Date with a Clause 

If anyone asked me how I envisioned my Christmas at the start of the month, I would have scoffed at the idea and barked of my role as the Grinch this coming season. Flashback to an impromptu meeting at a Saturday night market followed by a late night bike ride with a beautiful stranger had me chimney down a different tune. Whilst many you folk went for midnight mass with refreshments and cake post (yes, I ain’t no heathen, I went for one as well), to the festive Christmas dances around Goa till the wee hours of the morning- I had an agenda in place. For all the single guys reading this, listen up. An invitation to a home cooked meal for a lady is sure brownie points on any given Sunday, and a double whammy at that when it happens to be Christmas. Donning the apron I had a plan in mind. An aperitif, salad and dessert were on the menu. Pre-planned and decided on our first encounter itself.
 For the sake of coveted ambiguity- Annie hails from Norway, is ambidextrous, loves her veggies and on occasion meets Mr. Clause from time to time. Yeah, they are practically neighbors, proximity wise. Cooking up a meal required something quick and easy yet spelt chic and sophisticated. Keeping it traditional had me research and play around with the Eggnog donning the aperitif quadrant. Did you know- culinary historians still debate its exact lineage; most agree eggnog originated from the early medieval Britain “posset,” a hot, milky, ale-like drink. By the 13thcentury, monks were known to drink a posset with eggs and figs. Milk, eggs, and sherry were foods of the wealthy, so eggnog was often used in toasts to prosperity and good health. The Coconut Eggnog had a local touch of Goa infused. A pack of full fat coconut milk, 2 cups light coconut milk, 4 egg yolks, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and always some extra nutmeg for service. I just combined all the ingredients in the basin of a blender and blended away till they were well-combined and frothy and chilled it. Why did I do this you asked? Compared to the traditional Eggnog recipe made with milk, cream and eggs, dairy-free nog made from coconut milk has about half the calories and a fraction of the fat. It’s surprisingly creamy, and the coconut flavor may trick you into thinking you’ve already added a shot of rum (saving you about 100 calories.) Yes, I’m considerate like that.

 Ever Dated a Carrot with Feta in a salad? No pun intended, I assure you. All one needs is 3 carrots, 2 tsp chopped coriander, 1.5 tsp of extra virgin olive oil, 2 tsp honey, salt, juice of 1 lime, ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese, 2 tsp of chopped toasted almonds, 2 tsp finely chopped dates. A 20-minute parallel process has one thinly slice the carrots into ribbons using a vegetable peeler or mandolin, including any remaining “stubs” of carrot. Its important to note that you have to soak it in ice water until the ribbons firm up and curl, about 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Whisk together the cilantro, olive oil, honey, half a teaspoon salt and the limejuice in a medium bowl. Add the carrots along with the feta cheese, almonds and dates, and toss until evenly combined

 That didn’t stop there. With Christmas carols for good measure, I topped it off with Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you” and served her the piece-de-resistance- Poached Pears in spiced tea pudding. And people say, I’m not a romantic. Scoff! A 15 minute preparation required 50g golden caster sugar, 1tsp honey, 4 luscious strawberries, 2 spiced tea bags (I infused strawberry cream and peppermint), 2 pears halved and scooped with a spoon, little orange juice zest and yogurt. You start off putting the sugar, honey in a big saucepan with 600 ml water and bring it to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the pear halves, then cover and simmer until the pears are just tender – do poke them with a skewer to check. Lift out the pears, then turn up the heat, throw in the strawberries and boil for a few minutes until syrupy. Serve them pears, with warm syrup poured over and a spoonful of yogurt. Move over to the simmering bonfire in my backyard on a nippy night with toasted marshmallows and a blanket for company, it definitely began to look a lot like Christmas for sure. 

 

 

 

Ready.Set.Jump 

“Welcome to the jungle,” said the spider to the fly. You enter at ease, with dense scenic foliage around. Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary- a wildlife-protected sanctuary has an eclectic range of flora and fauna species nestled deep in the heart of South Goa. Painted billboards along the way, a guide to the forest dwellers inhabiting the jungle– king cobra, kraits, Russell vipers and the common rat snake and the elusive leopard and many species of spider and scorpion. Deep within the jungle is a hidden treasured extreme activity- Canyoning. An exhilarating technique-oriented sport, its activities range from walking, abseiling, wading and swimming through waist deep and open waters, scrambling, climbing, jumping and sliding down natural slopes. Imagine, Indiana Jones wet dream.

