Vivek Menezes lists 15 new things to look out for in Goa this season. Ever since the millennium New Year, Goa has boiled over every tourist season. Tens of thousands of visitors, mostly foreign but increasingly Indian, stuff the coastline and the state's population actually doubles from November to March. The commercial strips along the beaches of North and South Goa are packed tight with sun-bathing humanity. But even in season, there is a lot to Goa besides beer and bikinis, and something new is always springing up if you know where to look. Here are 15 new things you need to know about your favourite vacation spot.
Where to eat Café Chocolatti Café Chocolatti has long been one of the best daytime establishments on the tourist strip of North Goa. Run by a relaxed Goan-Parsi couple, it serves outstanding salads, sandwiches and shakes, brilliant baked goods and home-made chocolates, including the sinfully addictive chili truffles. Much of this repertoire will now be available in Panjim. Chocolatti has opened an outlet in the restored courtyard of a grand old house on the Altinho ridge, which soars over the centre of the city. The house is "Sunaparanta - Goa Centre for the Arts". It's an initiative by the mine-owning Ambani in-law, Dattaraj Salgaoncar, which promises to "encourage, sponsor and promote innovative work in the visual arts" and to support art students. For now, we're just grateful that they promote and support truffles. Café Chocolatti Sunaparanta - Goa Centre for the Arts, 63/C-8, near Lar de Estudantes, Altinho, Panjim (0832-2421311, www.sgcfa.org). Call for restaurant hours, which were not available at the time of publication. Ernesto's The newest restaurant in Panjim's oldest neighbourhood is an instant classic. Deep in the Latin Quarter, which stretches along the Rua do Ourem, is a neighbourhood of pastel colours and winding streets, gorgeous and miraculously intact. Here the Alvares brothers have converted part of a century-old house into a lovely avatar of their former digs at the Clube Vasco da Gama. Ernesto's feels like old-fashioned Goan hospitality, with a relaxed atmosphere and a constant crowd of regulars. We're dedicated fans of chef Vasco Alvares, a man-mountain who goes by the ironic nickname Vasquito, "little Vasco". He has become famous across Goa for his deft treatment of meats, like the filet-mignon with blue cheese sauce, his signature barbecued ribs and the super-satisfying burger. We also endorse the chicken Zambezi made with coconut cream and real piri-piri peppers, and any of the fish items (but especially the smoked salmon carpaccio). Save room for Serradura, the "sawdust" pudding made from powdered biscuits and whole cream. Ernesto's House 6/49, Mala, Panjim (below Maruti Temple) (0-98230 -15921, 0832-3256213). Daily 11am-3pm and 6.30-11pm. Meal for two Rs 800. No credit cards. Republic of Noodles Times have changed on Goa's main tourist drag between Baga and the Aguada plateau. Once the realm of coconut-thatch shacks, it's now a concrete jungle of glass-fronted hotels, restaurants and brand-name coffee shops. This is the world occupied by Republic of Noodles. A start-up with ambitions of becoming a national chain, it comes with a full package: website, slick concept and merchandising, Bali-derived décor. The vast menu draws from the cuisine of South-East Asia: Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia. But there's a basic problem with multi-cuisine restaurants - they're sometimes formulaic by nature. This is the case with Republic of Noodles. Most dishes - satays, barbecued ribs, tofu with mushrooms, rendang curry - are carefully constructed but soulless. The contrast appears when you try the simple Bangkok pad thai, an unexpected highlight, scrupulously authentic and executed with zest. Achieving that quality consistently, even for a restaurant of the caliber of Republic of Noodles, is impossible when your menu lists a hundred items from ten different countries. Republic of Noodles Lemon Tree, Amarante Beach Resort, Vadi, Candolim (0832-2489600, www.republicofnoodles.com). Daily 7-11.30pm. Meal for two Rs 2,500. All cards accepted. Tamari In season, Goa's restaurant scene is mind-bogglingly diverse. It features, among others, some of the few genuine Spanish and Greek restaurants in the subcontinent. But one international cuisine has been missing - Japanese. That gap is now filled by Tamari, the restaurant at the new Vivanta by Taj, which sits like a hermetically sealed cube on the edge of the heritage district of Campal, in the state capital. It is decidedly odd to eat fish flown in from Norway while sitting in seafood-crazed Old Panjim. But there's no doubting Tamari's careful execution and presentation of its nigiri, sashimi, other wraps and rolls, and the dishes whipped up in front of you at the live teppanyaki counter. We gobbled it all down: salmon, tuna, eel and fish roe, followed by hearty bowls of real soba noodles tossed with vegetables and tender chicken. A great new addition to Goa's restaurant scene. Tamari Vivanta by Taj, D B Bandodkar Road, St Inez Junction, Panjim (0832-6633636, www.tajhotels.com). Daily 12.30-3pm, 7-11pm. Japanese meal for two Rs 3,000. All cards accepted. What to do Read Goa 1556 Despite its longstanding reputation as a sleepy cultural backwater, there is a quiet renaissance taking place in Goa. One indicator is the sheer amount of books being published each year in Konkani, Marathi and English, which makes the