Eating by the Water, Again (Goa, January 2023)

Just about three months after our return from India in February, here is my penultimate report from our brief sojourn in Goa in January. As we had on our last visit to Goa in 2020, we stayed at the home of friends in South Goa, in the village of Velim. North Goa is where all the action is. South Goa is relatively staid by comparison—and once you get down to Velim and environs, there’s really not much going on. This suits us as we are not in search of action on these holidays: we want to be on the beach as much as possible and eat good Goan food and that’s pretty much it. Well, the first of those things is easily available near Velim. We love Cavelossim Beach, which is just about 10 minutes from the house and very not crowded (at least till sunset); we spend most of our time there on sun beds in front of one of the many shacks or in the water. The food is a more complicated story.

Even though South Goa is nowhere as touristy as the north, the beaches are entirely a tourist economy. The tourists themselves are mostly a mix of Russian, British and North Indian. The beach shacks that are the core of the beach experience are aimed at this crowd. As I’ve described before, the shacks all provide sun beds and umbrellas and towels (and very clean toilet facilities) free of charge. The unspoken contract is that while enjoying these amenities you will order drinks and snacks at the sun beds and eat lunch and/or dinner at the shack. (I have to say that not all of the foreign tourists follow this contract, or give much custom to the migrant vendors who ply the beach.) The people at the shacks are unfailingly nice; and should you get stung by jellyfish—as both boys managed on separate days—they will help you out with that too (it involves, vinegar and ice).

The menus at all the shacks are aimed at the tourist crowd that frequents them, and no matter what shack you give your custom to, you will find more or less the same menu there. And as at the non-beach shack restaurants in South Goa aimed at the tourist trade (see also Pentagon and Joe’s River Cove), you will find only a very limited selection of Goan dishes on these menus. Thus in 2020 we’d only eaten once at a beach shack and had ventured away from the beach on most days for lunch. On this trip, however, we did not follow that pattern quite as much. Part of it is that we were not particularly enthused—in 2020 or on this trip—by most of the non-beach restaurants we could get to without driving more than 30 minutes. (And one of the more inland places with very good Goan food that we were very much looking to get back to on this trip, Fernando’s Nostalgia, had sadly closed down between our visits.) The other part of it is that we did not do anything touristy on this trip—we did not go to Panjim, for example, where a wider range of restaurants is available (in 2020 we had an excellent Goan meal at Hog Worth, at my friend Vikram D’s recommendation).

And so on this trip we were satisfied with eating at the beach on most days, and thus maximizing our time there. We ate good Goan food at home. As detailed before, we’d stopped at the large fish market in Margao shortly after our arrival at the airport and stocked up on excellent seafood (and we re-upped later in the week in Assolna as well)—the excellent cook we’d hired in the village came by every evening and cooked it all up along with dal and veg. So we were at peace with eating non-Goan food at the shacks on more occasions than in 2020. For it is, alas, true, that even when a shack has a few Goan dishes on the menu, you’re better off ordering tandoori chicken and the like—and this is stuff is of pretty good quality, especially compared to what’s available in the US.

On this trip, our base of operations at Cavelossim Beach was the shack named Win Wins Leisure Place. (There were far fewer shacks in operation this year, by the way, than in 2020—the tourist trade has returned to Goa but it’s not yet at pre-pandemic levels.) We established an understanding with one of the staff members there. He would have four sun beds and umbrellas ready for us in the mornings in our preferred spot; we would drink endless amounts of fresh lime sodas and juices during the day, and have either lunch or a big late afternoon snack at the shack (or at the sun beds). We ate lunch there twice and ate naan and tandoori chicken with a pot of masala chai at sunset on most other days—most of this is represented in the slideshow below. Naan, tandoori chicken and pots of masala chai, by the way, should be available at every beach in the world.

One of our days away from Cavelossim Beach took us even further south to another beach: Cola Beach. This is an altogether more secluded affair (right down to there not being any cell towers nearby). To get to it you have to park a few kilometers away from the beach and either walk down a long dirt road in the heat to get to the beach or hire one of the jeeps that hangs out there for that purpose. We did the latter and “enjoyed” an extremely bumpy ride down to Cola Beach and then up again a few hours later. The plan had been to spend the entire day there but the experience turned out not to be quite as we’d expected. We’d been led to believe that this would be an ultra-peaceful beach with similar amenities as at Cavelossim. Neither of those things turned out to be true. For one thing, the beach was much smaller, rocky and not very good for swimming. For another, there were no shacks handing out sun beds or umbrellas. If you aren’t staying at one of the resorts alongside the beach you’re shit out of luck on that front. And so we grabbed seats at Blue Lagoon, one of few restaurants there that are open to the public (some of the others are for resort guests only).

Right alongside there was the option of kayaking on the river that meets the Arabian Sea at the beach, and we were considering that as our post-lunch activity. But we hadn’t been there very long before the beach got very crowded indeed. As it happens, we were there on the Friday of the long Republic Day weekend and that might be why there were far more people about (the crowd here was almost entirely Indian). And so we ate lunch and hightailed it back to Cavelossim Beach. Though not what we’d hoped for, it wasn’t a wasted half day: the drive down took us through very lovely hilly and forested terrain and it was nice to see a very different beach than at Cavelossim. Our meal at Blue Lagoon was no better or worse than any at Win Wins—see if you can work out what the names of all the pasta dishes in the menu refer to: a few defeated us.

A look at the setups at Win Wins and Blue Lagoon, our meals there, and glimpses of the beaches are below. Click on a picture to launch a larger slideshow. Scroll down to see what’s left to come from Goa and what else you might expect to see on the food front soon.

The cost of these meals? The receipts are very informal and I did not save any of them. But you can see from the menus that the prices are very reasonable.

Just one Goa report left to go. This will be of a meal that did take us away from Cavelossim Beach again. We went back to Palacio Do Deao, where we’d eaten perhaps our best meal in 2020. It did not disappoint on this occasion either. I should have that report next weekend. Before that, at least one more Seoul report (maybe tomorrow), a New Jersey report (maybe Thursday) and a Twin Cities report (probably Tuesday).


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