By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar
The rains are here and so is chai-bhajji, the humble, gastronomic duet of hot tea and warm fritters that finds pride of place on menus across Goa's socio-culinary spectrum -- be it unkempt wet streets or the plush, sedate interiors of a resort.
The monsoons have already scaled the 50 inch peak in Goa. As the rains pound the roads and sweep across window panes for days on end, the whiff and spit of chopped onions and chillies dipped in gram flour and deep fried into crisp pakoras, or bhajjis, and the aroma of ginger tea are tantalising.
Chef Mark Hagan, executive chef at the Grand Hyatt, has been betting his money and his instincts on just this.
"Come rains and nothing feels better than sitting by the window watching the pitter patter of the raindrops, sensing the fragrance of wet earth and romancing in the cool monsoon breeze while munching on piping hot pakoras and sipping on chai," he said when asked about 'chaipakora' promotions at his hotel.
"This monsoon, we wanted one to experience all this in a very comfortable ambience and personalised service and where else than at the BayView Lounge and Confeitaria at Grand Hyatt Goa. The evening spread serves a variety of delicious pakoras and cups of steaming tea all through the rainy season," he said.
And it is working as the list of repeat clients grows longer, he said.
At Cafe de Goa, one of the newer cafes in Calangute, general manager Emily would have you believe that "to drink tea is to drown the noise of the world around you".
"A lot of places around are closed during the rains and it gives locals and tourists an opportunity to share our passion for good food. We offer a wide array of teas, coffees and pastries, the perfect way to warm you up and comfort you," she said.
Asked whether her cafe could outrun a street kiosk as far as monsoon comfort snacks are concerned, she said: "The Cafe de Goa menu is designed to avoid taking business away from the local chai and bhajjia shop."
Out on the open street, Kishor Naik stands by his tarp sheltered bhajjia cart readying for the evening. He's slit big, intimidating green chillies and lined the insides with salt to neuter the pungent taste. He's sliced potatoes and sliced and diced onions, his second lot for the evening.
Standing by his non-motored cart with an open umbrella in the rains is difficult, but there are a dozen patrons doing just the same.
"There is no secret. It's just that fried chillies or onion or potato bhajjis taste best in the rains. It takes the cold out of the bones," according to Naik.
And the people agree.
When the skies open up and it just pours, when the seas get rough and the beaches unwalkable, then the humble cart manned by the Naiks of Goa and the many fancy restaurants dish up the chai-bhajji combo.
"It's unbeatable," said Soumya, a young student holidaying in Goa.