state the "self-publishing capital of India" according to anthropologist and Goa resident Rahul Srivastava. At the vanguard of this movement in self-expression is Goa 1556, run by veteran journalist Frederick Noronha. The company's name memorialises the date when the first printing press in Asia came into operation in Goa. Noronha says his company doesn't seek profits but exists because "today, more than ever, Goa needs a voice to articulate its own priorities". Goa 1556 publishes a book every few months, most recently a beautiful revised edition of Medieval Goa by the historian Dr Teotonio de Souza, an essential text that had been out of print for decades. http://goa1556.goa-india.org. All titles available at Broadway Book Centre, Ashirwad Building, next to Rizvi Tower, 18th June Road, Panjim (0832-6647038, www.broadwaybooksgoa.com). Drink Feni Geographical Indication Cashew feni has found its pedigree. On February 27 (doff your hat now, please), the name of the Goans' hallowed local drink was registered as a Geographical Indication in India. It took two years of wrangling, political mobilisation and social effort to make cashew feni the first Indian alcohol with a GI, joining Mexico's tequila and France's Champagne as protected intellectual property. Along with the classification came a fascinating case study, funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council and headed by a lucky man, the Principal Investigator of Feni, Dwijen Rangnekar of the University of Warwick. Rangnekar surveys the social practices that have evolved around the production and consumption of this famously redolent drink. It concludes, approvingly, that "the successful mobilisation of interested parties and resources to secure the feni-GI is testimony to the cultural and economic interests vested in feni". We say cheers to that. See www.warwick.ac.uk/go/feni. Feni is available at every bar and tavern in Goa. Gamble Goa is the only state in India which has legalised gambling, and 18 separate casinos have licences to conduct business. But it's far from boom time for the industry: last year, the collected operators reported just over two lakh entry tickets sold across the board. That's less than 30 visitors per day per casino, not enough to keep even a beach shack afloat. Things have been looking even bleaker since the Goa government reacted to concerted local activist pressure by raising the casino entry fee from Rs 200 per person to Rs 2,000, just last month. Many casinos are coping, and will refund your fee in the form of chips, but be aware that you're going to have to fork out a cool two grand just to get into the building before you're free to lose your shirt. Entry fee now Rs 2,000 at all 18 casinos in Goa. See Goa Chitra One of Goa's most charming attractions is the deeply personal "ethnographic museum", Goa Chitra in Benaulim. Founded by the artist-turned-curator Victor Hugo Gomes as "a tribute to his ancestors and their way of life", this little rural complex houses thousands of traditional implements, vessels and tools that evolved over centuries in the agrarian heartland of Goa in the service of farming and other traditional trades. What's best is that these items are showcased in the context of a working organic farm, amid a variety of birds, animals, cultivated fields and fruit trees. There is enough to delight any age group. Children in particular will gain a great deal from a visit to this labour of love in its pretty corner of South Goa. St John the Baptist Church Road, Mondovaddo, Benaulim (0832-6570977, 0-98504-66165, www.goachitra. com) Tue-Sun, 9am-1pm, 2-6pm. Entry free. Casa Museu Vincento Joao de Figueiredo The magnificent Figueiredo House in Loutolim, a time-capsule of nineteenth-century aristocratic high-life, was for decades fiercely guarded by the formidable lawyer Georgina de Figueiredo. Upon her death, the house and its priceless collections of furniture, porcelain and art passed into the hands of her sister, Maria de Lourdes. Earlier this year, de Lourdes dedicated it as a permanent museum for the benefit of the people and culture of Goa. It is a remarkably preserved vision of a bygone era: bookshelves filled with volumes in French, Portuguese, English and German, classical portraits on the wall. De Lourdes is a gregarious and winning guide to her family legacy. Best of all, if you give her 48 hours notice, she will prepare a lavish Luso-Indian lunch for your party (minimum six people), using recipes that have been passed down for generations - just like the crockery you will be served from, and the dining room in which you will sit. Loutolim (0832-2777028) Tickets Rs 150 per head. Lunch in the Museum dining room Rs 1,200 per head. Birdwatch Few people are aware of the small but outstanding wildlife sanctuary literally within sight of Panjim and Porvorim's concrete. The Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, on the downstream tip of the river island of Chorao, comes into clear view from the twin bridges across the Mandovi. A few weeks ago, the Conservator of Forests in Goa declared his intention to turn the sanctuary and its adjoining mangroves into a Critical Wildlife habitat, as provided for by a 2006 law. This could mean an added level of protection, after which entry to the sanctuary could be restricted. Take the chance to see what all the fuss is about with Pankaj Lad, the enthusiastic naturalist who runs Canopy, "an ecotourism venture with a difference". We recommend his boat safari and marsh birding trip to Chorao: you'll spot dozens of species of birds, including, if you're lucky, the rare collared kingfisher. Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary Tours run by Canopy (www.canopygoa.com,0-97642-61711). The boat safari and marsh birding tour is Rs 1,000 per head and lasts four hours. Play Goan Football When Goa won the Santosh trophy four months ago in Chennai without conceding a single goal in regulation play, The Times of India underlined what every football fan in the country has known for some time: "The heart and soul of Indian football is now overwhelmingly Goan, anyone with a spirit of the beautiful game in their veins will agree." Since then, Churchill Brothers has won the IFA Shield and the Durand Cup in quick succession. The run of triumphs by Goan teams includes five of the last six national professional league titles, and an unprecedented run in the Asian Football Cup by the Dempo team, which ended only after they became India's first club to qualify for the semi-finals. Although most of the Indian team plays in Goa (six national starters play for Dempo alone), the cradle of the state's football culture is its village teams and youth tournaments. Grab a seat the next time you pass a game in the paddy fields, and mark out the best performers - the next time you see them they could be wearing national colours. See www.goa-fa.com for the professional league schedule. Goa Kayaking Hit the coastline of Goa this year, and you're going to observe a new phenomenon: a real kayaking movement that's picking up speed. People are taking to the water in droves in these basic, colourful fibreglass boats, which have become easily available in Goa. Kayaking has to be the easiest form of boating around: the sit-on-top models are virtually unsinkable, and paddling along in Goa's gentle waters is almost effortless. It's the perfect shallow-end entry into water-sports for teenagers. New organisations are springing up to promote the activity. Check the schedule at the Goa Kayaking blog ("kayaking for fun and health!!") for one-day introductory courses that take you from basic strokes to navigation, with solo practice for every trainee. (www.goakayaking.blogspot.com, 0-94220-56037). Tiger Boxing and Fitness Gym On January 1, 2000, the Italian boxer Fabrizio Petroni arrived in Goa to start a new life with his newfound love, Daria Dell'Antonia. Later that year, he set up the Tiger Boxing Gym in the unlikely setting of Chapora, a rugged North Goa village nestled in the shadow of a medieval fortress. Petroni emphasised speed and flexibility for his boxers, and his intense evening workout sessions gained a loyal following. His techniques produced impressive results - boxers from the Tiger Gym have come to dominate the sport in Goa. Several of his fighters are touted as Olympic prospects, especially the fearsome female pinweight, Soniya Parab. Newcomers to Tiger Boxing and Fitness can register for individually-tailored training regimens, or simply show up for the hellacious evening fitness sessions of cardiovascular and endurance training, power training and flexibility and coordination drills. Chapora. For boxing or fitness training contact 0-98200-55053 or tigerboxing...@gmail.com. What to buy Rebelo's Arte e Mobilia When Kevin Pinto Rebello finally managed to get the tenants out of his old family building in the heart of Panjim, he knew exactly what to do with his share of the space. He opened Arte e Mobilia, a light-filled and eye-pleasing space, right above the public square in front of the iconic Café Bhonsle. Rebelo has been in the antique furniture business for a long time, but this is the first time he's set up a formal showroom. It's full of interesting and unique objects sourced from Goa, Mumbai, Kolkata and beyond. More intriguing still is Rebelo's plan to contribute display-space to items that anyone might want to sell, for which he charges a modest 10 per cent. Thanks to this policy, all kinds of fascinating Luso-Indian items show up in his boutique, making it well worth a visit when you're knocking around the centre of Panjim. Rebelo's Arte e Mobilia Rebelo Building, first floor, Rua de Ormuz, opposite Café Bhonsle, Panjim (0-98231-00400). Open Mon-Sat 10am-1pm and 4.30-8pm, Sun 9.30am-noon. Where to stay Casa dos Colacos These days Margao, the capital of South Goa, is choked with traffic and congested with ugly constructions - a place to avoid. This is a great pity, because the city contains the most impressive domestic architecture in the state. Spectacular homes were built during the cultural flowering of the late nineteenth century, when the local elites came into their own. The very best of these mansions are in the neighbourhood of the Holy Spirit Church, and at the centre of this heritage area, Felipe and Lorna Colaco have lovingly restored their palatial Casa dos Colacos into a "boutique bed and breakfast". Guests experience the full grandee atmosphere in this courtyard house, with its impossibly lofty ceilings and century-old Italian tiles. The attentive hosts can draw up daily plans that include backwater cruises or ayurvedic massages. But we recommend just staying put and living the history. Bernardo da Costa Road, Margao (0-832-2726860, www.casadoscolacos.com). Double rooms from Rs 2,500 per night. Source : Time Out Mumbai ISSUE 5 Friday, October 30, 2009 http://www.timeoutmumbai.net/consume/shopping_details.asp?code=331&source=1