DINING AT ‘WAN HAO’ AT MIRAMAR MARRIOTT

RAZZMATAZZ christmas at Goa Marriott Miramar: This gingerbread train is inviting a lot of ooh’s and aah’s!

BY TARA NARAYAN

WHAT’S new this Christmas season except that most of us are having a horrible time with the economy and the media being as down in the dumps as it is. Only the governments are on a high and their chamcha! Of course Christmas is here to lift the heart a little and with the first arrival of some goodies I notice how the five-star hotel hampers at least are getting to be very eco-friendly with cane baskets, pristine white lacy paper or colorful cardboard boxes which can be recycled… they come filled with the usual goodies of maybe some terrific imported marmalade, blueberry jam, tomato and dry fruit chutney (made in the hotel’s kitchen), Christmas cake of course, pudding, German-style black current sweet stollen bread or even apple strudel, expensive Stilton cheese ginger bread and all kinds of Shrewsbury and other cookies in independent see-through mini-boxes or sachets, colorful icy hard candies, premium cheese maybe, bottle wine or champagne maybe, dry fruit… all redolent of goodwill to all humankind and Christmassy things.
I’d like to give a prize to one of the Taj Group of Hotel’s “hampers” – hey, some thinking person thought up why not a useful carry cloth bag and so we have this lovely, embossed with Christmas scene-scenary, well-tailored thick bag good for shopping. It was packed with treats and the hubby thinks I have more bags than I need (true) and let a colleague take it all. Wish I’d taken a pic of the super duper bag first though just to look at wistfully when I’m in a bad mood!
I also got a cheerful huge knitted red and white stocking offering images of snowy flakes-reindeer spread around, some mistletoe and holly thrown in, can’t help thinking how alien to our Goan tropical surroundings…where sometimes traditional pines are replaced with poinsettia bushes and Goan sweets of bebinca, dodol, baath, jujubes, colored coconut barfi, kalkals, nevri and so on come in other kind of X’mas goody bags. Forget Christmas or don’t forget it!
This is the hottest Christmas I’m experiencing in Goa and it’s not particularly a happy Christmas when I wish we would get more advertising for the Goan Observer than treats which disappear in double quick time mercifully…but treats don’t help us pay bills at the end of the month. Not that I am not grateful for anything and everything these days having more or less seen the light, don’t ask me what light. Candle light blowing in the wind, may be!

Fine dining at the Wan Hao, Marriott: Admiring the cutest miniature X’mas tree in town… also find the most adventurous Pan-Asian menu here. The Marriott is currently in celebration mode and dolled up in extreme Christmas mode, it is also celebrating its 20th anniversary in Goa… go dekho one of these days and don’t forget their GBC cake shop either, here’s a cosy sit-in to time pass with a sandwich, gelato or cake!


