The glory that was Portugal’s

Panaji, India. We are now in the capital of Goa, which was a Portuguese colony from 1510 to 1961, and only in 1987 did it officially became a state of India.

The Portuguese presence is very strong, and the colonial flavor literally colors the city, as yellow, ochre, green and indigo with a white trim were part of the old Portuguese building code.

We are staying in what one would kindly call a hotel de charme, meaning that while it is high on charm in some areas, it is low on other amenities. The euphemism in India is “heritage property.”  The manager here is a cum laude graduate of the Basil Fawlty School of Hotel Management, and, while we will spare you what it took us to get a bedside lamp, suffice it to say that no stars will appear on Trip Advisor regarding our visit. But it’s pretty, no?

The center of town revolves around the Portuguese cathedral, and a busy town it is. I will add a few pictures to give a taste, but only a few as the internet connection here is very poor.

One find around the corner was a supermarket that really caters to the Western palate. It felt good just to browse.

The old General Assembly building right on the river was once the home of the Sultan who ruled this area, but it is now the home of a small museum of Goan history. Loved the signage – sheets of printer paper on the walls, the best of which indicated artifacts of “The Portuguese Phase,” much as one would describe a bout of adolescent angst.

Don’s Food Corner

We drove into town and as quickly as we could sprinted to a restaurant that served Goan specialties. And first on my list to sample was arguably the most famous one created here. Namely, vindaloo. This classic combination of Portuguese and Indian flavors and cooking techniques features vinegar via Portugal and spices from India.

There were two versions offered at the restaurant, chicken and pork. I selected the pork. (I haven’t had any meat for a week!) The vindaloo served was both comfortingly familiar and a little different. The familiar parts were the fork-tender meat, the richly heavy gravy and the complex spice mixture. The different part was that it was not as hot-spicy as the dish is usually served in America and the U.K. Instead, it had a more subtle tangy flavor — the vinegar — that let all the earthy spices come forward without being overwhelmed by heat.

Of course, this was just one version at one restaurant, but I’m afraid since we will only be in the Goa region for a few days I won’t be able to compare the dish in different restaurants. There are too many other Goan specialties that I want to try.

For dessert, we tried bebinca cake. This two is a old Portuguese/Indian concoction that features seven layers of dense cake soaked with egg yolks and butter (from Portugal) along with coconut milk and ghee (from India). As served in this restaurant, it was almost like a very thick, nearly solid, gelatin. We’ll try it again.

Jo’s order — fish and chips. Since this area has had no British alliance, this was the furthest away from any semblance of fish-and-chips as we know it that Jo has tried. It was more like lighted breaded fish that had been sauteed. The French fries, however, were very good.

I’m sticking to the indigenous food.


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