UNIQUELY GOAN: What a wonderful world of Goan bread! Shaheen with katricho pao, her parents Alzira & Wilson Gomes… hey, try some wholesome sourdough bread spread with butter/dipped in olive oil-Balsamic vinegar courtesy modern baker and patisserie chef Vandana Naik, (left) relishing bread of life Goan and not-so-Goan. Goa small home bakery loaves come with tantalizing roll-call of names in Konkani like pao, undo, poi, kankon…when in Goa ask for Goan bread!
BY TARA NARAYAN
Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column
These days I can never make up my mind whether I should eat more bread or more rice or neither bread nor rice! I don’t want to eat either but that’s not practical because you know how these two item numbers have become staples in most of our homes including mine.
Recently, I came into close touch with both the story of bread in Goa and rice courtesy the Serendipity Arts Festival in town from December 15 to 22, 2019. That’s when I started wondering, rice or bread, bread or rice. There was a piece de resistance culinary workshop on the local neighborhood poder range of freshly made Goan breads of life; and on the other hand I got fascinated by this spread of rice varieties in India being showcased at the Farmer’s Market in Panaji (also part of Serendipity). So I found myself wondering should I eat bread or more rice and which offers more reasons to live instead of die!
What comes first, rice or bread? Dumb question really. I mean what is more industrialized? Bread of course. Still we have a dazzling range of baked breads and confectionary courtesy European colonial histories and in the countries of the western world baked breads are their staff of life, never mind that bread making has become part of industrial foods and is no longer the homespun affair it used to be once upon a time. Offering wholesome nutrition to keep tummies happy…of course, bread came along with butter, cheese, marmalade, jam, honey and much more, served with double egg omlets and hash brownies, coleslaws, sauces, etcetera.
We know bread has many companions and in Goa the local poder’s boy brings around his basket cachet of husky poie, soft loaves of ladi pau, crusty undo, bangle-shaped kakon (a dry tea-time hard bread which stays good and crisp for months if packed well in air-tight container…dip in tea or coffee or soup and relish). The “Uniquely Goan” bread making workshop at Serendipity naturally attracted a large audience. It was presented by Shaheen Gomes who knows the inside out of Portuguese-time bread baking in a traditional wood fire brick oven, for she is the daughter of traditional bakers or poder couple Alzira and Wilson Gomes.
Gomes agrees that at one time bread was baked with whole wheat flour but that was before refined flour or maida came along and breads became a finer affair. Also in the old days toddy was used to ferment the dough for rising but today it’s hard to find toddy is today and its easier to use dry yeast in bread making. The traditional “podero” (in Portuguese) community are having a hard time because maybe are switching over to the industrial white sliced breads of the market place — which I need not tell you here will never offer half of whatever goodness there is bread as in more honest local poder’s bread – always prefer local bread over factory bread, I’ve always asked for local poie when I eat out.
Some Goan eateries like Café Real and Café Tato have premium quality undo. But to stay with the bread story with Alzira and Wilson Gomes, they had some interesting things to say. Do you know that Goa’s traditional bakers all hail from Marjorda down south Goa although they’re to be found pretty much all over now? It’s a painstaking labor of love and a painstaking livelihood where someone has to get up as early as 4am to get the day’s bread making started, in the old days when families were big, shared Gomes, “for four months one family would bake the bread and the next four months another family would do it…”
Alzira demonstrated how katro pau was neatly cut with the help of a pair of scissors, and poie of course is much loved by diabetes patients for it offers more fiber with wheat husk mixed in dough (although some just pat it on top before pushing the loaves into the pre-heated oven). Wilson says for their poie they do a 50:50 mix and reminisced, “In the old days when we used toddy for fermenting it would take maybe five hours for the dough to rise, using yeast cuts time by two to three hours.” Of course toddy makes for tastier bread but, “we also have the problem of lack of labor today and I wish the government should remove the Rs 4 price per pau or undo bread loaf.”
No they don’t use chemicals to whiten, soften, preserve their bread to give it longer shelf life in the shop. The bread they make has to sell out the same day. The workshop offered invaluable insight into the life and times of a Goan poder’s bread making and I will say there are days when I welcome a fresh, warmly aromatic poie from the oven, split open and spread with melting butter…relish it sitting out on your balcao! Dip, dip, dip in a mug of ginger tea if you wish and enjoy.
THE workshop was also well complemented by equally hardworking modern baker Vandana Naik of Tia Vienne artisanal breads which enjoy an upper crust of society clientele. Vandana said she was inspired by the traditional poder family of Goa and got interested in going out to New York to study the science and art of baking bread and other goodies, “I use only flour, water, salt and culture in my bread making.” And yes, she takes the help of machines for mixing and folding her loaves.
Vandana famous for her sourdough loaves plain or flavored with tomato, other juices and ingredients, to make them distinctly special. She buys her own wheat and mills it to her specifications and if gluten is a problem with some bread lovers, she advices try sourdough bread which would be less damaging, “sourdough breads make for easier digestion.” She makes breads of oat and rye too and uses no jello or improvers in her breads, “for information always read your labels on the bread.”
She is of course a high end bread baker and is dedicated to offering a choice of freshly made breads and other flour products using no preservatives at all. The result is desirable taste and goodness in comparative terms. Needless to reiterate her breads are much loved by bread connoisseurs and if you want to taste them drop by at Café Alfresco at the Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts up at Altinho in Panaji where her menu lists a host of goodies fit for the soul to feed on or so to peak.
Returning to the dilemma of bread or rice, rice or bread! Hindu Goa sees a range of unleavened mainstay bread of life be it chapatti or bhakri of wheat flour, nachne, jowari or bajra flour or…. but I’ll take a call on this right now and without waffling say — I love rice more than bread! Out at the Triple O stall at the Serendipity Farmer’s Market they had a listing of something like 40 rice varieties on display and for sale! It was astounding…Ajara Ghansal rice (semi polished), Ambemohar rice (polished and unpolished), Black Creeper, Black Jack, Black Creeper, Rock, Chak-Hao, Cumin Creeps, DRK, Gobin Bhog, HMT, Indrayani, Jacky Jones, Jai Shri Ram, Kasbai, Konkan Red, Krishna Black , Krishna Kamod (basmati of Gujarat), Navara, Pearly, Pitnis, Red Riding, Royal Mysore, Sahyadri Black, Sahyadri Scarlet, Scented, SIL Indian risotto, Konkana Red Parboiled (soupy rice), Sparrow, Stony, Valsad Kada, Wada Kollam…and more.
If you’re asking me eat more rice but make it hand polished rice of your choice. My choice is always a good basmati or Maharashtra’s ambemohar, also red rice…black rice too. I add a lots of veggies in my rice when making a pulao. Do a tadka or phodni of the veggies with whatever whole garam masala you like (cinnamon stick, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, bay or all spice leaf, nutmeg mace)…I do my pulao tempering in pure desi ghee and love to garnish with lots of green coriander leaves, lemon wedges to squeeze in on the side. Sometimes crispy browned onion slivers.
Hey, there is pulao and pulao and then there is biryani. Remember down south India they serve up some of the most perfectly mouthwatering rice numbers…curd rice, lemon rice, tamarind rice, pongal (combo of rice and roasted green moong dal), vangibhat, mostly savory and sometimes sweet rice affairs of the very best kind. I’m thinking Punjab’s just so wee-ly sweetish kesari chaval! India is more about the rice of the good earth than baked bread. Although I say this with some reservations, given a choice of rice or sourdough bread, I may choose the bread every time…so it is really ha, ha, ha, ho, ho, ho!