Celebrating the best India has to offer, come together at SAF-2023! At the INOX courtyards culinary excellence ruled and one got to taste Chef Thomas Zacharias & Team’s curated menus and side presentations of local veggies…all kinds of tubers, the star fruit, the bitter gourd, the bottle gourd, etcetera, free tasting sessions! A razzmatazz of talks, culinary workshops and films brought home the real message of food security. There were millet salads, chicken satay, Goan shagoti and Italian gelato to buy and enjoy in hungry moments…nothing free here though, all priced. Apart from the INOX courtyards there were more foodie goodies out at the breezy Art Park across the road of the old GMC palace, most folk preferred rest and recreate here for lunchtime, more economically priced eats were here!(top r) Fardeen Borah described local veggies to visitors (L) Chef Thomas Zacharias doing a selfiee pose with a young visitor from Pune.

By Tara Narayan

YOU want to be locavore? Be one, please! If you want to live a sustainable lifestyle in love with Mother Earth first, second and last. What an interesting word locavore is. I understand it’s been coined by the on-going Serendipity Arts Festival’s Food Lab team led by Chef Zakaria Abraham – lacavore. Meaning you want to eat local first, using local ingredients of the seasons as they come and go.
This year my robot phone failed me and I wasn’t do much by way of putting it to good use. What do we do with these ultra digitally run festivals when smartphone runs out of power, it is chok-a-blok with data, it goes crazy? No options? In a world where we have always had a myriad options our options are being narrowed down to pure tyranny of digital technology run amuck. If you don’t mind me saying so.
This month my smartphone in hand has really bheja-fried me and I had to play it cool. So what I don’t book and attend some of the any number of cultural, culinary, art, literature, music and theatre workshops or sessions which something like 7,000 fans (from one reported count booking up and paying Rs99 for some of the events, Rs1 small change is bonus naturally for no one is disgracefully rude enough to ask for Rs1 back, it’s the ethics of Rs99 in business everywhere which I disapprove of in principle).
And I thought the SAF — where everybody is supposed to get together for a larger philanthropic cause – was a philanthropist’s gift to Goa! Or of course I may be just carping here for there was a mad rush for all the paid events – mostly theatre and culinary events. It’s a nominal price but to curb the rush it may go up next year.
SAF is far superior to what the destructive in mind and body, heart and soul Sunburn festival later this month is – SAF’s repertoire of theme workshops and session are truly educative, pleasurable and rewarding say 75% of the time. It’s charm is that it offers so much food for thought – a veritable smorgasbord of mindboggling stuff – that one may be choosy if one cares to go through the guidebook (this too Rs99 this year, but it’s a neat, useful handbook) with the day to day events listed fairly comprehensively.

I’m sorry I could attend only some of the culinary workshops and sessions. The Food Lab events were a mix of the wholesome and trivial and I dare say it’s the gregarious Chef Thomas Zacharius (of Bombay Canteen fame) who coined the word “locavore” and hence his company The Locavoreve with its team of amazing young folk for whom the salvation of the future lies in food security and eating local, local, local…er…before global passions which seem to be creating havoc in our lifestyles of plenty.
IF there’s one session which I loved at SAF it’s the one in which the SPS Community Media people screened a fascinating documentary titled “Mhari Topli Ma Ambadi” (a Gujarati story of “Roselle In My Basket” somewhere in village Narmada valley in Gujarat where a whole lot of water comedies and tragedies have been happening).
Here we’re talking of the old systems of collecting food from the wild such as the ambadi plant which offers leaves as saag and the tight translucent red sour fruit for immediate curries or drying for the rainy season ahead. The villagers work very hard harvesting their wild food to live hardy frugal yet happy lives which give way to “development” of the spoilt urban kind when gen next wants to earn money in a hurry any which way right or wrong in the long run. So much so an utterly charming old-timer in the film cracks that nowadays her children look older than her! Really, a devastating and revealing comment. Other interwoven stories are of a Natukaka who remembers the glorioius rainfall of four months once upon a time when wild mushrooms were abundant for the picking, but now all that wild bounty has shrunk with the shrinking forest lands (and hence the ghost of food insecurity haunting the future and driving today’s terribly divisive and nutritionally starved wealthy yet un-educated societies at the top of the pyramid of the good life – or so to speak). The ironies are manifold as they unfold in this narrative of old times, new times, reaffirming that we need to go back to old times in some ways to have a sustainable future for all on the good earth.

