When in Goa, dig into the Goan Bhaji Pao!

Camil Parkhe
Thursday, 17 September 2020

As you walk on the footpath, you can see sportspersons - footballers, cricketers, athletics and others, perfecting their skills on the ground. On both sides, the road is quite spacious - it has been like that since for the past four decades. Even in the 1970s, as a higher secondary student at the Miramar-based Dhempe College of Arts and Science, I used to walk on this road.

When I am in Goa, there are some things I would not miss. If I am staying in Panjim, I go for an early morning walk from the medieval Adil Shah Palace (Old Secretariat building) till Miramar beach, which means walking on the banks of the Mandavi on a nearly five-km long stretch. It's indeed a refreshing walk. On one side, you have almost some decades-old one-storeyed buildings and bungalows (especially in Campal), and on the other side, there is Mandavi, which is about to merge into the Arabian Sea. After the Kala Academy complex, there is a long stretch of land till Miramar beach which has been (or for that matter, had been) mostly reserved for sports and cultural activities, thanks to the visionary planning of Goa's first chief minister Dayanand Bandodkar. 

As you walk on the footpath, you can see sportspersons - footballers, cricketers, athletics and others, perfecting their skills on the ground. On both sides, the road is quite spacious - it has been like that since for the past four decades. Even in the 1970s, as a higher secondary student at the Miramar-based Dhempe College of Arts and Science, I used to walk on this road. 

Miramar has witnessed the construction of many residential and commercial premises in the recent few years. However, Miramar beach circle has remained almost the same. I usually halt at the beach, sit on the benches to walk down the memory lane. It is on this beach that I used to play football matches every evening with my friends when I lived in the Loyola Hall, the Jesuits-run pre-novitiate, located just near Dhempe College in Miramar. 

After the leisurely walk from Panjim to Miramar and then spending some time at the beach, it is time to return. But I'm never inclined to walk back and prefer to hail a local bus. If it is a private bus, the driver and the conductor will ensure to pull you in the bus even if it is an overcrowded vehicle or you are a few meters away from the bus stop. Now it is time to have breakfast at a local snack centre, and this is what I look forward most when I'm holidaying in Goa. 

As I enter the hotel, I can already see people relishing the most popular local dish, bhaji pao. I grab a seat and immediately order a patal bhaji. This has always been my first preference, Batata or Potato Bhaji being the second choice. 

If you visit any snacks joint or a restaurant in Panjim, Mapusa, Margao or any town or village in Goa for breakfast or any other time, just have a look at the tables around you. You will notice that almost all people will eat a common dish - bhaji pao. However, the ingredients of these Bhaji Pao will vary. There will be patal bhaji, potato bhaji or the mixed bhaji, tomato bhaji, usal (sprouted grains) bhaji, watana (beans) bhaji, and the list goes on.    

One has many choices of loaves of bread which can go well along with the patal bhaji, potato bhaji or the mixed bhaji. There is the common variety of soft pao which is also available outside Goa; there is undo, a square-sized crisp variety of loaf, or the Poi, the flat and round variety of loaf. 

The patal bhaji is not so liquid as the name suggests and is a thick gravy with well-boiled peas. The potato bhaji is comparatively liquid gravy, having some share of tomatoes. The mixed Bhaji is, of course, a mix of the varieties of the bhajis at the snack joint. 

Mind you, the bhaji pao, which is the most popular snack dish in Goan houses and also in hotels is not like the Pao Bhaji available in other places. Bhaji Pao in contrast to the Pao Bhaji elsewhere and is a typical dish found and most cherished only in Goa.    

These mouth-watering delicacies are not available in Udipi or other hotels run by the migrants settled in Goa. One has to visit the restaurants or hotels run by the local Goans or Goenkars if you want to savour the Goan varieties of Bhaji Pao. You will get these varieties of delicacies for breakfast in Panjim, Mapusa, Margao, or in any parts of Goa with almost identical taste. You are likely to be disappointed if you happen to be at a food joint operated by a migrant person. The taste will be different, and the ingredients too may differ. That is the reason why I prefer to walk a few extra meters to search for these food joints to enjoy a good typically a Goan breakfast. 

