From Goa to Thamel

The Goan Food Festival at Aloft is a culinary experience with Portuguese accent

Photos courtesy of Aloft Kathmandu Thamel

The Goan Food Festival is a delicious experience, where seafood meets spices and in which Portuguese influence is ever-present. 

The second episode of the Goan season is happening 10-12 May at Aloft's in-house restaurant Nook in Thamel and features Chef Rhea Aaron, who owns and runs the Goan restaurant Klaa Kitchen in Bengaluru. 

The decor in the lobby already has an ambience that takes us straight down to this Portuguese enclave in the west coast of India. There is a boat with a fishing net filled with the tropical trio of pineapple, coconut and bananas. Seafood and coconut are ubiquitous in the menu during this culinary extravaganza. 

“While there are certainly some nice vegetarian dishes, Goans love meat,” says Chef Aaron, who is making her way through the dining room passing out rissois, which are deep-fried bite-sized turnovers that are also popular in Portugal. 

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Goa was a colony of Portugal from 1505 to 1961 at a time when that sea-faring European nation preceded the Dutch, Spaniards, French and British in colonial conquest because of their mastery over maritime maps. (Remember Vasco de Gama?)

Rissois have a crunchy exterior and are filled with either prawn or mushroom and served with balchao dip which is made from tamarind, tomatoes, and chilies. 

Accompanying them is a drink made from kokum and litchi. Kokum is a sour plant native to Goa, and surrounding states and is often used instead of lemon. The drink is sour and sweet and vaguely similar to a Newa pau. 

A grill has been set up outside on the balcony. Diners can choose from a number of seafood options, including mackerel, pomfret, and trout. Or there is snapper, lobster, prawns, and squid, all shipped into landlocked Nepal in refrigerated trucks.

The seafood are all marinated in either a red or green curry. Aloft Executive Chef Rajeev Shrestha will take over the festival for the weekend of 10 May and explains that the red marinade is called ‘recheado’ and gets its color from peppers and kashmiri chilli. The green masala is known as ‘cafreal’ and is made from green chilies and coriander leaves. 

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Chefs Rhea Aaron (left) and Rajeev Shrestha (right)

To the left of the grill is a station that serves omelettes and pav, an Indian bread roll, with a spicy gravy. This is a ‘ross omelette’ that Goans love for breakfast. By now our plates are heaped with fish, lobster, squid and prawns. 

The lobster is a little hard to get out of its shell but is well worth the effort. The squid has a chewy texture that transcends taste, and the prawns and snapper spring to life with lemon and tartar sauce.

While it is tempting to go back and place a second order there is a whole buffett left. Three out of the six salads have meat: a chicken confit, a smoked trout, and a minced lamb. 

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Of the vegetarian salads two stood out. One was a compressed watermelon and goat cheese concoction, and the other was a simpler grated carrot relish that Goans have with every meal.

There were also two soups, a Portuguese spinach and chickpea soup, and a fish soup also of Iberian origin.  

The dishes that made up the buffet included some familiar ones, like dal. There is also a Portuguese influence, such as in the chorizo pulao.

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The dishes are served in large solid pots keeping warm on induction stoves and hot to the touch, adding to the experience as it is upon the diner to uncover the dish with great care. 

One dish that stands out is a creamy potato with coconut and onion. It is a great combination of flavours. The Chorizo pulao is smoky and works well. There are also chicken dishes that have been cooked in similar ingredients to the marinades from earlier. 

With all the marinade and now this hands-on crab, things can get a bit messy so an extra napkin can be handy.  

The desserts fit the theme: a Pasteis de Nata, a Portuguese custard tart, and a Serradura, a Portuguese ‘sawdust’ pudding like a parfait, and a coconut strawberry Bavarian cake.

Vishad Onta