It is the perfect setting for a lazy Saturday afternoon. A semi-al fresco space, gentle rain and a lauded Goan chef for company. Chef Edridge Vaz is in town for Sussegado, the Goan festival at the Hyatt Bangalore, and we’re meeting him over lunch.
Chef Vaz appears to be a bashful man, but when he talks about Goan cuisine, he truly comes to life. “It’s a cuisine heavily influenced by the Portuguese, tweaked and shaped over a period of 450 years,” he says.
As a consequence, it’s a relatively unique cuisine, relying heavily on the usage of vinegar and coconut. But it’s not too fancy, Chef Vaz clarifies. “Food in Goa is rustic. Masalas are very important, but the fare is light and not too spicy.”
He introduces us to four important masalas: caldin – made with coconut, chilly, coriander and turmeric; xacuti – a blend of 12 to 13 spices and roasted coconut that lends itself to one of the state’s most iconic dishes; vinegar masala that gives vindaloo, rechad and peri peri their characteristic bite; and curry base, which, when cooked with seafood, sings so beautifully on the palate.
Soon, appetisers are placed on the table. We bite into Rawa Fried Fish, its crunchy layer encasing soft, perfectly cooked flesh. What we love is the fact the masala it’s coated in is fiery red, yet not overbearingly spicy. We try Chicken Cafreal, a skewered interpretation which is still true to the dish’s flavour. Then there’s Rissois de Camarao, dumplings of prawn in a light white sauce, with a hint of chilli. It’s a personal favourite of Chef’s, but his number one dish will always be, “the Pez (kanji) I used to eat at my grandmother’s house, with kalchi kodi (leftover curry) mango pickle, and dry prawns or fish on the side,” he remembers.
Traditional food was an important part of his upbringing, and it was only inevitable that it would be his calling. He says, “When I started training as a chef, I wanted to specialise in Goan cuisine at a time when my contemporaries were only interested in Continental fare.” He trained under the legendary Goan Chef Urbano do Rego, and now calls the shots at Casa Sarita, the much-awarded Goan restaurant at Park Hyatt Goa.
By now, the main course appears, a kaleidoscopic array of warm colours that invoke the spirit of the sunny state. Chef Vaz instructs us to try the Prawn Curry with Goan rice (boiled rice similar to Kerala rice) and Chicken Xacuti with Goan Pulao. Both combinations are delicious – the prawn is amazingly fresh and the curry tart and spicy – while the Xacuti’s earthy flavour compliments the slightly sweet pulao. There’s also a bright yellow pumpkin dish, redolent with mustard, and Goan sausage, almost pickle-like with its sharp, meaty flavour.
We love that the Xacuti isn’t eye-wateringly spicy. Says Chef Vaz, “Every family has their own recipe for Xacuti. The dish has a spicy reputation because it was a favourite with labourers, who welcomed helpings of something spicy and energising after a hard day’s work.”
All this talk of spice leads us to something sweet. Dessert arrives. There’s Mangane, a payasam-like pudding made with gram lentil, sago and sugarcane jaggery, and of course, Bebinca – probably the best I’ve had. It has been specially flown in from Goa, Chef Vaz tells us.
It’s been a great afternoon, but the skies turned a threatening shade of grey and it’s time to say goodbye to Chef Vaz. But we’ll probably meet him soon, on our next trip to Goa. From what we’ve sampled, we’re pretty sure Casa Sarita will be worth the drive!
Sussegado is on at Lido, Hyatt Bangalore, MG Road, till July 28. There’s an a la carte menu during lunch, and a buffet priced at Rs. 1200 + taxes for dinner.