GOA’S SUMMER DRINK IS CAJU NEERO!

Summer Temptations: Above at Fruitilicious, Caranzalem, all kinds of cooling fruit juices and veggie cocktails; that is entrepreneur Geoffrey Fernandes…. also has red dragon fruit sometimes!

By Tara Narayan

EVERYDAY I pine for some fresh niro to beat the heat! And I’ve been seeing these plastic bottles of fresh neero on sale at Rs100-110-120 per litre at Panaji’s morning gauti pavement market, but much though I value the cashew apple’s fresh nectar called niro or neero (precursor of urak which is spirited) I wasn’t buying it! I was on the verge of buying when my friend Sandesh Naik, who’s a hardworking artwork restoration artist, got a bounty of niro which he happily shared with me. He said, “This is extra specially refined niro and not the market version, you will love it more!”
And I loved it more as I finally took my first long sip of the cashew apple season’s fresh niro and ahhhhh…reconfirm that it is the one drink like no other which quenches summer thirst on a hot afternoon in Goa. Cheers but I wish fresh niro was available in all my favorite local Goan eateries from Café Real to Café Tato, and Café Bhonsale in Panaji! The many bars of Goa don’t offer niro. For some reason nobody takes niro seriously and even if they have it they won’t offer it to you for love or for money; they insist they have urak instead, take urak or feni, both of which have an alcohol percentage the older it matures.
What is niro or neero? Well, from what I understand the fragrant ornamental looking cashew apples are harvested April-May in Goa: First they are crushed and the first juice collected goes towards distilling feni; the secondary juice is set aside for urak; and the final squeezing of the cashew apple beneath a solid stone yields a clear liquid called niro…it is refined to acquire a clarity of vodka! Of course, drink it on the rocks like I like it! That’s what I did over two days finishing my bottle of niro and now there’s only a washed out empty bottle glaring back at me like maybe I should not have been greedily thirsty!

Goa’s most special summer thirst quencher niro… its the final extraction from the cashew apple, mildly sweet and thinly refreshing, with a hint of the flavour of the fruit of the lovely ripe cashew apple. Hard to find! You have to get it from contacts you may have at cashew apple processing places.


Urak is also agreeable after niro but one can get high on it for it’s 15% alcoholic or more…fresh urak of the season is also a treat if not too alcoholic. I find fairly fresh urak most agreeable with lemon juice in it and the rim of the glass salted finely, followed by a ros omlet and khatrecho pau or uno, slices of chepnim mango.
At one time when big bhatkar Khaitan Martin was alive at his historical Martin’s Corner hideout at Miramar beach, I used to go out there to relish things Goan and he was a gentleman of the old school with many a captivating story to tell. When I first came to Goa I discovered the combo of ros omlet-pao but the sliced chepnichyo tora (salt water pickled green mango) was what I relished the most, the real chepnim would have a small seed within and not large hard mango stone! Lots of pineapple slices, which a group of vendors would bring around, you buy the whole pineapple, they slice it with sharp knife super professionally and pile the slices on a banana leaf for you to enjoy as and when you wish.
HEY, there’s lots of jamun coming into the market too these days, and jackfruit, apart from the mangoes of course which are still pricy at Rs400-Rs500-600 per dozen. I’ll wait till end-April before buying any mangoes although I’m quite fond of the firm totapuri which is the most economical to buy, it has a pleasant sweetness without being overwhelmingly cloying in sweetness. Even pairi is selling at Rs400 I don’t know why. Most pine for the most expensive table mangoes like the Goan mankurad or afoos from Ratnagiri, Goan afoos tends to be fibrous and good only for squeezing into ras or puree to savor with piping hot puri or masala puri. Haven’t had this combo for a long time. Time to feast out on mangoes is around the corner!
Goan farmer Nestor Rangel is promoting his bumper harvest of so christened Maya mangoes which are reportedly Israeli in origin. They look very pretty with their pinkish golden blushes, selling at Rs600 dozen though, competing with the best mankurad! You’ll have to contact him for the mangoes though….Maya, means life is all illusionary, remember that when you’re tucking into them.

