Rediscover the less explored side of Goa with Airbnb
India’s sunny state, Goa, is known for its many personalities, catering to the eclectic set of visitors who come to its shores every season. For revelers, it turns into a rave center; for adventure junkies, a paradise for water sports. Meanwhile, for the leisurely tourist, it offers shopping, ferry rides and draft beer. The itinerary this time around, however, takes the traveler off the beaten track, straight into the heart of Goa’s cultural heritage, courtesy of its people and Airbnb.
About an hour into my flight from Bangalore, the rainy skies give way to sunny Goan airspace. The destination is no stranger to the country’s tropics aficionados, as evidenced by the crowded Dabolim airport with eager travellers. While some seem eager to taste its pristine sands for the first time, others seem ready to party at beach huts. My own memories are a blur of boat rides and yoga sessions. I’m sure the next few days will see my notions entirely replaced by the most unique flavors and vibrant experiences in the state.
Diving in the backwaters of Goa
My first stop is at a nautical-themed restaurant, dressed in various shades of blues and wood textures. With the Nerul River keeping me company with floating boats and verdant mangroves, I eat fresh prawns bathed in buttery sauce. By my second bite, every seat at the table is busy and buzzing with live performances of ABBA Mom Mia, a testament to the restaurant’s popularity. Satisfied and amused, I head to Saipem Hills, my home for the next few days.
Five minutes past Candolim Beach, I transform into a gated community with identical red tiled roofs, ivory walls and green vegetation. Cliffhouse, my temporary home marked by colorful flowers and chic balconies, rises above them all. At only five-foot-three, I am immediately dwarfed by the vast walls and rooms – each of which would take much of an afternoon to fully explore. Nonetheless, I make my way through each space, observing the dark wood finishes, study areas, air conditioners, and fully-equipped en-suite bathrooms.
The living areas have sofas comfy enough to sink into, with luxurious knick-knacks and impressive entertainment systems to go with them. The master bedroom has a stone bath, opening to the most breathtaking view in Goa, far from the usual glimpses of sea and sand. There is also a 22 meter infinity pool at my Airbnb in Goa, complete with sun loungers, floats and an outdoor Jacuzzi. After a quick OOTD session in front of a towering mirror, I head to my next culinary destination.
Sampling the Goa Edible Archive
Edible Archives‚ a culinary space led by Chef Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar, celebrates all things local and seasonal. Ingredients come from the surrounding villages and are transformed into modern and elegant plates. The chef believes that everything you have eaten in life is archived in your body, accessible later only by memory. His creations therefore bring to light ingredients and experiences that most people have not had. His goal ? To add experiences to guests’ personal “archives”. No wonder, then, my dinner is a big deal.
“Our goal is to tell a story,” she explains while defending a conscious diet. The five-course dining experience begins with a cheese platter, featuring goat cheese, cheddar, and camembert. The salty decadence of dairy delights is perfectly balanced by the sweet, refreshing flavors of persimmon and guava cheese. However, the Poe (Goan bread) and pork chorizo are the first dishes to be cleared off my plate. Next is a kaleidoscope of creations made up of underappreciated local root vegetables. Sweet, spicy, bitter and savory… these are undoubtedly the stars of the evening.
The next dish is fresh mackerel – a beloved ingredient in Goan homes. Traditionally treated only with salt and green chilli, fish is added to rice congee (or pez) to create an indulgent flavor bomb. Other ingredients include the popular red amaranth and mangoes. As I take the last bite, I notice the mood has changed. The calm in the air gave way to a light drizzle, making the warm bowl even more comforting.
Kokum, a bright red berry native to Goa, elevates the fourth course – tefal-crusted duck. The meal ends on a sweet note with the locals’ favorite Portuguese dessert lock, with layers of whipped cream and crumbled cookies. Thanks to this meal in Goa, the Tiramisu can now go to the back, I think to myself as I walk back to the Airbnb villa.
To the new unions
The rest of my itinerary takes me to historic Fort Aguada. The 17th-century structure, a symbol of the region’s cultural heritage, is the perfect place for Airbnb to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Goa Tourism Department. “This partnership reinforces Airbnb’s efforts to provide guests with quality tourism experiences not only in popular tourist destinations, but also off the beaten path. We want to ensure that the economic benefits of tourism reach as many communities as possible. Amanpreet Bajaj, Managing Director – India, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Airbnb said when announcing the partnership. championing local entrepreneurs through curated experiments. The trickle-down effect would involve heritage preservation and job creation. For my part, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.
