December means Goa to our family. One morning at dawn all is packed into the boot of the car, minimal clothing (in size and quantity), much in headgear and footwear, a standard picnic of egg mayonnaise sandwiches and chai and- we are off.
Each turn and twist in the road is remembered but not always recognized .The increasing amount of construction along the highway prevents total recall. Bill boards proliferate on the Maharashtra side of the highway and feature the apparent aspirations of the population . This, at present time, seems to be a life of royalty. The privileged were obviously dressed very grandly. Prissy faced men are togged out in brocaded sherwani and churidar, with strings of pearls, rubies and emeralds roped around their short necks and stretching to the waist. The clothing is generally called something like Maharana, Mewar, Raja, Monarch or Saheb. The models assume an air of superiority and disdain in the style of one Balasaheb. Many of our politicians assume this same air. No rubbing of shoulders with the masses for them.
The dream of royalty is also reflected in the many billboards for housing. From Katraj to Satara to Kolhapur , crummy apartments are called Palacia , Corinthian or Chateau d” etc, in the hope that buyers will thrill to the name rather than the reality of a 500 sq foot, badly constructed, BHK.
Our burgeoning middle class seems to want to distance themselves outwardly, as far and as quickly as possible , from their roots.
The motorcycle of the Kolhapuri sugar baron has been replaced by the SUV, many with the (now banned )tinted black windows. They hog the road in the way that a Maharaja presumably hogged the pathways with his elephants.
Inspite of these signs of social mobility the drive to Goa is always a pleasure. We still feel proud of a four lane highway in India and enjoy speeding along at a clipping pace, a velocity inconceivable with that old tank, the Hindustan!
The best part of the trip is the turn off to Gadinglaj and the 60 kilometers to Amboli. Along the plateau, surrounded by rice and sugar cane fields, the traffic considerable reduced compared to the highway, the road meanders, bordered by trees of many varieties , mango and chikoo orchards in the background. It has been newly tarred which is a welcome surprise. The rice has been harvested and bundles of hay are stacked neatly in the fields, a picturesque sight. The sky is clear blue, we are far away from the smog of Pune.
We turn the corner from Amboli and face the steep and snaky descent into the plains, spread out below in a massive and breathtaking vista. Very wooded and green with the occasional waterfall this is a gorgeous drive. The occasional monkey and mongoose scamper across the narrow road. We finally reach the plains and Sawantwadi, the beginning of our entry into Goa.
It is 4 pm and we look forward to our tea at the end of the journey.
Now comes the all important and serious task of finding places to eat. We gather what information we can from friends and recent travelers to Goa and make a combined list of restaurants that we will check out in the week before us.
Here are the results of our daily research.
The best places to eat in North Goa in 2012-2013
1.Bomras- Burmese influences in an exciting menu offering an amazing choice of food all with mind blowing new tastes.This is so head and shoulders above the rest it requires a post of its own...coming soon on these pages
247 Fort Aguada Road, Near Kamat Retreat Fort, Candolim Tel: 9767591056 /9011947436.Open for dinner only
.2.La Plage- Meditteranean food well prepared with excellent ingredients.
Ashwem beach. Best to go at lunch time when you can enjoy the view.
3.Thalassa- Greek food with authentic taste and generous portions. Vagator. Tel 9850033537. My favourite was the Kleftiko with serious chunks of meat stewed to melting point
4.Brittos- Goan food. Baga Beach. Everyone knows Brittos and while standards are uneven they are always worth a couple of meals.
5.Bhatti Village – Cheap excellent Goan food. Be sure to try the white bait (moteine) and fish roe( gaboi). No menu but Patrick D’souza, the owner, will tell you what is on offer.Bhatti waddo, Nerul Bardez, Goa 403114 ( take a left from Candolim at the Nerul crossroads). Tel: 9822184103
6 .Terry’s Restaurant- behind Betim Petrol Pump, Betim, North Goa. Landmark: Next to the Ferry . Tel: 2411961 Try the Sambar Prawns delicious with sukha sungta ( dried prawns) and kokum.
While we found these restaurants worth making a trip for there are ofcourse plenty of others vying to be chosen. With hundreds of eateries in just the stretch from Calangute to Baga you are assured of a decent meal pretty much anywhere.
It occurred to me, after a week of unbridled ingestion of good to great food, that Goans do not have much mind space for royalty. Why would they? When you eat like a emperor everyday you don’t need the trappings of kings.