Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

By Tara Narayan

This is the season when I’m full of new desires of the foodie kind. These days I wish there was some place in or around Panjim to treat myself to a glass of hot or cold toffee that takes me back to London, or cocoa. Chocolate one may find in several places, but not toffee or cocoa, with sweetener served separately, preferably organic brown sugar.

In a bad moment, I can indulge in all the junk food bad for my heart, but in mostly good moments I become very demanding for things like “lemon slices to squeeze into my water” or “more salad (kachumbar) and a lemon wedge” in a Goan fish thali, or “dahi made with pasteurised milk or double or triple-toned milk” or even stuff “fried in refined oil or dalda/vanaspati”.

Lately I’ve been doing less drinking and eating out, but it’s something I’m congenitally addicted to even if I cook the hubby whatever he wants at home. Drinking and eating out has become costlier now, with prices up by `10 or more. In restaurants, one may be paying more than 20 per cent on various taxes. At last count, value added tax (VAT) is still @12.50 per cent, service tax @5.60 per cent, krishi kalyan cess or KKC @0.20 per cent, and Swachh Bharat cess or SBC @0.20 per cent. Some places levy a service charge at six per cent whether you like it or not.

For a while, I had made up my mind not to go emptying my meagre coffers drinking and eating out, but it’s not something that is easy to do. I gather my peace of mind and please my palate more or less while on the streets of Panjim, over some comfort food or drink. Sometimes I look for a decent hot chocolate. But one of these days, I might find liquid toffee and cocoa served hot or on the rocks and not priced at `100 plus unless it is British toffee. Perhaps most restaurants and food outlets are worried because post-demonetisation trickery, aam aadmi folk are eating out less often.

Hotels are now wooing customers to come back and eat with tempting “membership card” offers whereby as much as a 50 per cent discount is offered. At the Fidalgo enclave of restaurants, it’s applicable only if you take a friend along. Annual membership cards range anything from `5,000 to `7,000 to `10,000 and over for the five-stars which throw in more offers. With a card, they get bulk money to put away on interest while we go crazy eating to benefit from the discounts. It’s some kind of psychological brainwash persuading us to kill ourselves drinking and eating for the sake of discounts.  Those with ulterior motives go laughing all the way to the bank while our health deteriorates in mind and body!

Such cards are useful only if you eat out often with family and friends. While being wooed to buy one of the cards recently, I found that with it a plate of two Punjabi samosas that cost me `70 would cost me only `35, but only if I had a friend with me! It’s the most expensive samosa in town, but that day I was looking for a decent samosa. A Delhi friend who was in town asked, “Where can I find good samosa in Panjim? I’m pining for one!” I said, “Come on, let’s go find out!” I won’t tell you where we went. I’m sorry the Heritage Sweets people have shut shop; they served the most delectable samosa with mint and tamarind chutneys.

STILL, I’d like to find a place serving dreamy cocoa and toffee, apart from hot and cold chocolate for the occasional treat. It shouldn’t be too watered down or heavy with artificial milk. Otherwise I’ve more or less taken a vow to eat out less and less, a vow hard to keep for I’m a temperamental “foodoholic” (to coin a word).

I try to get there argument by argument by being more judicious, more difficult to please. If there’s sugar, I won’t drink. If there’s powdered dairy creamer in plastic packets I have to fight with to tear open, I won’t drink. If there’s too much salt, I won’t eat. If there’s no generous onion-green coriander in my bhelpuri, I won’t eat. Once my favourite `50 tomato omelette came studded with three half cajus and I wondered if I should eat it or not (I ate it). This kind of cracked up logic can continue ad infinitum and in the end I’m hoping by the end of this year I’ll return to my teenage weight of 55 kg to lighten the burden on my heart! What a way to lose weight which is dragging me down.

TO move on to another subject, I must tell you a few places where you may find more expensive but better quality whole wheat bread. This is my perennial dilemma and lately I’ve taken to buying the Desserts & More sliced whole wheat brown bread (`30, no maida or caramel) at Caculo Mall. It’s quite good. When I can’t find a loaf there, I drop by to collect a pre-ordered, longer, sliced wheat loaf (`50 plus tax) at Cluck Tales and also catch up on some small chat with Chef Manju. Once by mistake I got a multi-grain loaf and the hubby refused eat it. The hard crinkly grain bits get into his denture spaces and onto his nerves.

I grumble that I buy bread just because he likes it more than I do. He can’t do without toast with his daily omelette! He doesn’t care what bread I buy, as long as it’s soft, and he will eat the worst commercial sliced white bread available in the market. But he would be the only one eating it. The rest I’d chuck in the bin with annoyance. So much for domestic squabbles of the bread kind.

I used to get some real honest sourdough bread at Lucie Macon’s Delicieux when it was at Miramar, but the little French café has shut down. I also miss its caramel custard-filled petit choux, the best eclairs I’ve ever eaten.

I care about bread and my effort to get wholesome bread is an ongoing chase. Before I forget, the “brown poie” at Café Central is good. So good that if you leave it out, ants will get in it quick. It’s the best bread to eat with lashings of real butter. One has to eat it fresh though because once in the fridge it tends to harden and becomes chewy. Then you could turn it into bread crumbs or croutons!

Brown bread is not always whole grain, just white bread caramelised brown with sugar. It’s a real catch because many buyers of commercial bread think “brown bread” per se is more wholesome quality bread. It is not, if it is just coloured brown. Most of our industrial breads are really con breads and not the stuff of life. Now and again a scandal breaks in the media about bread, but after the storm, it’s back again to the same sorry choices of industrial white or fake brown breads.

The five-stars mercifully offer some great breads because they bake their own. Some hotels place special orders for a regular supply of better quality bread with a modern-day baker, say Vincent Dias of Cremeux. One may pay hefty prices for a five-star sandwich, be it of white, whole grain, multi-grain or Mediterranean ciabatta! It’s better to buy breads from niche bakeries than factory breads.

I imagine that local bakers don’t put half the chemical gook of softeners/bleachers/preservatives in their bread, which factories doing large retail business do. I need not tell you that our slew of refined white breads contribute to our gigantic carbohydrate fix and thence towards obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. These are all insulin-related diseases. Read about it and eat less bread, or choose more whole grain bread, bhakri or millet roti. No salt, just a wee bit of pure cold pressed virgin coconut oil if you like. Personally, I think all industrial breads are better boycotted!

To end on a happy note, happy Holi to all my faithful readers even if I ramble on. Next week, I’m sharing a recipe for a fresh turmeric-lemon-honey drink to live for. Watch this space!

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