Going to Goa

Portuguese Architecture in Old Goa

Portuguese Architecture in Old Goa

Before I mention what happened after I landed in Goa, it seems appropriate to mention our internal flights in India. The country’s Jet Airways is now one of my favorite airlines. They have spotlessly clean jets, offer lots of leg room, have a great on-time record, offer superb Indian food, and they feed you even on a one-hour flight (always with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options). The airports in India will make you crazy (at least three security points to pass through for every flight), but this airline, at least, makes internal travel a delight.

And now, Goa.

Goa was Portuguese until 1961, which means it was controlled by a European power after all the rest of India had gained independence from Britain. A few years later, Goa was invaded by hippies who didn’t want the ‘70s to end. Signs of both groups were abundant, from Portuguese cathedrals to hippy tie-dye and head shops.

The buildings in the photo above are the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on the left and Se Cathedral on the right. Se Cathedral is the largest church in India and one of the largest churches in Asia. It is actually larger than its counterparts back in Portugal.

Our hotel, the Fort Aquada Taj Resort, is built inside an old Portuguese fort and has a spectacular view of the ocean. We enjoyed the remains of the old fort as much as we enjoyed the beauty and amenities of the lovely beachfront hotel.

Remains of Fort Aguada

Remains of Fort Aguada

Goa Fish Market

Goa Fish Market

While the street-scapes might not look very Indian, the markets certainly did. Our first stop was at the wonderful fish market. Hundreds of women gather to sell the fish their husbands have caught, while the men are back out catching more. The assortment on offer included a fair number of fish and crustaceans we hadn’t seen before.

Round Eggplants, a specialty in Goa

Round Eggplants, a specialty in Goa

Other markets offered mountains of chiles (spelled chillis in India), a stunning variety of produce (including the indigenous round eggplant), flowers in heaps or strung into garlands, henna for hand-painting, and more.

Chef Madre Deus's Kitchen

Chef Madre Deus's Kitchen

Goa was a key stop for us as culinary historians because of the unique cuisine, which is a Portuguese-Indian hybrid. A culinary highlight of this stop was spending a morning in the kitchen with Rui Madre Deus, one of India’s top chefs. Chef Madre Deus is in the blue shirt in the photo, as he was not actually working the day we were there, but came in to meet us and introduce us to his amazing food. We got a tour of the facilities, and then Chef taught us several recipes, gave us print-outs of several others, and then prepared for us an incredible lunch with a seafood focus. Highlights included stuffed crab, stuffed pomfret, clams in green curry sauce, and tiger prawns that were almost the size of my fist in a sauce flavored with lots of turmeric, chillis, and coconut. (Having spent a few hours perusing the fabulous fish market in town, we were especially pleased to get a chance to try some of the local seafood we had seen.)

There was a good bit of interesting history in Goa, which I enjoyed, and the contrast of Indian culture and European architecture was interesting. However, it is not a place one visits primarily to become immersed in Indian culture. The signs are all in English, the locals carry Portuguese passports, and when you throw in the aging hippy population, it looks kind of like something someone from another planet would have cobbled together after a brief visit to Earth. However, it’s a gloriously beautiful place, with lots of ocean beaches, broad rivers, and lush vegetation (including thousands of coconut palms); the people are charming; and the food is amazing. It is a place where visitors come to relax, to hit the beaches, or to indulge in the local spas (which we managed to fit in, too). So it was a good “airlock,” helping us transition from the richly exotic India we had experienced elsewhere into a somewhat more European setting, in preparation for our departure.

Far too soon, it was time to head home. Most of us boarded the plane already making plans for a trip back. Southern India was an absolutely magical destination, a place of profound beauty and rich culture. It is also a place of gracious, friendly people who always made us feel welcome. I can’t wait to return.

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Filed under Culture, Food, Geography, History, Travel

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