Right, become a locavore from today. At this particular session participants got a little eco-friendly leafy pudi of rice, ambadi-enriched dal and a drop of red chilli chutney…a hand full really but the flavour of this bit of “prasadam” is priceless. I could eat this every day and be perfectly happy. Go look for “ambadi” and don’t confuse this with the Goan “ambade” – I know in Kartanaka they called it “gongura” and a most dulcetly fiery gongura pickle is a bestseller in most homes – a divinely tartish pickle, a bit can bring any meal alive and to live for or die for, whatever you prefer. To live for naturally.
Wish I could have attended more of the Food Lab workshops and sessions at the on-going Serendipity Arts Festival which took place in capital city Panjim from December 15 to 23, 2023! You must know it’s the annual festival of art and culture, including culinary culture past, present and future. Other sessions in this category were also absolutely a treat in which one never thought of before – for instance there was this enthusiastic Fardin Borah talking to visitors interested about getting to know local market veggies and fruit of Goa.
So one evening there were these tantalizing recipes using the lovely translucently golden green fruit of the starfruit, also utterly delicious vitamin C-rich fruit carambola (Averrhoa carambola, a species of tree native to tropical Southeast Asia. This ridged fruit is lovely to look at, cut into slices you get a picture perfect starry presentation. This easily perishable fruit is may be served in relishes, preserves, as a garnish and also juiced. In Southeast Asia and my old hometown of Penang I remember loving it in a local salad mix called “rojak.” Sublime fruit salad to beat all fruit salads.
You may find the lovely starfruit piled with the small vendors outside a school or in very local marketplaces – along with green tamarind, ripe tamarind, green mango slices, semi-ripe tota mango slices laced with bit salt, various local berries or “bor” (in Gujarati)…and star fruit or carambolas are one of the most lustrous of fruit. Cut them into stars or cubes or nuggets and serve them as fiery hor d’ourve at your next get-together. Yummillicious! A word I’m coining, okay.
ANOTHER afternoon in this culinary series were featured sweet potatoes, all cooked, pasted and offered up as “sheera” served up for tasting in eco-friendly ice-cream stick spoons, also featuring in “sev-puri”…another time it was these utterly irresistible tapioca wafers, so…ooooy agreeable (I will never touch any seductive Lays packet again!) after this. This locavore item number can put all other crunchies we love to feast on in an idle moment out of packets to shame!
Needless to reiterate the idea in these culinary daily series was to introduce locals to their own local market produce, presented in different ways – as in local veggies, local fruit, local food. For ideal nutrition and living happily ever after. Hey, let’s become locavores quickly now before the food industry moghuls-cum-monsters wave their evil magic wand and everything disappears into industrial junk food laced with sugar, salt and hydro fats to contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and the rest of it.
Have you ever wondered how much sugar, salt and killer fats we feast on courtesy our spoilt urban fast food-drugged palate? No wonder we end up in hospitals sooner than we want to or ever want to. Not joking. My ideal lifestyle would be to avoid hospitals and doctors till a convivial doomsday arrives whenever…preferably outdoors beneath a peepal tree with all its heart-shaped cooling green leaves fluttering in the wind like so many prayers to the bosom and womb of Mother Earth! Never mind the idealism here, join the growing number of locavores in our world locally and globally. That’s my message going out for all readers here. And yes, thank-you Serendipity for the few joys of life made possible this December 2023!

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