In my write-up last week of my visit to the Paul John distillery I suggested that visitors to North Goa might make a good day trip to the south by combining a visit to Paul John with a visit to the Palácio Do Deão in Quepem. Here now is a description of our visit there which may convince you that it is a good thing to do.
As you may know, Goa was a colony of Portugal till 1961 (Indian independence from Britain was in 1947). Portuguese presence in Goa goes back a long way—it was Vasco da Gama who found the sea route from Europe to India that Columbus had set off in search of. Unsurprisingly Portuguese cultural influence in Goa also runs deep. If Catholicism is one major expression of this influence, food is the other. And at the Palácio Do Deão you can get a sense of both.
The Palácio is a large house that was built in the late 18th century by a Portuguese nobleman and Dean of the church, José Paolo de Almeida, who arrived in Goa in 1779 at the age of 19 and spent the rest of his life there. He is said to have founded the town of Quepem. While he was a major figure in the Goan church hierarchy in his lifetime, after his death the the history of the house was a checkered one. It was given over to various uses, its condition deteriorating over the years, until it was purchased some years ago by the current owners, Ruben Vasco da Gama and Célia Ferrão Da Gama. They have painstakingly restored the house—which they also live in—and turned it into a mini-museum of de Almeida’s time. The artefacts on display include some original pieces from de Almeida’s time there; others have been brought from elsewhere in Goa but are from the same period.
Ruben Vasco da Gama will give you a small tour of the house on arrival but a tour by itself is not available. It is instead an appetizer of sorts to an old-style Goan-Portuguese meal that is served on a lovely verandah that they call The Belvedere. The meal has a fixed price and is prepared under the supervision of Célia Ferrão Da Gama—and a number of ingredients are from their own gardens and fields. There is no menu. You call a few days ahead to arrange your visit and you can tell Ruben at the time if you have any particular restrictions or preferences. After that you are in their hands and on the strength of our meal I can tell you that those are good hands to be in.
On the day of our visit we were the only ones there for lunch. This I am told can vary wildly from day to day. However, it seems unlikely that the quality of the food can vary very much. Everything we ate ranged from very good to excellent. When making our appointment I had noted that we would have our two young boys with us and that they would not be able to eat very spicy food. It’s possible that as a result we got a somewhat atypical meal but it was also a meal I would be very happy to eat again.
It began with a lovely—and beautifully presented—dish of stuffed crabs. This was followed by two courses of fritters and excellent tomato soup—the soup was so good that our boys who had to be forced to try it shocked us by finishing their bowls! This was followed by a cavalcade of dishes: a lovely green salad with avocado and pomegranate seeds; fried shrimp and chicken for the boys; a wonderfully balanced prawn curry with coconut milk and okra, served with red rice; perfectly grilled fish (a perch and a snapper) with olive oil and garlic; a wonderful “salad” of beets and yogurt; a pumpkin pie (in the US it would be called a casserole); fenugreek leaves sauteed with potatoes and spices; and excellent bebinca to end. We didn’t have anything alcoholic to drink (though you can) but I can highly recommend the kokum-based mocktail we were served: it was loved by parents and children alike.
Launch the slideshow below for a look at the house and then the meal (well, the first picture is of the stuffed crabs but that’s because Facebook displays the first picture in the slideshow with the link). Scroll down to see what our favourite dishes were and to see how much it all cost.
Well, as I suggested, we liked everything we ate a lot. Regular readers know that I don’t say that very often. If I had to pick a few favourites I guess I’d go with the beetroot salad, the prawn curry, the perfectly grilled fish and the bebinca. But really, I liked it all. Perhaps this was conditioned a little by the fact that all our other meals so far in Goa—at home or in restaurants—had been on the heavy side, whereas the hallmark of this meal was a lighter, subtler touch. Whatever it was, I recommend it highly—though there is no guarantee you would be served the same meal on your visit.
Service was solicitous without being omnipresent. Price? We were given a discount on the boys’ meals; the total came to Rs. 4200 before tip or just about $60 (or $15/head). Not the cheapest meal we had in Goa by any means but excellent value for the quality and quantity of what we were served. I would recommend a visit highly and will certainly go back if we’re lucky enough to go back to Goa anytime soon.
At the end of the meal we spent some more time wandering through the house and in their lovely grounds and then headed back to Cavelossim Beach. I’ll say again: even if you are in North Goa—which is the situation of most tourists in Goa—plan a day that brings you to Paul John in the morning, Palácio Do Deão for lunch and then to Cavelossim Beach for the afternoon and sunset. You will not regret it. Maybe eat dinner at Martin’s Corner on your way back up north.
Okay, next up from Goa, traditional Goan food of a more familiar sort. That’ll be on Sunday. After that a sushi report (!) from the Twin Cities.