Scenes from the Thursday Market in Assolna (Goa, January 2020)

I still have a few restaurant reports to post from our two weeks in Delhi in the first half of January but I cannot resist first posting this gallery of images from what was one of my favourite outings during the following week we spent in Goa: shopping for fish/seafood at the local village market in Assolna in South Goa. We spent a week in the lovely home of old friends in the even smaller* village of Velim. We spent most of almost every single day there on the beach and ate lunches out. We hired a cook from the village to prepare our breakfasts and dinners (we were the only ones in the house). Quite apart from not wanting to spend too much of the day on cooking, this allowed us to eat Goan food twice a day, and in particular it allowed us to eat a lot of local fish and shellfish.

While Goan food outside Goa (whether in India or abroad) is most associated with pork dishes from the Christian repertoire such as vindaloo or sorpotel, fish is perhaps the backbone of Goan cuisine across communities. If you look at my report on dinner at Highway Gomantak in Bombay, for example, you’ll note that their menu includes no pork but lots of seafood—it’s a Goan Hindu restaurant. And in villages and towns fish sellers gather in the markets early every morning to sell freshly landed fish and shellfish of every description. In Assolna the main market—when the fish sellers are joined by other vendors as well—sits on Thursday mornings. Most of my pictures are from the Thursday market along with a few from the following Monday morning when I went back for one last set of purchases.

Assolna being a village, the market is not terribly large—though quite a bit larger than the market in the even smaller * Velim. On Thursdays the non-fresh fish activity takes up the entirety of the parking lot in the village’s main shopping area whille the fish sellers occupy their usual spot across the street. The market sits all day and into the early evening but the later you go, the less fresh things will obviously be (and you need to have a trained eye, or be with someone with a trained eye, to be sure you’re not getting yesterday’s fish). I was accompanied by our driver, who is from Assolna and who handled all the negotiations over quality and price—I neither knew the names of most of the fish in Konkani and nor could I be sure that I’d be shown the best of what was available. Even though he negotiated prices as well, I’m under no illusion that I paid the local rate, what with my camera and all. He insisted, however, that he’d made sure we hadn’t been charged as much as I would have been alone. Not that that would have been the end of the world—compared to prices in the US all of this was a screaming deal for fish and shellfish literally brought in from the boats a few hours prior.

Though we went in through the non-fish part of the market, my slideshow begins in the fish market. I’m afraid it’s rather vague in the sense that I do not know the names of the fish in most of the pictures. It’s a busy market and I did not want to waste anyone’s time with questions about things I wasn’t buying. I have numbered the pictures in the slideshow and so if you can make an educated guess or—even better—if you know the names of the fish, please write in below. One of the things you won’t see in the pictures is lobster. My guide said that the locals in small markets like this don’t buy such expensive things—they’re mostly sold direct to restaurants and hotels—and so the sellers don’t take a chance on stocking them.

The fish sellers, as you will see, are all women; the men do the fishing, the women do the selling. There are no formal stalls—instead the women sit, squat and stand along what would normally be the pavement. Presumably location and size of their spread is dictated by status or fee. Someone who knows more about these markets may be able to offer more trustworthy information in this area. If you purchase large whole fish—as we did on the first day—you take them to another part of the market where sit a few cutters, who will, for a token fee, cut your fish up to your specifications with a lethal looking blade. This is a gender-neutral occupation—on that Thursday there were two male cutters and one female. On Instagram I have a video of the incredible kingfish we purchased being cleaned and sliced up.

Our fish/shellfish purchases complete we went back into the green market section and there I purchased, among other things, tambdi bhaji (or red amaranth leaves) and a packet of home-made sannas, a type of rice cake made with a fermented batter that includes coconut milk and often toddy. There was so much more I wanted to buy but we were only there a week.

Launch the slideshow to take a look and if you do know or are pretty sure you know what the pictured fish are, please write in below.

We left Goa with many fantasies of someday retiring in South Goa. There are many, many things we loved about the atmosphere and nature of life there, but I’d be lying if I said that the availability of fish and shellfish of this quality was not an important part of the draw as well. Live in a beautiful place and eat a large variety of freshly caught fish on the regular? Life could be worse.

I will have reports from our restaurant lunches from the week as well, but those won’t be posted till the Delhi reports get done. More on those in a few weeks. My next restaurant report, however, will be of another meal eaten in the Twin Cities metro before our departure—that’ll probably be up tomorrow.

*The post earlier erroneously described Velim as being much smaller than Assolna. In fact, its population is almost twice that of Assolna’s.

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