Goa and its impeccable food options are known to all. This is not a guide for that. This is your go-to bible for legendary spots which not only serve unique dishes but also will give you a foodgasm of an experience you are not expected to get over so fast. Or ever.
Goa is full of heartwarming people and their stories and what love story is better than that with food.
How to eat like a local is an ongoing series which will give you insightful information about food and the fantastic folks and their quirks that makes it even more fabulous.
We start from the village of Anjuna as it is almost synonymous with Goa. It can be easily dubbed as one of the most popular villages in the northern belt. Playground to the famous flea market since the early 1970s where beers and bites were available, as were stalls of foreigners serving delicacies. Sadly, it exists no more (courtesy the pandemic). Anjuna still has Curlies though which is raging everyday but eating there would be a mistake on too many levels. Anjuna was the first village when I moved here and was trying my best to live the local life (as I imagined it). It took me a whole year to find Mango Shade. And I lived 100 metres away. The mysterious lanes of the village, I tell you.
Mango Shade has been serving since 1982. Family run, it still looks almost the same since I discovered it first in 2012. One of the places that open as early as 8:30 am and shut by 4 pm, I have spent many mornings lying on the cemented seats of Mango Shade. Perfect for laidback travellers and late risers, Dennis and his son Charles make you feel at home with their smiles and warm greetings. Patrons swear by their recipes and enjoy this no-frills spot to sit and relish food in its most simple yet most scrumptious form. Not to forget its reasonable prices.
Built under a mango tree, Mango Shade still has two fans and about eight tables. The open space was meant to keep the ventilation but civilisation has blocked a lot of the breeze now. This doesn’t stop anybody who knows their poie sandwiches and fresh juices or their epic Mango Shake, Cold Coffee or Coconut Milk with almonds from visiting this utterly delightful café and spend hours here. Huge groups always occupy most tables and it has clearly been made such keeping in mind the whole ‘meal dates with friends’ that has always been and always will be a thing in Goa. A slice of community living, if I may say so.
I always start with the fruit salad and never waste much time before diving into the cold slushy coffee that will give any superhero a brain freeze if not handled carefully. As I obviously jolt into the day, the open sandwiches arrive looking decadent and wholesome. Now, it is imperative to remember that one can mix and match with these. For instance, my favourite is hummus, egg mayonnaise but there is also bacon, baked beans, mushrooms, tahini and many more that you can choose from their double-paged laminated menu. Here, pancakes are made dipped in richness and on any given craving, it adds to the nostalgia of one’s grandmother’s love who was the only one who was allowed to indulge us. Mango Shade is such a mood, you will know.
Shakshuka is ideal if the right start to your day is by eating like a monarch. Mostly haunted by Israelis back in the day, its entire menu is a must have.
The enthusiasm with which Adolf and Edwin serve everyone being the only two amidst at least 500 hungry people every day is what makes me want to contribute to their dedication even more. The utopian way is to place your order to Dennis as you enter. Saves the other two the energy to give you the menu at your table, wait for you to decide and then having to remember the order. Add some more requests of other customers on the way back to give the order clearly makes this a mammoth task for them. Hence remember to be mindful especially in small establishments that mostly function seamlessly with a bit of compassion from the customers.
Served humbly on a plate, with two slices of cucumber and two slices of tomatoes and a lush spring onion, one has to place all of them (or whatever you want) into your sandwich, sprinkle salt and pepper and a dash of lemon. Tastes the best when all of it comes together but one can choose the ingredients too. I recently started adding the spring onion with my sandwich because someone said something about it being good for health and I was convinced. It did bring a certain zest into every bite. The odour afterwards can be a problem if you overeat all your friends’ portion of spring onions too hearing about the health benefits. You might want to rethink that urge and escape the after-effects of overindulgence.
A little down the curvy roads of this majorly Hindu village is Orange Boom which is as old school in its existence as they come (1982). Serving from 8:30 am till 3 pm, it has changed its appearance subtly over the years but its consistency is praiseworthy. It has even found itself in Mrs Funny Bones Twinkle Khanna’s list of favourites in Goa. Running over three decades, Orange Boom is definitely another legendary café that has seen Anjuna through seasons, moons, elections and lives.
