Text and Pics:  Frederick Noronha

Our story begins with a war in West Asia. It ends — actually, it continues — with delicious snacks and fast-food being served each evening by the Goan roadside.

This must surely be the most unglamourised side of Goan food. Yet, it is among the tastiest too. Goan street food makes for both an interesting story, and a down-to-earth, enjoyable option.

This story goes back to some two-and-half decades ago. The Iraq-Kuwait war and its aftermath had sent back probably a couple of tens of thousands of Goans back home. Among them, one returning expat, thought of a means to make his living anew.

Thus was founded Umao’s hand-cart. Selling Goan-style fast food, it has long been situated along the old village road that runs close to the Santa Cruz village church, just on the outskirts of Panjim. This is about four kilometres from the capital city, though now the Panjim-Margao highway makes sure you could easily miss the place.

Even many years later today, at 6ish each evening, this small (but busy) village street comes to life, with four or so hand-carts. Each sells typically Goan Catholic-style home-cooked food. Beef, pork, chicken and fish, in a wide range of recipes, are the main dishes here.

Go to these outlets and you can get dishes like beef cutlets, beef chilly fry, beef croquettes, pork ribs, pork sorpotel, chicken cafrael, chicken cutlets, and more. For those who grew up with their mothers and grand-mums back in Goa or the diaspora, this certainly brings back memories.

Over time, Umao’s changed hands. Its founder passed it on to his daughter and son-in-law. In the meanwhile, a relative launched Irmao’s. Note that the name (Irmao means brother) was close enough to draw over the clientele too. Since then, others have opened shop in the same street.

My friends visiting Goa are mostly unaware of this kind of food. They often get some unsolicited advice from me, suggesting they try it out. The food is tasty, simple, just like home food, and warm. It’s the price, an average of Rs 50 per bread-packed small plateful, that is perhaps the most attractive. A few dishes could be double that price.

Today, Goan-style street food is no longer restricted to Santa Cruz village. At Miramar beach, the D’Silva’s is a home-eatery which draws crowds each evening. Be prepared to wait in line. Likewise, is a small handcart, run by Augustine D’Souza (he calls himself Mr D’Souza’s) that is parked just alongside the Saligao Mae de Deus church parking area, on the Panjim-Calangute highway. The Noronha brothers also run a mini-van based outlet along the Anjuna-Assagao junction; they laughed when I told them to consider a discount because we shared a surname! All are open only in the evenings.

My friend Sajan swears that the Goan omlett-ras (a Konkani name for an omelette dunked in thick coconutty chicken gravy) ought to be Goa’s state dish when it comes to street-food. But it remains unsung and not recognised mostly.

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