Bread, bars and baccarat in Goa

A cut above: Snapshot from a bread-carving workshop by “bread whisperer” Sujit Sumitran   -  THULASI KAKKAT

A monsoon weekend full of quality pampering

I land in Goa during the luscious monsoon season. It works wonders at soothing my city-rattled nerves. And when I make up my mind to follow author Elizabeth Gilbert’s golden advice from Eat, Pray, Love and enjoy the art of doing nothing, Goa actually throws in a recherché weekend full of quality pampering.

As I get ready to curl up for a quiet evening with a book amidst a backdrop score of roaring clouds and a loud bunch of chirpy crickets, the corner of my eye catches the colourful house concoctions at the bar in W Goa on Vagator beach. The WooBar is a perfect indoor-outdoor lounging space that helps ignite the rain lashings of a quiet evening. Blend in some rosemary-infused tequila, strawberry-soaked vodka, mango wood-smoked whisky, mandarin-flavoured rum or my choice of chamomile-infused gin and — it may sound clichéd — there’s no looking back! Of course, here’s where I hear about Viva Panjim — the go-to place for Goan gourmet flavours — from the friendly bartenders.

I believe that the character of a people is revealed in their cooking and, in the case of Goa, the flavours of food, like the people, are genuine, simple and straightforward. Even though tastes have to adapt to new demands, Goan cooking today has reinvented the luxury of ancient traditions — as I discover at Viva Panjim, a home-restaurant in the old and restored Portuguese-influenced Latin Quarters in Goa’s capital city.

It offers a peek into home-style Goan family recipes — enriched with traditions and folklore, refined with local produce and a familiarity of the palate and authenticated by the inviting home ambience in a narrow alley in the heart of picturesque Fontainhas. The spread includes a string of treasured delights: Kingfish balchao, crab xec xec, apricot steak, pork cabidel, costeletas de porco and seafood sizzler — cooked with hand-ground spices and home-fermented vinegars and served with warm paos.

Talking of breads, my next stop during this rainy trip is the charming, old-world home of my friend and philosopher, Sujit Sumitran, whose breads are a luxe, therapeutic antidote for the soul, comparable to any world-class spa treatment. Sumitran runs a life coaching consultancy firm called The Yellow Submarine and lives up to his insta hashtag of #thebreadwhispererfromgoa. His life-after-50 is dedicated to baking and un-breaking the complexities of sourdough starters. Experimenting with heirloom wholewheat flours, wild yeast starters of varying vintage (his oldest starter dated 1633 is called the Bavarian Black Death), adding maverick flavours and designs to the crusty loaves, is a rejuvenating experience. To sign up for his group baking activities and workshops, follow him on Facebook.

A glitzy deck at the Big Daddy Casino   -  IMAGE COURTESY: BIG DADDY CASINO

 

The dark, cloudy evenings call for restless, offshore fun. A short drive to the fringes of the Mandovi brings us to Big Daddy Casino. Commissioned recently, it is touted as one of the largest offshore gaming spots in Asia, with the latest equipment technology and trending ‘no-limits’ tables where there is no cap on the stakes. An opulent red canopied jetty and potent crystal chandeliers hint at the adventure ahead. A breezy check-in through VIP counters, leading to a somewhat shaky boat ride, lands us on board the 50,000-sq ft. state-of-the-art Panamanian vessel. Three decks of unlimited, 24x7 gaming, spread over 114 tables and 1000-plus gaming positions, welcome you in. The experience is enhanced by live and electronic music, ruby red and glitzy gold interiors, professional assistance and a bevy of East European beauties who help you find your feet.

You can avoid the contagious over-enthusiasm of the popular first and second deck gamers by paying a price for exclusivity or flashing your social status. We are whisked off to the coveted ‘members’ only’ VIP gaming deck on level three that offers bespoke services — a swanky space with the privacy of one’s own tables, in-suite set-ups and niche resting lounges. Big Daddy Casino is attentive to every personal entertainment need and offers you the high life that money can buy — from personal butlers, customised food and beverages requests with on-call chefs and lounges with massage chairs for relaxation in between games to a smoking lounge featuring gold shisha, an eclectic cigar menu and panoramic viewing decks.

The fourth floor opens to a sprawling restaurant, bar and entertainment zone with a lavish multi-cuisine buffet and popular and exotic spirits at the bar. They even have a designated children’s play-hold with movie screenings, PlayStations and nanny services, for easy access to families. This apart, the casino also offers customised packages and specialised concierge services through the year.

Clearly, Goa has a lot to offer when it rains — from high-stake gambling to the best of food and drinks. And let’s not forget the lush green rain-washed surroundings.

It remains the picture-perfect place for romancing the monsoons, I gladly reiterate on my bumpy flight home.

(The writer was in Goa at the invitation of Big Daddy Casino)

Salmoli Mukerji is a writer based in Kolkata

Published on July 26, 2019

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