Private evening with potters
Later in the evening, I get a glimpse into the life of potters in Goa at host Nimmy Joshi’s studio. White tables are strewn with clay, tools and finished creations hinting at a few therapeutic and informative minutes. “Our neighboring village was a village of potters. But now, very few of them are still practicing,” says Joshi. “That said, there are a few potters in Bicholim who carry on the tradition with red clay.” She then proceeds to help me understand the techniques of hand building. Soon, cups, saucers, hats and a few abstract works of art populate the tables. With handicrafts now in tow and a new skill to show my friends when I return from Goa, I return to my Airbnb villa for the night.
A touch of Goa
The next morning I head to South Goa where Chief Avinash Martin calls a sprawling 250-acre plantation his own. A short hike, marked by lush trees and grassy land, leads to a rustic yet modern dining space.
C’est La Vie overlooks breezy pastures and a pristine freshwater stream. A rustic mud-walled open concept kitchen with clay utensils and a gritty grill completes the setup. The scent of delicious spices tickles my nose as I settle into my chair with a glass of feni (a local liqueur made from cashew nuts) by hand. During the summer months cashew apples are bought, trampled and processed into Ourak, affectionately called jungle juice by locals. This is then distilled to make the potent drink.
The chef explains how he searches for ingredients to create a meal, drawing inspiration from tribal cuisines and his own childhood. With no cellular network to distract me, I immerse myself in the seven-course, farm-to-fork meal.
The first course, Pao de Quesso, is a nod to the Portuguese, who introduced bread-making techniques to the locals. Served with leftover curry (kalchi kodi) and a tomato basil salsa, the bread-cheese creation is a revelation. Next comes a tender coconut carpaccio bathed in pink, yellow and green hues.
Chef Martin recalls his childhood involving savoring tender coconut and spending hours painting. The plate, a snapshot of this memory, is deliciously associated with kokum sauce, I’m panna reduction, solkadhi and leche de tigre. For the next few courses, I savor a delicious Goanese-French fusion creation called the Crab and Mushroom Bisque xec-xeca Greco-Goanese delicacy with filo pastry, red amaranth tamdi bhaji and roasted cashew butter, and a unique duck cabdiel with chilli and kokum. I’m drunk, to say the least!
The delicious meal is wrapped in a decadent coconut and jaggery cheesecake, which is accompanied by cream cheese frosting and a smack of brandy. Made from organic coconut jaggery, this one calls for guilt-free seconds. Best described as a symphony of flavors, the experience truly shines a light on the land of susegad via modern interpretations.
A musical farewell
The final evening is highlighted by an experience inscribed on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage. The destination? Madragoa, the first house of fado and mando in the world. The concert space is cozy, accommodating around forty people. The space is highlighted by colorful floor-to-ceiling Goan art. Fadista Sonia Shirasat leads the evening, explaining that while Fado is sung in Portuguese, Mando contains Konkani lyrics. The latter was believed to have emerged as an art form for self-expression.
She then takes me, with her compatriot Fadista Sherwyn Correia as well as Orlando de Noronha (Portuguese guitar) and Carlos Meneses (guitar), on a moving musical journey. From time to time, she pulls out the Ghumat, an earthen vessel with a varan leather membrane over an opening. At the end, she breaks into song and dance, encouraging the audience to sing along with popular lyrics like Ya Ya Maya Ya. The experience, a revelation and a break from the usual EDM rhythms of North Goa, sums up my quirky and fulfilling rediscovery of Goa.
The only thing left to say? Dev Borem Karum (thanks), Airbnb and Goa.
There are daily non-stop flights from most major cities to Dabolim Airport.
Located in North Goa, Cliffhouse is listed on Airbnb and priced at INR 55,555 per night. The villa is large enough to accommodate up to 15 people and has a fully functional kitchen.
Feature and hero image: Courtesy of Airbnb
Related: Purple Fest Goa, the first ever inclusive festival, to be held from January 6-8
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