No, Tarrant. No. You may not feed beef momos to the tiny cow. I’m sure the tiny cow would enjoy them but it’s kinda like grinding up the postman and feeding him to the neighbours wrapped in a little steamed dumpling. It’s the Tibetan bovine version of Sweeny Todd. I’m also pretty sure that’s how mad cow disease started and I really don’t think that India needs its cow population going schizo because one little beach cow gave you the eyes and you stuffed whatever you had to hand into its facehole.
Anyway, we’d made it to Palolem on the two bus mission, the first part of which was a lovely shuttle bus to Margao, where we jumped on a local bus which would bring us all the way here. Fun fact about Goan local buses though, they’re privately run which means it’s in their interests to fill that fucker up and this guy was taking that game very seriously. This bus redefined full. Just when you thought there was no way they could fit another non-amoebic lifeform onto the vehicle they did just that and I spent most of the journey with someone’s elbow or shopping jammed in my earhole. It wasn’t any manner of fun, but it was soon over and a guy we met advised us to get off before the last stop to avoid being besieged by touts so we disembarked with him and he lead us through where he was staying and showed us the beach. Cool. Now all that remained was to work our way up and down the beach, quizzing various accommodations on their beach hut prices and practicing our haggling skills until we found the best deal. We turned left, looked at the first place, aaaaand yeah. We just went for that because fuck dragging all of our belongings around in this heat after having spent god knows how long on an oven-like bus with the various sweaty body parts of other humans in very non-British proximity to my face. So Havana Cuba would be our home for the next four nights in a hut which was a 20 second shuffle to the beach and had a hammock and a palm tree growing through the porch. Yes, I think we could just about cope with this for a while.
So clearly I was a culinary genius these days on account of that cooking class I took that one time in Varkala. I could quite easily whip up some manner of south Indian delight without causing too much damage to my immediate surroundings… provided I was under the competent supervision of an afro’d bloke from Trivandrum called Khan, natch. Generally I’m barred from the kitchen back home on account of my tendency to grill shit that shouldn’t be grilled, such as pizza or pie. I’m permitted to retrieve items from the fridge, make cups of tea and use the toaster as long as I close the door so it doesn’t set the smoke alarm off, but apart from that, cooking is Tarrant’s domain. So we rocked up for Rahul’s cooking class so she could learn to keep me in the cuisine to which I’ve become way too accustomed. Rahul decides what to cook and today we’d be cooking all vegetarian food. There’d be malai kofta, palak paneer which is a northern dish, a Goan curry with coconut, vegetable biriyani, daal fry, stuffed paratha and, of course, chapati.
We were handed some rather fetching looking aprons and he talked us through the various spices used in Indian cooking. He told us about garam masala which I’d bought in Munnar because fuck trying to work out how to mix my own. He told us that every household makes their own but they make it to their own recipe to suit the family tastes and his family recipe involves thirteen different spices in equal quantities. Thirteen! I’d probably stop at five or something, I can’t imagine getting further than that and thinking, hey, you know what these ten spices mixed together need? Three more spices!
He had us chopping things up and I learned to chop tomatoes into a puree using two knives and a minor psychotic streak. Also, his technique for stopping onions from making you cry is to put the onion in the fridge for ten minutes before you chop it. In Varkala, Khan told us if you hold water in your mouth whilst chopping onions that should stop the ocular seepage, or Tarrant stops them from making her cry by simply getting me to chop them for her.
But if there are three things India loves in a consumable product it’s dairy, sugar and deep frying. Malai kofta must be the fucking poster child for north Indian cuisine then as it combines all three. Malai means “creamy” and kofta means “little balls of coronary disease”. Kofta are basically dumplings made from mashed potato, mashed paneer, coriander, sugar and salt. You can feel your arteries hardening as you watch them turn brown in the oil and your second chin starts making room for the imminent arrival of the inevitable third. It’s a Gujurati dish and apparently they just chuck sugar in everything in Gujurat. I’ve not been so I can’t confirm or deny this but Rahul says it’s so and a man in a pinny would never lie, right? It was a bit too sweet for my liking though.
Palak paneer was my staple when I initially rocked up to India but the first time I saw it it wasn’t like I thought it’d be. Palak means “spinach” so I was expecting recognisable spinach but everything is blended together so it looks like something large was overly generous with its snot just before your meal was served. I swear though, it tastes way better than it sounds.
Onto the bread and apparently I’m still incapable of rolling a circular chapati. If I make these at home I’m just going to flatten out the dough in any shape I damn well please then cut around a small plate to make them round. Or maybe I’ll make them all dinosaur shaped. No where is it written that Indian bread can’t be fashioned to resemble large, extinct lizards. Once they’d been heated in the pan on both sides he chucked them directly onto the gas flame for a couple of seconds and they inflated like they were trying to take over the world or some shit, then chucked them in a bowl where they calmed down and returned to a more chapati like shape.
Cheese paratha is one of those things he made look piss easy but if I attempted it I’d more likely end up with an oozing mess which would take a day to scrape off the bottom of the pan. It involved rolling out a large, thick round thing, grating cheese onto it then folding it into a bun and rolling it out again. Yeah nah, I have enough trouble rolling things out once, never mind rolling them out twice.
