock! we had been at the dinner table since 8:30 and for two and a half hours were regaled by stellar musically performances, and spledidly plated meals.
the final dessert course did not get photographed because of our haste but it was a generous helping of three desserts, a cheesecake tart which was splendid, a dense and sinful chocolate cake, and a cocnut icecream with fresh tender cocnut slivers.

We had the best seats in the house, opt for the balcony seats and get a panoramic view of the diners, and the gorgeous town square seating at alfama.

If music is the food for the soul , we returned with our souls full and over flowing.

If you live in Goa then a Fado night at Alfama, Cidade De Goa will connect you with a cherished Goan-portuguese tradition of the land, and will have you coming back for more. If you are a tourist/ traveller to Goa, then you will have travel tales worthy of bragging when you return home along with unique travel experiences to regale your friends with, not to mention memories of  lifetime.

P.S. : If you live in Goa, it might be worth while to get a membershoip to the resort, which lets you avail to almost 50% discounts at Alfama restaurant as well as many other services at Cidade de Goa.

Thoughtfully curated Italian and wok tossed meal at Park Hyatt

Few places personify personalised luxury like the Park Hyatt goa, resort and Spa, they even have a social media hashtag something like #luxuryispersonal. so when they introduced the 'thoughtfully curated culinary experiences for the month of January, we knew it would truly be an experience.

there were three experiences on offer, the woks of art, which was a wok pop up , recipes from Lombardy region of Italy, and a chef crafted apertivo on saturday afternoons. 
As I mentioned this was through the month of January, so while you may not be able to savour the dlights even as you read this blog, i hope it leaves you with mouth watering imagery.
we ourselves found time during the hectic first month of the year, right at the very last minute. and multi tasker that I am , we decided to indulge in a Chinese-italian evening. Yes, we did that, the cardinal sin of ordering schezuan style pepper prawns , and crispy fried lotus stems, to pair with our goat cheese ravioli and tiramisu. 

Yes, we lived a little dangerously that night. 

we began the meal with a salad, because of my new year resolution to pack in more greens, and because i can't ever come to Da Luigi and not have the Da Luigi special salad, of arugula, parmesan, cherry tomatoes and good quality extra virgin olive oil. simple elegant and yum.

As I mentioned earlier, service is what makes Park Hyatt a delight to visit everytime, and by now, the wait staff remembers us, which in itself is such a personalised service.  
we got some nifty suggestions on what were Shubham , our wait staffs favourites on the menu, and went ahead with his picks.

the above is the crispy deep fried lotus stems, where the stems were wafer thin and tossed with deft speed, in a richly aromatic asian dressing and then garnished generously with the holy trinity of garlic ginger and spring onion.
The below image doesnt do justice to the humungous prawns which were cooked to perfection. soft , not rubbery, still with a little spring and bite to them. it's hard to describe perfectly cooked prawns, but it is one of my pet peeves, when the fresh produce is not treated with the dignity that they deserve.
Wok cooking is perhaps the best way to cook prawns, without over cooking them.


Now we moved to our Italian part of the meal.
we had a main course of ravioli casoncelli, which was a ravioli stuffed with raisins, pears, pine nut in a butter and sage sauce. it was almost like a dessert sort of sweetness. and while Pawan compared it to the Goan Patoleo, I compared it to the bengali Pati shapta.
Chef explained to us that the Lombardia region of italy, is influenced heavility by the European countries surrounding it, thus the use of butter and sage, and tomatoes are not traditionally used in most of their recipes.
 and if the portions look small in the pictures, it's because our wait staff had thoughtfully halved the portions and plated it such that each of us got three raviolos.
The next course also had european influences. the chicken Milanese style with Aioli sauce and green salad, was an Italian cousin of a chicken schnitzel. the breaded piece of chicken was still moist and lean enough for me to convince myself that I was still on course with my diet.

So happy were we with our thoughtfully portioned meals, keeping in account of our individual new year resolutions, that we decided to indulge in a tiramisu as well.

The setting, the musicians , the staff, it was all so familiar and friendly. we almost felt we were dining in our own backyard. truly thoughtfully crafted experience.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

24 hours in Morjim

We were invited to experience the hospitality at Map 5 village resort in Morjim for the weekend and we came back rejuvinated.
Map 5 hotels have a number of properties around India and in Goa aswell, and from what I reckoned this property the village resort in Morjim is one of the newer properties with barely two months since the opening.
what I love about brand new hotels , is that everything is so spotless clean, and everything os in top working condition. The individual log cabins are a treat from the regular apartment style hotel accomadations. they say seeing is believing and that's why we put together a small family video of our stay youtube video of Map 5 morjim

the wood panelled rooms at Map 5 village resort are cozy and very clean. The linen is fresh and the bathroom fitments are all new and gleaming. down side? they have house keeping service only once a day.

almost all rooms have a scenic view of the swimming pool and the coconut trees. This is the view from our room.

the little one loved the bed, comfortable enough for the three of us, with bed lights on both sides, it was convenient to chrge phones :) also the sockets and general fitments in the room were child safe.

walking into the Map 5 village resort, you are transported to a tranquil destination

the beach is right opposite the entrance of the resort, and we enjoyed the most beautiful sunsets and a glorious sunday morning walk at the beach. 

can you spot the bottle cap among the seashells? Morjim beach is a wonderful beach , especially very child friendly. low sloping beach, rolling waves and a very clean beach.

we dined that night in the famous burger factory, which is a few meters away on the same road as Map 5 village resort.

while staying at Map 5 village resort, be sure to catch a meal at Sublime, the very popular restaurant serving international cuisine. this place is a must visit, again down the road from Map 5 at a easy walking distance.

no testament about the comfortable stay we had could beat this picture of my boys sleeping for 10 hours straight. thankyou Map 5 , can we take the bed home?

next morning a walk on the beach proved to be a delight

breakfast is served inthe resort itself, and puris as fluffy as baturas, and north indian style aloo matar bhaji were highlights. Honestly though the breakfast was a bit of a let down, with no fresh juices or fruits on offer, no cold cuts or meats, things which we generally enjoy during our stays. 

lunch was at the recently opened restaurant trip, and again it is situated along the same road, walking distance from the resort.

our favourite place however was the baby pool. merely a meter deep. watch more of the frolic on the youtube video link attached at the beginning of the blog.

While choosing a resort in Goa, we chooses a place close to the beach , a place walking distance from some of the hip and happening places, as well as easy access to great dining options, also a place with clean interiors and baby safe resorts.
Mao 5 village resort ticked most of the boxes for us, and we were glad we could discover this neat and simple holiday destination in such a wonderful setting as Morjim beach.