Their Eggs Benedict are the best around here and once you see that perfect shade of yellow on the perfectly folded bacon or salami and a sprinkle of the spring onion, you will know what delight in your mouth feels like.
Right next to the village of Anjuna is the renowned Vagator. What is now one of the most buzzing spots in the north of Goa, Vagator used to be a quaint village whose residents were mostly engaged in fishing or were settled abroad. It still has a baroque essence and one such is the Jaws Bakery. Started 27 years ago by the Mendoncas of Mendonca Waddo, Michael Mendonca still sits here with his bakery items and a restaurant space that serves a plethora of dishes catering to tourists. Masala dosa here is a breakfast must have and used to be devoured regularly when I used to live that side. They used to be one of the first to host jam sessions and would be flowing with patrons but as commercialisation increased, so did the ones who would replicate with remuneration and the vibe faded away. It still shines bright as a bakery and they make over 30 non-veg and veg items and around 20 to soothe your sweet tooth.
Roma Italiana is fairly new but over a decade old now at this location, their branches were in Calangute and Morjim earlier and have been serving an Italian affair for over two decades. The brand they are creating now is keeping up with changing times and is definitely worth a mention here. As the name suggests, it serves what a Nonna’s kitchen in Roma might spin out, with of course innovation to fit the palate of the diverse clientele they cater to. A table, with Italians permanently chilling there and enjoying their meals with wine is a common sight to witness and gives you a peek into what pre-Covid Goa attracted at large. Having said that, their wine selection is top notch and Dominic will even pair it with your food, if you ask him for it.
As any other Indian who has travelled a fair bit, I relish Italian cuisine but this restaurant will not only give you authentic flavours but also shake up all the Indianised Italian food around that one might have consumed thinking of it is an Italian meal. Oh, the blasphemy!
Did you know pesto is always supposed to be vegetarian never meat, but most definitely with sun-dried tomatoes? Pizzas are to be folded so all ingredients are contained as you try to keep the cheese from falling in your mouth instead of everywhere else. As important as it is to eat authentically, this trail only comes full circle when served authentically too. Roma Italiana or colloquially Picola Roma is putting an ardent effort to serve the food they love the most and know the best to aficionados of good food. Their entire menu is by Chef Gasparri who started this dream in a small shack and whose legacy is being taken forward by the Valles of Vagator-Chapora.
Right behind Vagator is Chapora. A lane houses everyone’s favourite Oppa’s which means Grandpa in the Konkani that the Catholics speak here. It’s also family owned. Brian and Maria inherited this cosy café on the first floor of their century-old family home on the turn before you take the roads leading towards the Chapora Jetty. A modern structure, it has been given an uplift recently making it brighter and livelier. Rock music in the background and the best steaks that one has ever tasted, Oppa’s has been a favourite ever since they opened doors 15 years ago. All the recipes have been perfected by Brian over the years as a self-taught chef whilst making friends from all over the world learning their kitchen secrets with the intention of serving them something familiar so far away. They also serve a fair bit of Goan food and Chinese which is also good if you are in the mood for it. Pro tip would be to end the meal with the best caramel custard in the whole of Goa. It’s a daily dessert of sorts in every household yet it’s difficult to find the one with the right amount of everything minus the eggy flavour. Oppa’s is on point every time and the newest addition — The Strawberry Killer — deserves special mention too. Open throughout the day, it welcomes you with the same amount of warmth every single time especially the laughter of Olishka.
The joy of Goa increases ten-fold when you eat well here. This holds true whether visiting for the first or the nth time, as Goa doesn’t disappoint. She never runs out of fresh produce, passion for quality and the zeal to serve with love. One can experience consistency in the restaurants that give you a peek into their undying love for food and holding the testimony of time, they compel you to visit at least once to know this evolving culture first hand.