TO move on to other things, some young friends were in town Panaji and we decided to take them to my old favorite at the Miramar Marriott Miramar which these days is dolled up exquisitely with Christmas attire with a Christmas spirit oozing most everywhere (they are also celebrating 20 years of being the pioneering Marriott in Goa and over the years I’ve seen some favorite staff come and go here, miss them every time I go Marriott now…remember Samantha, Elizabeth and Akash and…oh, never mind).
To stay in the present the friends and we agreed that we would step into the Pan-Asian Wan Hao because dinnertime and especially a little early… there is so much peace here at cosy Wan Hao! Diners still had to come and we were pretty much on our own for a while with all attention revolving around us.
The little boy with us was fascinated with the opium bed as part of the Wan Hao décor and went and parked himself atop it, had to be coaxed to come down and drink his seafood soup at least. What’s with children that they don’t listen to their parents nowadays, I was horrified when his mother gave him a quick hard clip behind one of his ears so that his morale collapsed completely and he started howling. I remonstrated a bit, recalling that in my time as a kid if we were disobedient we were told to leave the table which of course nobody wanted to so it was a better idea to stop the sulks and pretty much do whatever was required by way of manners.
If we played at not being hungry there was no food later on in the middle of the night when hunger pangs hit. Better eat at mealtimes or go hungry was the rule. Learn the hard way.
To continue the story, it was a pleasure to be at Wan Hao after a long time and at the Marriott riverside. The music is soothing and soon the little boy Rayan stopped crying and actually said, “I like the music here!” Well, children can be easily distracted from their woes if one tries. I ordered a gin tonic and to my happiness a generous portion of the fresh lemon juice I’d asked for also arrived, I like lots of fresh lemon juice to pour in my gin tonic. It takes so little to make me happy these days! I sipped my lemony gin tonic and then seeing that there a few Malaysian and Indonesian dishes like Malaysian laksa lemak (a sour fish soup with prawn balls in it, an aroma of fresh mint, I used to love out on Penang island once upon a time) and Indonesian Mee Goreng and Po piah je (crispy vegetable and glass noodles roll)…
Then I saw the Clay Pot item numbers and fell for the sound of Tofu & Vegetable Penang Clay Pot (595) and ordered for myself; I thought it would be served with rice but the Khao hom mali or steamed jasmine rice was a separate order. The clay pot dish was delicious enough, had more veggies than silken tofu, and for some reason I don’t know why five-star kitchens use canned coconut milk which is cloyingly sweeter (surely in a state like Goa it can’t be hard to source fresh coconut milk which is not as sweet as canned coconut milk). But my clay pot tofu veg dish was delicious and I wished I’d not ordered just a half portion of the steamed jasmine rice…might as well have ordered a full portion! Well, I enjoyed and the others were happy with their Wan Hao chicken dumplings, sesame crushed ginger pawns, seafood soups. I am too fond of some of Wan Hao item numbers and I wonder why they’ve stopped handing out these delicate wafer-thin triangular cookies which came complimentary as one left in post-prandial satisfaction…I’m thinking of the Wild Mushroom & Pak Choy Dumpling (shitake, wood ear, butter mushroom and pak choy combo), dim sum which I had half a mind to order but did not! Ditto for Po piah je and Indonesian Mee Goreng. The Wan Hao menu is extensive and has quite a range of sushi -- nigiri, maki roll, uramaki roll, favorites of mine. How much can one eat and all that. I played with the idea of Asian Five-Spice Chocolate (445) to wind up but virtuously skipped it and we decided to say au revoir to Wan Hao as other diners started coming in. An occasional dine out at Wan Hao is recommendable because every time I return from Wan Hao my one thought is oriental is so much tastier, lighter, healthier than …er… Goan and Indian! Dinner should always be an oriental affair, especially with the vegetarian versions although the non-vegetarian versions are also oftentimes lighter on the stomach, no?
TALKING of the jasmine rice I think I prefer Maharashtra’s ambe mor rice any day and was delighted to find it at one of the venues of the just over Serendipity Arts Festival. There was a Farmer’s Market put up at the Children’s Park (down Campal promenade more or less opposite the Old GMC building) and it had a lot to offer. This place was so delightful that I felt like going out here to lunch every day while the festival was on. A real cool shade-filled retreat and one of the draws was a vegetarian buffet meal cooked in simple traditional style by community cooks of the Sahyadri region – `300 a cover but I enjoyed it with all the unpolished rice, masoor and matki preparations, sabzi, chutney, papad dal, black rice pudding and so on.
Triple O Farms were showcasing rice varieties of India and also on sale were hand polished rice in half and kilo packs. I couldn’t make up my mind which to buy, the glossy red or the black and then I spied ambe more and couldn’t resist one of my favorite rice variety from Maharashtra – the rice acquires its faint but distinct aroma because it’s grown in paddy fields sharing ground with mango tree orchards, and hence the name “ambe more.” I went back to look again and again at the rice collection…(sigh)…black rice and red pinto beans go into the making of this utterly delicious steaming hot Indonesian/Malaysian breakfast porridge called “bubur chacha” (which you’ll find a lot of construction labor eating out in Sumatra) but I didn’t buy any because I knew I wasn’t going to make it at home. One of these find the recipe and do a bubur chacha if you wish.
Really, Farmer’s Market was my favorite outing throughout Serendipity to re-visit and re-visit, more about it next week while I go find my notes which are forever getting mixed up or lost.

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