Saturday, July 22, 2017

Food and Stay - South Goa Monsoon 2017

The thrill of the windy and cloudy weather in Goa during the monsoon season is accentuated by the unpredictability of the rains. While sometimes it may rain several times a day in short, sharp bursts, at other times it may rain buckets for hours. Walking the desolate beaches wrapped in the haze raised by the agitated sea is one of the nicest experiences ever. It's also a bit like living on the edge. Will it, or won't it pour?

Walking about 45 minutes braving the risk of rain is indeed a thrill. The walk from the Royal Orchid Beach Resort to Fishka Restaurant is partly on the beach up to the Majorda life guard structure, and then on narrow, winding lanes. Maybe one or two cars and three or four scooters may pass you in half hour, so light is the traffic density. Guest houses and restaurants along the way are mostly shuttered, except for the large Pentagon.  

It was a weekday, and Fishka presented a rare sight of all tables being unoccupied. It gets a little busier at about 1.30 p.m., and slightly so on weekends, when several local families show up. 

The weekday fish thali at Fishka is certainly worth sampling, with the large piece of 'rawa pan fried fish' topping the rice. Several varieties of curries surround the mound of rice, including the twangy and supposedly healthy 'kokum' based drink. The 'kokum' fruit is a speciality of Goa and South Maharashtra, and is one of the remedies for digestive ills mentioned in the traditional Ayurveda system of medicine. 

Yet another long walk, slightly longer, is the walk from Royal Orchid to Martin's Corner in Betalbatim, about an hour away. The initial part of the stroll cuts through the haze floating on the beach, all the way to Sunset Beach south of Majorda. 

The stroll inland is rather pleasant, you get a chance to admire the moss covering the walls by the streets. 

Martin's Corner during the weekend appears like it is the high season. The restaurant is full and the service is high class, as usual. A large painting by Goa's famed painter Mario Miranda, my school mate though senior by several decades, adorns one of the walls. Good opportunity to take a picture in tribute. 

The food is, as always, excellent. We order salad, calamari in Rachaedo masala, and then fish and vegetable curries made with Ambotik and Xacuti masalas. 

Well, that was a super meal, wasn't it? Martin's Corner is actually set in a large, old house, and the inside is worth taking a look at. 

The walk back was a feast of green until we hit Sunset beach, with the sun attempting to peep out from behind the clouds now and then. 

The all-weather restaurant nearest to Royal Orchid is the well known Zeebop, situated by the sea. The view is fantastic, the grey sea is not too far away. The restaurant is covered in thick sheets of plastic. The makeshift doorways are opened and closed several times every day in tune with the rains that are invariably intense. The direction of the rain tends to be angular, pushed relentlessly by the powerful South West monsoon winds.   

Evenings and weekends see a few more guests showing up, which is good for the business. Zeebop appears to be a popular venue for corporate gatherings of large groups reaching up to over 100 people. 

Waiting for the drinks and food to arrive is no problem at all, the ambience of this kind is not commonly found. 

The views at dusk are amazing as the sea gets shrouded in inky darkness punctuated with the lights of tankers and other cargo vessels berthed in the harbour in the distance. 

The menu is quite varied, worth researching. 

A small Bar and Restaurant is located right behind Zeebop, a sleepy local place that goes by the rather uncommon name of Xaxticar's. 

The other restaurant we go to quite regularly is Baltons, located about 100 metres south of Park Hyatt along the street. The decor is simple and impressive, and always well maintained, as it has been over the years that I have known Tony who runs the restaurant. Baltons is open 365
days, and I don't think Tony goes on a vacation. 

Dinner choices include Cafreal, Xacuti and the coconut based Goan Masala curry dishes.

We stayed this Monsoon trip at the Royal Orchid Beach Resort in Utorda. Having travelled to Goa since the early 1980s and been brought up on a diet of guest houses and modest, family run hotels with the well-known warmth and Goan hospitality, the thought of staying in a 5-star resort does not particularly appeal to me. Our stay this vacation was the result of a family suggestion. More than a suggestion, it went like this "Here is the link, please reserve this resort!".

We were pleasantly surprised, indeed. The staff in all the departments were extremely courteous and made us feel at home, smiling all the time. The sprinkling of non-Goan staff had obviously learnt the art of hospitality from their Goan colleagues. The rooms were maintained very well indeed, which is a huge challenge given the extreme humidity.   

The resort itself is not that large, containing about 70 rooms, with a neat garden and a well cleaned swimming pool. 

Should you find yourself at a loss and wish to do something interesting, the management organizes 'Feed the Duck' events every morning and afternoon. 

A little bridge connects the property with the beach, a nice landmark should you get lost among the overgrown vegetation along the beach. 

We definitely had the privilege of being allotted one of the two best rooms on the property, Room 422, the other similar room being its mirror image across the garden. A large balcony provided adequate opportunities to admire the garden and peer at the beach about 100 metres away.   

There's a strange attribute of darkness, it somehow manages to amplifies the sound of the crashing waves. The roar seemed to get louder as the evening went by.   

The view from breakfast was quite pleasant, overlooking the pool and looking far away at the sea. The sun actually managed to shine weakly on a few occasions. 

Finally, Royal Orchid did NOT turn out to be an impersonal 5-star resort, much to the contrary, the feeling was closer to a typical Goan, family run hotel. 

A good time was had by all. The highlights were the long beach strolls on desolate beaches, risking the rain all the while. And the always interesting local masalas, of course. 

See you next time, in Goa or at another holiday destination. 

Related post: South Goa - Monsoon 2017


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