Saturday 15 October 2011

Being a Vegetarian in Goa

I have blogged before here about my old bosses John and Jo, who I used to work with in a restaurant until they emigrated from south east England to Goa in south west India. Jo is a vegetarian and kindly agreed to guest blog to give an insight into what it is like being a vegetarian in Goa. 

Hi, I am Joanne. Since leaving the hectic life of restaurants and bars, six years ago, my husband John and I have had the most wonderful time spending it in Goa and Malaysia. That is why Clare asked me to write about my experiences of being a vegetarian in Goa.

First, I would like to make it clear that Goa is a small state; my experiences here may not be the same in the cities, such as Mumbai, Bangalore, or Delhi.

When we first came to Goa, I can honestly say shopping was a complete culture shock. Being used to jumping in a car and dashing to Tesco or Asda, and buying everything under one roof, was not the protocol here. To begin with, we had no car, so we would take a rickety bus into the nearby town, of Panajigo to ten different shops, as well as the veg and fruit market. This would usually take most of the day.

Things changed once we had the car. I found a mini mart on the main highway, smaller than a Tesco Extra, but sells all the dry products that I need for a week. I also get my pulses from here, they are already weighed and bagged, at the shop with also a use by date, they become a few rupees more but in the market, lentils and beans are stored in sacks, and goodness only knows what has got inside them. (More about that later.)

Over the last few years larger supermarkets have appeared. I do use them, but as they are in the tourist areas, they are very sneaky. On most products printed on the packet, tin or bottle is a manufacture date, best before x amount of months and the rupee price. What you have to be sure to look for is that they have not put their own price sticker over the rupee price, and marked it up, covered over the sell by date, or even more cheeky, are selling items that should be free with other products. For example, buy 1 washing up liquid and get a bottle of window cleaner free and they sell the free window cleaner for market price.

What I find I miss the most is my soya products. Soya meat is sold, but very 70’s, dried granules or soya chunks that need to be soaked overnight, and drained really well. It took me a while to get the texture right, in the end I gave up on the instructions. I pour boiling water on the granules then leave it for a good 1-2hours, then drain for another 2 hours in a colander, leave it overnight in the fridge, by the next day it is more or less like frozen soya meat.

I must say the chunks are like eating a bath sponge!

Vegetables and fruit, you can’t go wrong here. Tomatoes, onions, and Potatoes 20 rupees a kilo, (25p)

This is my normal weekly vegetables and fruit, all this £8

The reason I use so many tomatoes, is that tinned tomatoes and cook in sauces are very expensive; it is much more cost effective to make my own with fresh tomatoes. Curry sauces are in an abundance, they are in powder form, just add water or yoghurt, but I find these all taste the same.

As you can see veg is not a difficult thing to buy, and cheap, that is why I cannot understand why veggie curries here comprise of teeny tiny bits of cauliflower, green beans, potato, carrot and green pepper. Salad too is a great bugbear with me, a side plate of shredded cabbage, onion, cucumber, and carrot, with watered down mayo, and they charge you over a pound for this!

The markets certainly have no hygiene standards, garbage is a big problem, outside is littered with wicker baskets full of rotting fruit and veg, which has an unbearable smell either when it is hot or the rainy season, and the garbage is floating down the street. It is not uncommon when you are picking through your veg for you to see a cockroach dart under the nearest tomato, or see the odd rat scamper out of a sack. I make sure when I get home I soak all the veg, and then rinse it again before I put it in the fridge.

When we went to Singapore, I invested in a slow cooker and this has been a godsend. Soups here are nothing to shout about, even in restaurants you are given good old Maggi soup, and generally with a layer of grease from being cooked in a wok. The slow cooker is on every day, cooking a different soup, and excellent for cooking casseroles ready and waiting after a day on the beach.

In all the years I have been here, I can honestly say that the restaurants which sell good vegetarian food are in the North and South of Goa. Most have an excellent choice of international as well as Indian and Chinese vegetarian food. Sadly, you can only go to these restaurants in season time, October – April. Around my area, of Candolim, Calangute, and Baga, I find the vegetarian options very limited, usually of poor quality, and much more expensive compared to Arambol in the North and Palolem in the south. You naturally think India, and vegetarian food. Well Goa is predominantly a Catholic state; hence, you will find most menus selling Goan specialties, all containing meat, fish, or poultry. The most common being their fish curry. Mind you if a meat-eating tourist saw in what conditions the meat was sold in, then there would be an increase of vegetarians! There was also a recent report in the paper that more Hindus are now eating meat, fish, and poultry.

Therefore, when I am out for an evening, I always opt for the tandoori paneer, a creamy cheese that is made from milk and lemon juice, hung in muslin then the moisture pressed out until firm. I love it. I fry it and have with salad, or for breakfast with tomatoes and basil, it is a cross between feta and goats cheese. It makes a lovely curry with mushrooms and or peas, and I often fry tiny bits and put into a vegetable rice or biryani.

To be honest we generally eat at home, unless we have visitors or we go for a few days up North or down South to stay in a coco hut on the beach. It helps that I love cooking, making a meal from scratch, and trying out new recipes, be it from cookbooks or my own inventions.

Well, I hope this has given you some insight into being a vegetarian in India, thanks to Clare for featuring me on The Vegetarian Experience.

Joanne Rawson

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