 Three guides, with a cumulative 25 years of experience, direct each expedition. Being a moderately risk defined activity- Safety is paramount. Medical kits are on standby– water, helmets and harnesses with a wet suit provided. Instructions are delivered post the signing, of a surreal consent form. It’s more dissuasive than persuasive. One has to be moderately fit, not afraid of snakes or spiders, and have no fear of water or heights.

 The jeep meanders an uphill road, a few grunts and shrieks later; arrives at the destination. You tread the off beaten path no more than a few feet wide with loose gravel and strewn spider webs on the earth’s floor for company. It’s humid and the smell of wet earth engulfs the air. There are ascents, which run 75o inclines that get you huffing & puffing. Itchy cacti stand guard to the river like militia. It gives you the sense of a quest for lost treasure – a secret to be discovered. One is allowed multiple breaks and the guides – Clement, Vlad and Philip – are an enthusiastic laugh riot. Their jabber makes the trek bearable. The sound of cascading water can be heard beyond the dense foliage ahead. The course charts 3kms in total, yet having barely crossed a kilometer, the lactic acids in ones legs start to build up.

 Standing at the cliff’s edge, one realizes there’s no turning back. Once underway, the way out is seeing it through the end. The Sauri River majestically makes its way over rocks and boulders with numerous waterfall drops in the distance. 

At a point in a deep cove, resides Brian- a water snake. Luck in their favor, the guides catch the elusive irate reptile and can make a formal introduction on request. The canyon puts one to the test, and chances to conquer it are high, though with a few minor nicks and scratches and a multitude of tumbles in tow expected. The ending for this beginner course is far more theatrical, to say the least. The last rappel against gushing water from up above, one is informed of the rope holding self is a few meters short. The only way left, is to let go!! Fear not, the water below embraces the fall tenderly much to the impish grins of the guides above. A sense of accomplishment beckons on departure amidst tired bones and muscle aches – which would have one ready to repeat this again. Or maybe it would be the adrenaline talking; longing to see Brian, once again.

 A great place to stay at is La Mangrove. A blink-and-miss eco resort in Katebag, it offers a modern tipi concept opposite a serene mangrove. An idyllic, tipi accommodation and river lounge garden in South-Goa, only 5 minutes by cycle from the beautiful protected Galgibag Beach, also known as Turtle Beach. It’s located in an authentic and charming Goan Catholic village, 25 minutes from the famous Palolem beach. The river lounge is a ‘bubble of fresh air,’ a place to escape from the hustle & bustle of life. 

A panoramic view of what expects you at La Mangrove 

The view transcends your senses to an alternate realm of peace and calm with only the occasional egret and Brahmin kite for company. Being an eco resort that’s one with nature, the tipis come with open-to-sky bathrooms and thatched walls right behind each with a common meeting and dining area right next to the mangrove. The reception is good with free wi-fi and a delectable organic menu to choose from.

 Perfect for an early morning awakening, with a hot cup of tea to watch the sun rise from behind the riverbed far ahead.

La Mangrove has an exclusive sitting area facing the river and mangrove. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared daily with organic foods by their chef from a set menu. Serving a range of Indian, Tibetian & Continental -a must try is their La Mangrove Momos, Pasta a la carbonara, Tentuk soup. 

The deep fried chocolate momo’s with vanilla ice cream is a must try. 

The breakfast is part of the package with a choice of continental and a healthy option. The food prepared is fresh and wholesome. 

A scrumptious continental spread to start the day at La Mangrove 

Another option is 10 minutes away on Turtle Beach at Santosh Bar & Restaurant. Known for his fresh fish and recommended by Jamie Oliver you should ask for the catch of the day. 

Fresh catch of the day. Basic. Scrumptious. 