FRUITILICIOUS WAY TO GO THIS SUMMER!
I WONDER if my friend Geoffrey Fernandes of Fruitilicious Juice Bar is offering any mango juice or cut mango dressed in fresh cream these hot summer evenings? I met Geoffrey years ago when he started his dream fruit juice bar next to Jerome Mendes’ Leonoras half way down the highway to Margao – he was pioneering fresh fruit and veggie juices, cut fruit, fruit milk shakes, etc, and I was amazed, for it was a risky business. I had given him a glowing write-up then and told him to come to Panaji soon! He did and opened at Patto where he did good business for increasingly folk are getting used to virtues of drinking fruit and fruit-cum-veggie juices.
My favorite used to be carrot-beetroot and once I remember asking him to do celery shots (having just discovered the wonderful properties of celery, very alkalinizing)…I’d given Geoffrey a glowing write-up in this column itself if I remember right, and wished him oodles of luck for his much welcomed venture. Then lost touch with him.
Well, just a little before Lent and Easter I was delighted to discover him anew, this time at his brand new Fruitilicious Fruit Bar at Caranzalen, a hop, skip and jump away from where I stay now. So I caught up with him exchanging notes, no mangoes had arrived yet but his new compact outlet is attractive and offers his usual extensive and creative fruit bar menu — primarily fruit juices, fruit/veggie combo juices, fruit salads of choice, some creative salads too. The one with moon sprouts is desirable!
A dazzling menu really, he had red dragon fruit with him and made me taste some of it. Red dragon fruit? That’s rare, usually inside it’s all creamy crunchy flesh…but this one came with red crunchy flesh with all the mesmerizing “seeds” flashing back, hypnotizing the senses. How is it, Geoffrey asked and I said it lacked the flavor of the usual dragon fruit. Once these dragon fruit came from Thailand presumably but now farmers are growing them in Goa too.
I tell Geoffrey nowadays I’m looking for generously made sprout salads, Russian and Waldorf salads, chickpea-arugula lettuce salad…coleslaws with deep orange pear tomatoes tucked sweetly into it, can’t even find a tartish German sauerkraut or peppery Korean kim chi worth buying.
Somebody has come out with some fancy microgreen chutney bottles and I look at them at Magsons and the come lately Delphino’s at Taleigao (both near the church) but I’ve yet to taste them. Delphino’s has the largest floor space and offers more with an irresistible range of breads (made in their own bakery on the first floor of the building), I wish they would include freshly made millet roti in their venture of breads for I’m looking for nachne/ragi and jowahari roti nowadays. Check out the Delphino breads…olive and sourdough is here!
I notice nowadays there’re all kinds of cheeses and hummus being marketed (traditional chickpeas but also lentils and one friend presented me with alsana beans hummus which was revolting). Naturally, the supermarket repertoire is terribly pricy at Rs200 plus, plus; I’d rather do fresher, simpler, superior stuff at home if somebody would come keep me company and eat with me.
These sweaty days of summer when the trees are over blooming away outdoors one really feels like living on lemon juice spiked buttermilks and salads for lunch. Aam ka panna of course but the chaat-spiked one, not the heavy sweet version. But this is to say check out Fruitilicious at Caranzalen one of these days and say hello to Geoffrey (he is married now), a pomegranate juice a day may keep the coronavirus monster at bay! A friend tells me she owes her smooth glowing complexion to feasting on pomegranate seeds in curd every evening, she also matures her home curd with raisins in it…heat milk, when warm add in washed raisins and “jamao” or curd culture it. Next morning: A surprising home-made raisin curd! I haven’t done it yet but it’s said to be all kinds of good things. Also, have you ever tried making curd-rice using Mandarin orange segments, peeled of course, stir in gently at the table by way of final mix-in touch.
(Sigh) Those days are gone when I loved to cook! Nowadays I only want to go looking for places like Geoffrey’s Fruitlicious to look at the green fruity landscapes up in the backdrop posters! Very cooling to spend some time here. Hey Geoffrey, why don’t you also serve cashew apple niro, it’s a health-conscious drink of the best seasonal kind you know, and since you’re a niz Goenkar you have better excess to it I’m sure!

GLUTATHIONE STORY
FINALLY, with creepy crawly coronavirus mutating away happily you may value this bit of information. Apart from loading up on vitamin C and D and steam inhalations twice a day, I now learn that my friend (of course he is not my friend, I just like to pretend to myself that he is!) Dr Shiva Ayyadurai of the US of A is educating his “Truth Freedom Health warriors” about the master anti-oxidant of them all — glutathione!
What’s glutathione? A “tripeptide of cysteine, glycin and glutamine amino acids.” It’s most abundant in body beautiful when we’re oozing with youth and contributes majorly towards homeostasis…go read up about all this yourself and sign on for his Monday video talks. All I want to say here in short is probably most of us sick lot need more glutathione in our life to feel young again!
You may check out the vashiva.com online sites and maybe order something called “mV25” (a health supplement which offers “offers optimal synergies”) or something called “NAC” (supports liver health)…but this glutathione is super anti-neurodegenerative. Of course can be found in fruit and veggies, including almonds. Which reminds me my mother at one point of time when we were young used to make us eat five overnight soaked and peeled almonds for breakfast! It’s also an Ayurveda prescription, soaked almonds. They better be organically cultivated almonds, the Afghani and Kashmiri ones are best. Hey, put some glutathione in your life!

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