CHOICES: No dearth of good eating out places for IFFI delegates in Panaji and quite close to the festival venue too!  Make a note of some of the eateries mentioned here and find some more on your own, small places often offer value for money while the big ones, somewhere comfy to retire for a couple of hours!

Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column
By Tara Narayan

EVERY year during IFFI it’s the same old story. Where to find a decent honest bite for a decent honest price! With extortionist SGST/SGST taxes added on this year and yes, many eateries are fudging when it bringing it down (waiting for official government notification)…eating out can really dig a painful hole in the wallet of aam aadmi IFFI delegates. Of course the ESG powers-that-be make arrangements with contractors from Mumbai/Delhi/Bangalore at the INOX/GMC complex and a stretch down the Campal promenade for local self-help groups for the usual chaat/ice-cream/stir-fried Chinese/corncobs/cold aerated bottled drinks and even a sugarcane juice vendor…even a beer bar and some rigged-up upmarket eateries with high end or upmarket food.

But generally speaking neither decently priced nor decently edible (I can never forget that I once found a perfectly glistening cockroach egg intact in a veggie biryani at IFFI INOX courtyard eating out) freshly made fare is available for love or for money at officially blessed eating out venues. So as a Ponjekar and an ardent health-conscious foodie let me guide you to some wholesome aam aadmi established eateries around about INOX/Kala Academy venues and a little further off if you have time to look them up.

The Kala Academy canteen food can be very variable, greasy and unhealthy although a lot of delegates put up with it at the worst of times.  Most delegates who come for IFFI do so on modest budgets, especially the long-time film lovers, and all they want is down-to-earth meals and snacks and rather than patronize the food at ESG courtyards they step out of the venue for a bite at a local place…looking for good Goan fish or prawn curry or vegetarian fare which won’t send their tum into a dizzy to spoil their film viewing! As a 14-time IFFIgoer  this year, I may or may not make it home to catch a bite, but I since I’m by and large a vegetarian I have a few favourite vegetarian places to swear by and am sharing them here along with some good non-veg options for the sake of happy eating out for delegates during the time of IFFI starting this Monday, from Nov 20 to 28.

Take the lane opposite Kala Academy and turn right where the Herald offices are, Bassera next door is good for homely fare both vegetarian and non-vegetarian (also fish thali, they have decent mini thali too). Bassera is attached to dormitory accommodation in the heart of the town and dare say it’s fully booked up in the time of IFFI. Decent and affordable are my operative words here, yes, quaint and homely too.

For exclusively vegetarian there is the most popular Navtara at the old Panaji market, here there’s a vast vegetarian and fresh fruit/veggie juice menu as also decent south Indian fare. Both downstairs and upstairs (for air-conditioned comfort), can get crowded.

My friend and me are happy with Digambar Naik’s Uday Ahar Graha at the old Panaji market place next to the INOX/GMC complex, easy to find and most discerning Goans patronize it for non-veg and veg Goan food, also “authentic Goan fish fry”…you’ll rub shoulders with literary/filmi types from Margao here! Ask for fish thali (`160, with kingfish, with mackerel it’s `100) or order whatever you wish without fear of going broke. Choice of seafood – kingfish, red snapper, chonak, prawns, mackerel, mussels, squids, etc), their wholesome chappati is priced `10.

If you’re chasing seafood only a little more walking will bring you to more upmarket Casa Bhonsle (it’s upstairs, Café Bhonsle downstairs offers a range of Goan snacks and meals including Goan and Punjabi samosa, find out the difference!) or famous Ritz Classic or Sharada Classic (your landmark is Hindu Pharmacy at Garcia d’Orta municipal garden) — all these eateries have tried and tested meal deal fish thali around about `200 or so. With fish thali you must ask for the crunchy freshly grated coconut and dry prawns relish called kismur and also kokum tival/kokum solkoddi. I usually ask for kokum tival/ugal (the first is sweetish, the second saltish) on the icy rocks, it’s lighter and the perfect appetizer-digestive drink which the bacteria in your stomach will thank you for!

There’s also Kokni Kanteen though that’s too much to walk up to, fish food here gets rave reviews. If I am in the mood for a treat and can find the transport I would go up to Copperleaf at Porvorim for their fish thali to beat all other fish thali, but it’s there only for lunch, it’s my favourite place for friendly service, affordable food. Usually packed but nice ambience for a long snoozy afternoon, forget about seeing a film after lunch here!

Back in Panaji, on 18th June road, the Fidalgo enclave of restaurants too have much to offer. I like the idli/rava masala dosa at Legacy of Goa; adjoining Bhojan offers a superlative Guju-cum-Rajasthani thali meal deal…lunching or dining here is a leisurely affair. Accommodation here too, but too upmarket for aam aadmi delegates I imagine….but they have a restful cafeteria called Aunty Maria and a reception lounge also in Fidalgo.

What else can I think of? Close to the Panaji market near Don Bosco School is Cluck Tales (take the lift up to the first floor) and the menu here has lots to offer. Apart from chicken cooked lava stone-style (healthier), they have a patisserie counter here too. More or less next door, down on the road is Gastronut, a place where a lot of young folk like to go for the amazing variety of rolls, pizzas, my favourite ginger tea (`20) or gelato (try the Belgium chocolate/Madagascar chocolate/fruit overload)…very nice place for an evening break. Further down here is Chat Street for bhelpuri/panipuri/sev batata puri/etc with a range of fruit juices including avocado and sugarcane. It’s a small, crowded, air-conditioned place, but I trust the chaat numbers here.

If you’re in the mood to party with friends after finishing with films then I’d say head for one of the five-star lounges — AZUR at the Marriott Hotel & Spa (my favourite green tea pot and potato wedges are here) or Caramel at the Taj Vivanta which offers snacks, confectionary, gelato and place to sit down and relax a while. Tamari here offers oriental delights and Latitude has an interesting menu. Oh before I forget, I must mention Mandovi Hotel with its old world charm (oldest lift in town is here, be sure to take it) and absolutely dependable Riorico restaurant on the first floor overlooking river Mandovi…I recommend quite a few things here including the tandoori methi roti (green fenugreek leaves give this crisp roti a to-live-for bitterish flavour). I’m always happy to step in here for old and new times sake, they have a quaint lounge for a drink or two.

All this in small town Panaji pretending to be a city in a hurry to go places! Many IFFI delegates like to pick up stuff to take back to their hotel rooms to eat be it fruit or dry savoury snacks and for this they cannot better than step into Magsons down the Campal promenade or at Caculo Mall which offers some shopping apart from the food court on the third floor where you may also find decent food  and great coffee! Coffee places are becoming very specialized indeed in Panaji. All places here are within walkable distance I assure you, just more or less walking distance taking your cue from the main thoroughfare of the Campal promenade where the 48th International Film Festival action is… Enjoy the eight days of viewing films and eating out in Panaji my friends!

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