An unforgettable sunset amidst the crashing waves

Word of Advice: 

  • Avoid Canyoning if you suffer from arachnophobia
  • Canyoning is best done between October and March
  • If you suffer from any serious medical conditions it is best to avoid this activity as it is very strenuous on ones body.
  • There are a variety of levels to accomplish depending on fitness levels.

Tour Operator: It is recommended you book your stay through the website http://www.lamangrovegoa.com for the best deals. Thibault can be contacted on +91 8408086365 or lamangrovegoa@gmail.com

For the canyoning experience it is best booked with Emanuel Ferre the owner of Goa Jungle Adventure. He can be contacted on +919850485641 or manu@goajungle.com


 This article was written for Lonely Planet Magazine as part of their Easy trips. No part of this publication  can be reproduced without prior consent/ approval of LPMI. 

Chocolate momos, Fresh catch, breakfast, panoramic views, hammock Pic courtesy by Nolan Mascarenhas Photography. Shot on Iphone6. Images for main article shot by Sameer Mangtani.

mr. NObody and The Goan 

Hello one and all. Currently living out of my suitcase, managed to have a lovely chat with the folks at The Goan recently. 

A lovely tete-e-tete with Kurt Bento about the world of mr. NObody and his views on the world of gastronomy. 

The full interview with mr. NObody. 
  

What prompted you to do this culinary journey to different cities and countries over the past months? And where do you go? 

mr. NObody is a lifestyle blogger,showcasing travel and food from India and the world. This year the focus is on quest for the Michelin trail and South East Asia as a region. So far he has travelled to Dubai for the ‘Eat the World Food  Festival’ followed by a Michelin starred restaurant by Vineet Bhatia and Bangkok for another two starred chef. A few institutional restaurants were on the list which included Bread Street by Gordon Ramsey, Zuma in Abu Dhabi and Long table in Bangkok. 

You’re mr. NObody,aren’t you? Why the avatar? 

I grew up in a world where everyone places a value on self importance. Everyone today is a somebody or wishes to be one. With a pun on the word NO- Nolan and heavily inspired by the lyrics of Marilyn manson and his song ‘The Nobodies‘ growing up, the character was born. It’s my satirical take on the importance of man. 

You’ve been to some interesting and new innovative places in Mumbai/Delhi, tell us about them. 

Interesting would be an understatement. Some insanely creative, to knock ones senses silly. For example, Ziya in Mumbai – for a special preview of the Jugalbandi festival comprising of three Michelin starred chefs coming to blend Italian, India and Far East Asian (Japanese predominately) for a 8 course meal of gastronomic delights, with a touch of class or panache eating on a limited edition gold plated crockery from Italy. A true master piece of opulence and flavorsume creativity; indeed. 

The crowd in Mumbai/Delhi respond to new places, new innovations in food etc. Goa doesn’t have that big a market base, so do you think we’ll ever see that kind of innovation here?

Mumbai and Delhi are the yin & yang sisters of the culinary food world. The buzz is eclectic, vibrant and cut throat thus raising the standards of the consumers culinary palate. Restauranteurs bring their ‘A’game, day in and out in order to survive, let alone thrive. The consumers are globally aware- hence being up to date and abreast of the latest happenings is a must. A concept is only good for an few years, at most,as most customers fatigue of the same as soon as they have adopted the same.  A few restaurants however have stood the test of time and retained their legacy till date. For upcoming entrepreneurs it’s an exciting time to get into the culinary field indeed. A challenge ,so to speak with a huge payoff if done right. Goa;  I am pleased to note is opening up to the same given the same customer base who flock to the location as a relaxing party destination. Speciality restaurants are sprouting up and I have been witness to an iota of the innovations at standalone and starred properties alike. So, I am quite pleased. 

With the advent of social media and the Internet, identifying a Michelin recipe demonstration and trying ones hand at it, has become accessible. Many creative chefs here have showcased their wares which I have highlighted in a dedicated article on my blog. 

Your experience at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant in Dubai was interesting. Tell us about that. 



For starters, no food was thrown out the kitchen, neither did it have anyone leave for the main door crying. Then again its probably cause he was at the Oscars during my visit there.

