A CAKE CALLED ‘BOL SANS RIVAL

Heritage food is forever… bol sans rival or mirsang bhoji, khatkhate, tendli bhaaji, ambade sasav, moogache gaati, etc!

BY TARA NARAYAN

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

By Tara Narayan

EVERY time a birthday comes around I’m looking high and low for the scrumptious softly crunchy, buttery, nutty Goan-Portuguese or Portuguese-Goan (whichever is correct) bol sans rival. I do consider it as one of the heritage cakes of Goa. Few make it with any sensitive pride anymore and over the years I’ve shelled out a decent amount of money (this year Rs 850 per kg bol sans rival) for this piece of cake! It’s a priceless cake of course and with quite a history attached. I remember I was first introduced to it by the late Chef Fernando of Nostalgia in Raia down south Goa, his wife Magarida took pains to have it sent to her office here in Panaji where I’d pick it up.
Time flew by and I started looking for bol sans rival closer to home. Of course one may not eat bol sans rival (which translates in French “cake without rivals”) every day or may one? Some Goan hi fi restaurants stock it but it is stocked in the freezer and one may end up savoring a stingily thin slice of bol sans rival with the aroma defrosted around it…absolutely no value for money. It’s usually made by some doting mother of a restaurateur once a week or a month demanding on how many order it for it in the restaurant. At least that’s my experience.
Some old time bakeries like Hotel Mandovi’s Pattisserie or Truffles do stock it occasionally in their show cases and on the odd occasion one may just buy it when it’s freshly made. Which reminds me there’s also a Filipino cake called bol sans rival and this a multilayered meringue and buttercream smothered dessert studded with roasted cashew nuts…well, there will be versions of bol sans rival or bolo sans rival.
Reportedly, there was a Frenchman Chef Fernand who created a long, rectangular sans rival cake of almond and hazelnut chocolate butter cream layers…dacquoise-style (“dacquoise” originating from a town called Dax in southwest France). One may take it that our bol sans rival has a French history to it even if in Goa someone transformed it a bit and the Goan bol sans rival takes on a Portuguese history (courtesy Portuguese confectionary history).
Goan bol sans rival usually comes with cashew nut crumble smothered in Amul butter cream (for the wee salty buttery flavor) and meringue or biscuit layering….final look is very bridal, white, lacy, flouncing with butter cream pom pom and red candied cherry decoration.
The bol sans rival I ordered recently was cloyingly sweet. Oh well, next birthday I’ll go back to my old favourite Nostalgia; my friend Clifford Rozario (late of Hotel Mandovi) also makes an agreeable bols sans rival but he has long since retired into happy days presumably.
The only way to get a magical bol sans rival is to get a baker friend who loves you to make it for you (pay for it of course)! Then you’ll get the real flavour of bol sans rival with every bite….lightly sweet, richly buttery and divinely crunchy. A piece of cake to live and die for!
WHICH brings me to heritage recipes of Goa? What would I consider as heritage recipes? Hey, India has lots of them I’d say! Well, there’s the daily fare prepared in most traditional Hindu homes and Catholic homes — both strong on fish and other seafood, but prepared differently. You’ll find more pièce de résistance vegetarian fare in Saraswat Brahmin homes. Forget fish curry-rice which is common in all homes with a difference, but from my favourite Saraswat Brahmin cuisine I’d say I consider such recipes as khatkatem, moogacho gathi, vegetable shagoti, ambadecho raite, even the manner in which local veggies like cluster beans (chidki midki) or ivy gourd (tendli) is cooked more or less a heritage style of cooking. That is the veggies are more or less steam cooked, lightly seasoned and laced in freshly grated coconut as a final touch, coriander leaf garnishing…naturally minimally cooked yet flavourful.
I’d say even the plain batacho bhaji served in all Goan Hindu restaurants as Café Tato, Café Real, Café Bhonsale as heritage recipes; not to forget the large mirsang bhoji which can be such a flavourful affair (but not terribly chili hot). I remember once eating these mirsang bhoji at one of Anand Madgaokar’s birthday bashes at home. His cook had cut these hot, crisp, batter-fried chili fritters into bit sections and served them on toothpick sticks as lovely looking inviting hor d’eouvres. But then Anandbab always has these creative touches to make life interesting and memorable!
AMONGST Goan Catholic recipes, many of which are influenced by Goan Hindu, Portugal and its several erstwhile colonies in South America, Africa, South East Asia…I’d say of heritage value are such recipes as fish caldin-style (my favourite, few can make it perfectly!), pork vindalo (sometimes called “Carne da Vinha d’Alhos”), feijoada stew of beef/pork, sorpotel (from Portuguese “sarabulho” to be eaten with sannam or Goan “idli”), prawn curry-rice with sour flavoring of ambade/bilimbim/ambacho sola…amongst the sweets just plain bol can be so….oooo delicious (you may find at Mr Baker’s in Panaji, it’s a dense dark bun cake of rich wheat flour, dark palm jaggery, coconut grating/milk, to be cut fine sliced and eaten elegantly).
Catholic Goa has a far larger, fascinating roll call of tea-time sweets and desserts because ironically only upper crust Goans could afford the luxury of tea-time ritual called merenda or some such thing. I can never make up my mind about the word merenda being more Portuguese, Italian or Spanish! It basically translates to mini-meal I think when fine folk stave off hunger pangs with something sweet, something savory…by way of prelude to eventual dinner when one may presumably not make a pig of oneself.
Lovely word, merenda, I understand it comes from the original Latin “merere” which means “deserves” or something like that. As in only the wealthy deserve tea-time because they can afford it???! Connotations can be so powerful, no?
WELL, I always say Goan cuisine or cuisines are in a class of their own and one may wax lyrical about heritage recipes of Hindu/Catholic Goa, how they need to be revived, stay revived or sustained with patronage in urban eateries…which is not to say they are not! Goa’s late Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar I remember was quite addicted to patronizing the batatacho bhaji-puri at Cafe Bhonsale in Panaji, the fine piping hot puri melting in the mouth in three bites, laced with the aromatic bhaji redolent of green chili and cumin. Of course there’s not a Goan Hindu or Catholic not partial to mirsang bhoji…relish it neat or stuff it in crusty undo/soft pao and relish at pleasure on a rainy evening.
This is to say this monsoon discover Goan restaurants/eateries in Goa and if you find a generous slice of fresh bol sans rival served anywhere — not nakli pretenders or apologies but real freshly made bol sans rival — let me know. Wish you happy monsoon days again and anew!

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