Food festivals equal visiting chefs and a set multi-course menu or buffet. The current Goan Food festival (Food, Feni & Football) at The Lalit Ashok, has a chef who does one better – apart from the dozen or so dishes on offer as part of the dinner buffet at 24/7, the coffee shop, she is also ready to make any Goan dish that a visitor might desire. Chef Martina, visiting from The Lalit Resort & Spa Goa, has brought all her spices and mixes with her from Goa and wants every guest to get a true flavor of Goa. To this end, she is willing to cater to requests that come – maybe the buffet has Chicken Vindaloo and you want Prawn Vindaloo, or Fish Caldin or Lamb Balchao – no worries, Chef Martina will make sure your whim is catered to! Chef also carried Bebinca and Dodol, the two ubiquitous Goan desserts, with her from Goa (I can only imagine at the number of kilos she carried, to accommodate enough of the goodies for a 10-day festival!).
And since the fest includes Feni, either as part of a cocktail or straight, she lugged bottles of the famous Goan potion along to! She smilingly insists that her first priority was giving guests an authentic and true Goan feel and taste, and using locally sourced stuff might not be quite the same. Chef Martina, who has no formal training but just a love for cooking and began her culinary adventures by offering cooking classes, is a delight, and should you head over to 24/7 while the festival is on (through June 10th) you are sure to make her acquaintance.
Now, I’ve never been a fan of Feni, finding it pungent smelling and strong. However, the barmen have whipped up a delectable Feni-based Cosmopolitan that both my companion for the evening and I loved, and which completely changed our opinion on the liquor. There was a lovely, light chicken consommé to start us off, followed by starters (non-Goan) from the buffet, both brought to the table.
We chose to exclusively investigate the Goan offerings for the main course: boiled rice, Prawn Xacuti, Mutton Vindaloo and a Portuguese style pork and beans curry (in a vibrant sauce), as well as an okra and grated coconut vegetable prep. Everything was delicious, flavored well, and not too fiery. If you’re ordering a la carte, then you can dictate your spice level; for my medium spice loving palate, the dishes off the buffet were just right. There was a good selection of desserts, of which the two aforementioned Goan ones mingled with a range of Indian and Western choices. I, yet again, tried Dodol, and once more, the strong jaggery flavor did not find favor, whereas my friend who loves the stuff, enjoyed it immensely. Thus far, I’ve not really been into Bebinca either, but Chef Martina’s version was really good and I did polish off the entire piece. I indulged in a few other non-Goan sweets as well, and thoroughly enjoyed them all. As with any buffet, one is always spoiled for choice, but this particular one is worth a visit to sample the Goan offerings and definitely, don’t miss out on the Feni!