 On a serious note, I have had a brief meeting with him earlier and he is a gem of a person. I was amazed for a multitude of reasons. First, the simplicity in a world of complexity and too much happening on ones plate. His ethos is simple. Wholesome food to be shared is the motto. The portions are huge. There is no fancy plating-just presentable. 

The kitchen is a dream and its line mechanism is splendid to the view of an orchestra pyramid setting. After all dishing out service that ensures ones order reaches the table in under 7 minutes for a 400 odd seater restaurant- is symphony at play. 

The little nuances- details from subliminal design to belt buckles of the server being the Union Jack flag, adds the finness to a well oiled machine and keen eye. 5 dishes consumed including dessert and my meal ended before it started- In 30 minutes flat. Quite an interesting case study. 

Tell us about Michelin and its latest craze that has gripped many foodies around.  

It’s interesting you ask that question. What I love about Michelin is the origination of the concept. How a tyre company got into the world of food and being reverred as one of the most sought after institutions to be associated with. In my limited tryst with a few chefs associated with it, it’s the level of commitment and creativity in the subjectivity of cuisine and marrying a few to create ‘nuvo cuisine’ that drives them. 

It’s exhilarating to see the passion exuded in the quest for something that is terrifying as well as visually stimulating as some foods do not play well with others. A dish could go completely awry and that’s the risk they take day in and out, to get the perfect concoction. A work of edible art in a matter of speaking. Also another philosophy I truly appreciate is the concept of less is more. Given today’s need to try and sample as much as one can digest in one sitting, emphasis of less is more in a portion- is something they are masters off. 

This adds to a lot of creativity as well as a whole rounded meal as a by product, leaving the customer to experience a holistic dining experience while at it. 

 What is the common thread with modern restaurants today. How do they change things up?

Restauranting today is evolving into an art form for many. Visual appeal is the call for hour in an age of Instagram and social media. ‘Eat with ones eyes‘ is the moniker many restraunteer folk are banking on. And everyone, (self included) is on a Michelin sojourn- to experiment, pair and follow the latest trends of mixing and pairing cuisines from across the world. It’s a format that is adopted which is acceptable to many. Small and precise with immense visual appeal to intice the wow factor in consumers. 

Having said that its great to see the level of creativity used to make dining an ‘experience‘ instead of just dishing out voluminous plates of curries and gravies with side garnishes as an after thought measure. The trend indeed,is, in a momentous change for the better. 

South East Asian food is always light and healthy. Can we learn from the Thais and Malaysians when it comes to creating healthier and lighter food? 

I believe it’s universal. Leaving aside an ethnicity of sorts, many cultures have hidden treasures which are globally adopted. Take for example Greek and Mediterranean food. It’s light. Filled with wholesome goodness from the oils to salads made. 

In my opinion, a big error in the past,in the Indian context was the trifecta of oil, sugar & salt and loads of spice plastered across dishes to make it platable for the end consumer. This would be wrong on so many levels as the flavour emitted from certain meats and vegetables would get lost in the preparation. That trend is nearly extinct due to change in pattern of the evolved customer who are adapting to a lighter, less portioned served healthier lifestyle of dishes. The calorie conscious customer is defining the trend these days. 

What’s your go to cuisine, apart from Goan food? And if you had a chance to cook just one dish for your culinary idol, what would it be? Are you a good cook, btw? 

mr. NObody is a culture vulture. In a current frame of mind, I am fresh off Thai herbs and spices and am tripping on pad Thai noodles- relished at an ashram in Thailand. However right before that I was in love with the simplistic spice rub on a lovely kebab in Abu Dhabi. Thyme and herbs salt rubbed on succulent meats grilled to perfection. 

However, I love to experiment with salads and greens as a daily detox diet when I’m not working my tastebuds to the ground. Cooking for my culinary idol is tough one. First and foremost living in a household of food writers and hospitality professionals my writing is under scrutiny let alone my cooking skills. 

For those who know me, my love for barbecues is paramount. So it would probably be something on the spit with a refreshing mock tail/cocktail for company. Perhaps a good oriental seasoning rub over a local fish. 

A good cook? One and all are invited over and let me know your thoughts post.