The Saraswat thali saga

The Saraswat thali at Alfama, Cidade de Goa

Goa with its lush paddy fields, verdant hills, and the gushing shoreline is my go-to destination in the rains. This year, my stay in the most sought-after room (with a swing in the sit-out and easy access to a private beach) at the iconic Cidade de Goa Resort in Dona Paula helped me make the most of my Goan holiday.

Segregated seating at Alfama

5-star hotels and resorts are often smug with their all-day dining buffets, which span live stations of dosas, pav bhaji to pasta and noodles while North Indian and international main dishes occupy space on the weighed down counters. Pitiably, the local traditional items are made to play second fiddle at the farthest end which means, by the time you reach it, the plate is already loaded with rest of the food and you end up skipping the native cuisine.

With chef Gangadhar Behera of Alfama

Alfama fine-dine restaurant at Cidade de Goa has always been an exception to this. It still maintains the same elegant décor of a Portugal city and puts forth local fare – by that, I mean more than just Goan-Portuguese food – the cuisine of Saraswat Brahmins. I remember during my stay nearly two decades ago, Anju Timblo, the director of the resort, had made sure that I tasted the delectable Saraswat fare here. During this trip, as well, Sr. Executive Sous Chef Gangadhar Behera ensured I indulged in the best traditional Konkan cuisine and waved his magical culinary wand to present an authentic Saraswat thali.

The warm and homely interiors of Alfama restaurant

As you enter Alfama, be prepared to get transported to Lisbon Street square with arches, frescoes, street lights, performing artists and cafes, aptly conceived and executed by legendary architect Charles Correa. Seating arrangements are at different levels in keeping with Lisbon’s topography. A wall behind arches sports cutlery, jars, and wine bottles in its niches, lending the space a warm and homely feel.

Kokum sharbat to cool down the system
Batato Fodi – rawa-battered potato fries

To beat the wet weather, Goan macaroni soup was a comforting broth of juliennes of vegetables and macaroni. Prawn curry, Kismur (a dry prawns dish), Rawas king fish curry feature in the non-veg thali. Being vegetarians, we called for Saraswat pure vegetarian thali which, served on a brilliant green backdrop of banana leaf, made the food more appetizing. Purple-hued kokum sharbat, also a digestive, and mango pickle accompanied the platter. We started with Batato Fodi – crispy rawa-battered potato fries. All this while, we were treated to soothing music by serenaders from the balcony adjacently above us.

Tondak – potatoes, green peas and cashew nuts in a spicy gravy
Anasche Sasav – tomatoes in coconut masala gravy

Coconut, coconut milk, tamarind, fenugreek, and curry leaves are used extensively in Saraswat food preparation. This was evident in the sweet-tangy Ansache Sasav with tomatoes & coconut masala and Tondak, which is potatoes, green peas and cashew nuts in asafetida-flavoured spicy onion-tomato gravy. Vegetable Khatkhate happened to be a stew of vegetables and lentils (tuar dal) in a coconut-based sauce that paired well with ukdem tandul – parboiled Goan rice. Varan bhaat was a simple lentil preparation with freshly-grated coconut and rice.

Rounded off the meal with banana halwa in jaggery syrup

We rounded off this remarkable meal with cardamom-flavoured banana halwa in jaggery syrup. When in Cidade de Goa resort, the Saraswat thali at Alfama is highly recommended for a taste of the local cuisine!


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