The coolest thing he taught us though is how to make paneer which is unfermented, homemade Indian cheese. They refer to it as “cottage cheese” on menus but it’s not like the stuff you get in little pots on the shelves in the supermarkets back home. So basically you chuck some full fat milk in a pan and bring it to the boil. Then you add some white wine vinegar or lime/lemon juice and it all separates and looks fucking gross, like something you’d find by a bus stop in Brighton on a Saturday morning. Certainly not something you’d want to put in your mouth. You strain this through a cheese cloth or muslin cloth, rinse with water to get rid of whatever acid you used to separate it, then pack it tightly in the cloth and put a weight on top of it for, like 20 minutes or something. Boom. Paneer. And you can just put this in anything you damn well please.
Anyway, after a hard afternoon learning how to make stuff for consumption then stuffing it into our faceholes, we chilled on the beach before heading out for a sunset kayak. It is compulsory when completing any sunset activity which doesn’t require the operation of a motor vehicle to accompany said activity with beer. It’s the rules. It’s a relatively calm sea here too once you get past the bit of surf they do have so off we went, paddling around the headland, before stopping and drifting and enjoying a Kingfisher. Seriously, Palolem. Could you be any more perfect? It was an uneventful trip, we just wanted to paddle out and watch the fiery sky ball sink with a tasty cold beverage so once that was accomplished was headed back to shore. And you know that tiny bit of negligible surf you have to negotiate in order to get to the calm waters beyond? Yeah. Less easy to get through on the way back. I vaguely remembered being told years ago on a kayaking trip in New Zealand that you had to aim for shore at a 45 degree angle and this is where my knowledge ended. We paddled and we aimed and we saw a particularly large wave approaching us from behind and you know that thing where you’re torn between trying to paddle really quickly and just resigning yourself to your fate because you actually have fuck all idea what you’re meant to do to avoid the spectacular dumping you’re about to receive? Uh-huh. Yeah, so that happened. We opted for the latter and braced ourselves as the Arabian Sea casually tipped the kayak and we tumbled into the water. We sheepishly picked ourselves up, emptied the water out of our nasal passages, and retrieved the empty beer bottles as the kayak owner rescued his vessel from the fucking amateurs.
But as lovely as Palolem is though it’s not the only beach in south Goa where you can simultaneously punish your liver and the top layer of your skin whilst pissing off your retinas by staring directly into the setting sun. Most people rent a scooter to explore the other beaches but I could feel my poor, traumatised nerves fraying at the mere thought of sitting astride what is basically a psychotic hairdryer on steroids and trying to maneuver it from place to place whilst remaining physically and emotionally intact. As I forlornly picked over my home made museli and fresh fruit at Little World cafe, Tarrant took pity on me and offered to pay for tuk tuks to get us around. I liked this plan better. This plan wouldn’t result in me curled up in the corner of a dark room, staring vacantly into a corner and rocking a little bit. Well, no more than any usual morning anyway.
If there was a beauty contest between all of the beaches in Goa then the outstanding winner would probably be Cola Beach and all of the other beaches would glare at it in envy through forced smiles and applaud whilst plotting its downfall. It’s fucking stunning. It’s the kind of place that you forgive even though it has an attitude problem and its sea will try and casually drown you if you dare go for a dip and wander out of your depth. We started here and attempted to build a sand fort which I had huge plans for, guys. It was going to be epic. There would be domes and turrets and we’d turn it into a tourist attraction that people would pay money to visit and there’d be an audio guide which would basically be me following them round and whispering in their ear. It didn’t take me long to get bored of the idea though. I pretty much got as far as digging the moat before leaving Tarrant to make of it whatever she wanted to whilst I created a sand masterpiece which I call Mind The Gap. It’s worth millions. Millions I tell you. Millions of what I’m not sure though.
After a cheeky beverage and a feed in one of the very few restaurants we figured we should probably work out how to get to Agonda Beach but walking would be out of the question. Even if we knew for a fact there was a route over the headland just standing up and breathing caused excessive pore seepage. We asked a guy to call us a tuk tuk but there was no phone signal on the beach so we figured we’d walk to the main road. Up a really long dirt track. With no shade. No, we really hadn’t thought this through ay. Eventually we got to the main road and huddled into the shade. Now what? Just wait for a tuk tuk I guess? As we weighed up our options a woman emerged from a house and asked us where we were going. We told her. She asked us how. We said we were hoping to flag down an auto rickshaw. She pulled out her phone and called her husband who just happened to be a local tuk tuk driver called Sunny who picked us up and deposited us at a bar on Agonda Beach where we re-hydrated with a Kingfisher. Agonda Beach is nice enough ay. We were hoping to check out more beaches but we’d spent so long on Cola Beach we fucked off the idea of trying to get to somewhere else in favour of beers and a nice sunset because you can’t claim you’ve been to Goa until you have a beach cow sunset silhouette photo. It’s the rules.
Palolem, Goa, India
Stayed at: Havana Cuba