HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, June 8, 2012

Goa: Welcome to the Twilight Zone

After a hectic day and a half in Bangalore it was time to slow things down with three days and three nights in Goa. This is where the trip, and the accompanying stories, started to come to life.

India's smallest state by size, Goa is also one of the country's most developed areas, and it is famous worldwide for its beaches along the Arabian Sea. In 1510 the Portuguese defeated Goa's local rulers and established a settlement in what is today called Old Goa. Eventually their control spread to most of modern Goa. When India gained independence from Britain in 1947, Portugal refused to concede its territory, and it wasn't until the Indian army invaded in 1961 that control was wrested away from the colonial regime. In 1987 Goa finally became an Indian state. As a result of this lengthy Portuguese presence, a huge amount of influence from the Iberian peninsula can be seen in Goa's cuisine and architecture. We'll get to that in the next post.

After our enjoyable last morning in Bangalore we took a taxi to the airport (visit #3), and as I browsed the regional paper while waiting to board I came across two unsettling stories: the previous day a train travelling from Hampi to Bangalore had derailed, leaving 55 injured and 17 dead - many of them burned alive. Meanwhile, also in Karnataka, a bus was torched by angry locals after the driver hit a motorbike and killed both people on it. Yeesh. Not want you want to read when you're about to travel.

Fortunately the plane made it to Dabolim, Goa's airport, without exploding or getting taken over by snakes and Samuel L. Jackson or anything like that. For the first two nights we would be staying in Anjuna, in northern Goa, a 90 minute drive from the airport. The roads were good, the scenery beautiful, and the traffic light. Although our taxi driver did have trouble finding our guesthouse. Once he did we checked in and immediately had a beer. Goa has much lower vice taxes than most Indian states and is infamous for its hard-partying beaches.
It turned out that we were actually staying in the epicenter of Goa's hedonistic past. There was a flea market on the beach that day, and apparently during Anjuna's hippie heyday back in the 60's and 70's you could buy any sort of...product you wanted at this event. And I'm not talking about t-shirts. Anjuna was also once popular for its all-night oceanfront trance parties, but those have largely been done away with by local authorities. Have no fear though, for it is still quite easy to have a large night out as Kevin, Jobie and I learned the following evening.

Tonight, though, we would be taking it relatively easy. We were a couple of kilometers from the beach, and we decided to walk over. This ended up being a rather bizarre walk. The area between the guesthouse and the beach was desolate: bone dry from the lack of rain and full of abandoned or even collapsed houses and random debris, it looked like an army had just concluded a slash-and-burn campaign.

freakin' hippies
free chairs!

After wandering through this post-apocalyptic landscape for 20 minutes we popped out onto the beach, which was pretty enough I suppose, but nothing special.

dude, get a hold of your life
The beach wasn't any less weird than the area inland of it. There was a big bamboo restaurant/bar called Hippie's (sadly I'm not kidding) that was blasting techno for the whole beach to not enjoy. We walked farther down and came across the flea market. There was a group of weathered hippies playing music at an open restaurant to an eclectic crowd from all over the world. The people here looked a bit off, and as we all searched for analogies I came up with what I think is a pretty apt one: the Mos Eisley Cantina from the first Star Wars movie. (Where Han Solo is introduced.) Some of the people there had probably consumed enough drugs to believe that they were on another planet. After taking in the weirdness for a bit we walked back through the war zone to our guesthouse. (The quirky Palacete Rodrigues)

The elderly owner was sitting out front and we struck up a conversation with her. She was a fascinating woman: spoke flawless English, had taught Portuguese in Goa and traveled through Europe, etc. Sadly her hearing was awful so it was tough to get questions through. It was soon dinner time, and we were jonesing for some Goan food. Thanks to the popularity of Anjua with westerners, there is little in the way of local food there, so we would have to go to another part of the state. The people at the guesthouse were adamant that we should just eat down the street, where there was pizza and stuff like that. We were equally insistent that we wanted Goan food. The staff seemed to be shocked that someone staying there would actually, like, want to eat their food. This is where we started to realize that certain parts of India are throwing their traditions by the wayside simply to appeal to mass tourism, thanks to the assumption that everyone from overseas wants what they have access to overseas.

After about 20 minutes of hectoring the guy at the reception desk, he finally relented and called for a taxi to take us down to Panjim (also called Panaji), the state capital, where we had read that some intriguing restaurants were located.

We ate at the Upper House, and the meal was fantastic.
some sort of mushroom dish
fish vindaloo with Goan bread

Sated, we met back up with the taxi driver and headed back to Anjuna, where we promptly went to sleep. It had been a long, but good, day.

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