As the monsoons swept the west coast in the Summer of 2002, I was sitting in ESPERANZA’S TAVERN in the deep south of Goa’s Rachol Village, sipping on a shot of vodka fizzed up with soda and flavoured with a squeeze of lime and a LONG, slit green chilli. The rains were thundering outside as the stretches of green paddy framed the sheets of rain like picture postcards in motion. Shades of green, grey and burnt sienna, merging and dissolving like a moving collage Monsoons in Goa were mindblowing.
Kerala could be God’s own country, but God lived in Goa.
That was my tag line then. And now.
Copyrighted and trademarked in my mind.
Rachol is also home to Rachol Seminary built by the Portuguese along with a fort in the 1500’s. This seminary is said to have housed the first of the printing presses in Asia in 1557. This printing press was being shipped from Portugal along with Jesuit priests to sail around the Cape of Good Hope of Africa, as was the sea route, via Goa to to Abyssynia (Today’s Ethiopia). On the 29 th of March, 1556. Thus the press reached Goa, but by then, the Emperor of Abyssinia was not keen on receiving the missionaries, so the press stayed back in Rachol, Goa. A blessing in disguise for the Goan Clergy who were in dire need of a printing press and had even requested the then Governor-General. The press was thus made available to them.
An excellent place to visit, Rachol Seminary also boasts of great wall murals. Heaven to the right and Hell to the left of the corridor are the beautiful murals as you enter the seminary.
The only remnants of the historic Portuguese fort in Rachol is just an arch, similar to the Arch in Tangasseri, Kollam my hometown, which was another of the Portuguese Ports in India.
I could imagine myself anywhere in Kerala then, ‘rain watching’, but it was Madame Lorna’s voice singing in a soulful, bluesy Konkani lament backed by Fred Perry’s wailing saxophone sounds that floating through a cassette player that added to the aura of Esperanza’s Tavern.
During lazy sunday afternoons in the Monsoons, alcohol can play tricks with your mind. Mental Teleportation between Goa and Kerala, like monsoon rains, while your physical body
sat still in a foldable wooden chair. The pink plastic table cloth with red carnations and white lace trimmings on the only three tables made up the front half of Esperanza’s home that served as a Tavern or Bar.
Home Bars as I call these quaint places (out of reach of tourists) and serving up steaming hot food and drinks for the local folk.
These Home Bars could transform into a home anytime whenever there were family functions and had that unique ability to transform back into an easy going bar.
But Esperanza’s bar was highly popular with the locals especially for her seafood. That was the reason that brought me here.
The second reason – Red Rice.
The second more important reason was not that that my team of Ayurveda therapists were due to roll in by September. Just over a month away and they just had to have their boiled red rice for lunch and dinner.
I had told them this is Goa, not Kerala and they would have to adjust to what was locally available. They reluctantly agreed. But I know from experience that after a strenuous 5-6 hour stint of long therapies they would be fagged out.
And it was a good meal of red rice, dal, veggies and fish or meat that they were looking forward to. Every day.
Esperanza’s Tavern cum home was located on the banks of the river Zuari that flowed through Rachol village and Esperanza is known to cook up some of the best river fish that the Zuari had to offer. Since there is no set menu, I agreed to whatever the catch was for the day. Luckily, Esperanza was expecting some guests who had called up that morning, so she wanted to surprise them with Lady fish (Kane) and White Pomfrets she had sourced from the Margao market that morning. Another chilli laced vodka later, she slid the fried Pomfret and lady fish smeared and stuffed with her specially prepared fiery red Recheado masala. The spicy tang of the local vinegar and chilli powder blended so well with the flavours of the fresh fish. I had to force myself to say no to a repeat order as I knew she was sparing some of her fish just for me.
And as I got ready to leave back to Margao, I asked her about the availability of red rice in Rachol. She smiled and told me to come the following month as she harvested only red rice in the surrounding paddy fields.
As I paid for the best ever fish I had eaten in South Goa, I promised her I’ll be back to collect at least 4 sacks of red rice grains and her fried fish of course.
True to her words, I was back in Rachol to her Tavern for her harvested red rice in sacks which I loaded into the back of the car, and then sat back to enjoy Esperanza’s roasted prawns, Black spots and of course her masala fried pomfrets.
Esperanza knows the Zuari river, its fish, the paddy around its banks too I thought.
God does live in Goa. In a village in Rachol.
It Bengaluru, it must be the new popularity with online Fish and Meat delivery online sites, my local Cox Town Fish vendor has started home delivery on Sundays.
Works fine for me.
Just a phone call to the man and the fish is home in 30 minutes.
Cleaned and custom cut.
Now if only my mutton and beef vendors would start delivering to homes, then I would be a happy man. Unlike online portals, I have a relationship (built over years) with these dudes. There is a known face and a space behind the business.
I ordered white Pomfret or ‘Pamplate’ like they call them in Mumbai.
Pomfrets have a ‘buttery’, delicate white flesh with a subtle ‘non-fishy’ flavour and breaks up easily on the plate. Great for preparing ‘Fish Moily’, curried or fried whole.
And suddenly the visual hit me. Of deep red raichard masala fried Pomfrets that I had tasted at Esperanza’s Tavern many monsoons ago when I was in search of red rice in Rachol Village, Goa.
As I did not have the Red Goan Recheado ( meaning stuffed in Portuguese) Masala, I thought why not grill them stuffed with crushed ginger, garlic, coriander and green chilli. I opted for a traditional spicy masala outside and stuffed the inside with crushed ginger garlic and coriander. The juice of a lemon will give it that extra zing. Splash oil in your grill pan as the skin tends to stick to the ribbing of the pan.
Mushrooms in a cheesy, garlicy, buttery, creamy sauce along with roasted cashews and green peas, make a great accompaniment. Grilled pineapple slices complete the dish.
For the Fish:
Grind ginger and garlic to a paste. Mix Chilly powder and pepper powder with half the ginger garlic paste along with the juice of a lime (or alternate with vinegar). Make gashes on the pomfret on both sides and spread the marinade mix all over. Take the other half of the ginger garlic paste, add some crushed green chillies and coriander leaves and stuff the insides.
Set the marinated fish aside for at least 60 minutes.
Oil or butter a grill pan and lay the fish in. After a few minutes, flip them over (be careful not to break up the fish) and cook till done.
For the Mushroom – Cashew sauce:
Sauté chopped garlic in butter. When browned well, toss in the sliced mushrooms, green peas, a couple of sliced green chillies, some chopped coriander and stir fry well. When almost done, toss in the cashews which have been previously roasted golden brown in butter. Now grate mozzarella cheese in and finally fold in fresh cream to build the sauce.
Serve the fish along with the mushroom-cashew sauce and grilled pineapple slices.
About the Author
Monu Danesh Surendran
Monu Danesh Surendran works for a retail organization in Bangalore and heads it online and branding division. He is a foodie by passion and therefore tries his hand at stuff in his home kitchen. While not dabbling in cooking during his days off he likes his music and of course trying out food. He prefers home cooked cuisine though restaurant fare guarantees a good outing with friends.
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