An inseparable ingredient of this delicacy is, of course, the varieties of pao or the loaves. In Goa, one wakes up early morning with a peculiar 'pooi pooi' horn-blowing by the paowalla. Recently, on a holiday at my sister's home in Anjuna-Vagator, the sound of the peculiar horn made me jump from the bed to catch a glimpse of the Paowalla, the bread vendor or the 'podder' who sped fast on his cycle from the gate when there was no immediate response. I knew he would be back within a few minutes after delivering the bread quota in the immediate neighbourhood. I was not wrong. The young podder pedalled his cycle, climbing up the slope with little effort as I tried to click his photo. 

Every morning, much before the sunrise, the bread vendors arrive on cycle at the Goan homes to give them their daily quota of various types of bread, the pao, or loaves of bread, poee, undo and so on. Each of these varieties has been popular at the Goan families for many decades.  

Bread is an essential constituent of the Christian Goan kitchen just as much as milk, eggs and butter. So much so that when I was working as a staff reporter with a Goan newspaper, our news editor MM Mudaliar always insisted that any news related to the shortage or hike in the prices of bread (and also of milk) must appear on the front page! 

Incidentally, the word 'pao' in Konkani, Marathi and other languages has been borrowed from Portuguese. A variety of bread was our stable food when I was at the Jesuit pre-noviciate, aspiring to be a priest and also a college student at Miramar's Dhempe College of Arts and Science in the mid-1970s. The paowalla would be at our gate early morning, and since he had no patience to wait for our arrival, he would drop our daily quota of loaves of bread in the cotton bag kept hanging at the gate.  

We needed to be at the gate on his arrival in case there were was some change in the daily quota of loaves. He would be back in the evening to deliver the undo, the crisp round variety of loaves of bread, which we preferred to eat for supper. I remember every morning and evening; there would a few loaves of poee (a kind of flat and soft loaf of bread) especially ordered for one of the students who had contacted diabetes at a younger age. 

It was only during the lunch that bread was missing at our dining table. For lunch, we ate rice daily mixed with various kinds of beef or fish curry and dal once a week. During those nearly one and a half decades that I spent in Goa as a student and later as a journalist, I never ate wheat or rice chapatti in any of the meals. Therefore I did not miss much or felt homesick when I went to Russia and later Sofia in Bulgaria to complete my diploma in journalism. I even tasted a larger variety of bread when recently, along with my wife and daughter, I toured Europe. Even in Paris and Rome when I smelt the typical kind of aroma of bread while passing by the eateries, I was reminded of the scent of the freshly baked bread in the basket of the cycle-riding Goan Podder. 

Recently I was on a visit to Goa along with some of my Pune journalist colleagues. For breakfast, I took them walking from our Santa Inez residence to a café near the old secretariat to eat the typical Goan bhaji pao . At all small eateries and snack joints in Goa, bhaji-pao is a must menu, the potato, the patal (beans liquid curry) or the mixed bhaji should to be enjoyed with pao , undo or other varieties of bread. In my college days at Miramar, pao bhaji used to be the most favourite delicacies among the students. Bhaji pao is equivalent to wada pao in Maharashtra, comparatively cheaper to the south Indian dishes, and also equally delicious. 

Suppose you have a good appetite, along with bhaji pao. In that case, you may also enjoy other delicacies of Samosa, Batata Wada, Miraji Bhajji (green chilly pakodas), indeed a very sumptuous breakfast enough to sustain till afternoon. 

Normally many people avoid any kinds of bakery products in their meals.But that is one issue I Ignore when I am holidaying in Goa. When holidaying in Goa at my sister's place, pao and undo, varieties of Bhaji Pao with generous use of butter, are part of my breakfast. With daily swimming at the nearby beach, I can afford to pamper my palate during these holidays. 

(Camil Parkheis a senior Pune-based senior journalist.) 

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