The most earnestly laid plans can go awry. Sunday is our day for the South. The South of Goa that is. It is our personal ritual every Sunday to drive down South and spend time doing what we like best : eating, drinking and languorously hanging out. But I am informed that we’re heading North this time, to one of my favorite restaurants : Viva Panjim.
Viva Panjim has been around for so long, and fed so many, that it has become part of Panaji’s folklore. The name itself makes you whiplash to easier times, when eating out was more a celebration and less a cause for anxiety. I’m curious to see how it fares in the current situation.
Located in the vibrant Latin Quarter of Goa, Fontainhas, accessed via a tiny inner road and an easily missed entrance, Viva Panjim rests in a quaint heritage cottage. Crammed with tables and chairs, and cluttered with knicky-knacky pictures, this restaurant will never be ornate or lavish. And, therein lies its charm.
It’s empty when we enter. I’m so accustomed to the hustle and bustle of earlier times here, that this comes as something of a surprise. The wait staff follows all the correct procedures : temperature check, sanitisation; and then we’re comfortably seated at a table for two.
The strains of Goan Konkani music fill our ears as we scan through menus, affixed on the tables, to minimize contact. We’re thirsty. So, out comes the whiskey and a glass of red.
Our flurry of starters include “Dragon Chicken” and “Gobi Lollipop.” My mind silently chastises my palate. I’m in a restaurant that’s popular for Goan cuisine and here we are, ordering Chinese and Indian small plates.
The Dragon Chicken is feisty stuff. Red, spicy and hot. My taste-buds were ringing and mildly clobbered too. This is one of my favorites and we devoured it like hungry beasts. The Gobi Lollipop followed suit. Definitely not for me. One bite and I was sure my stomach lining was feeling harassed. Crunchy, with a distinctive cabbage flavor and red batter, it isn’t something I would want to repeat.
I’ve been craving sizzlers for quite some time now. Today was the day to cave in. A Chicken Sizzler was next on our table. I can’t make up my mind about what I like best : the smoke, the sizzle or the punchy aroma of boiled veggies and chicken. All of the above, I suppose.
The rice was flavorful and I absolutely loved the softness of the boiled veggies. The sauce gave it a nice little zing.
After all the fireworks on our plates, we wound up with a Caramel Pudding. The sweet and slightly sour collection of flavors was a perfect foil to our earlier riotous dishes and I surrendered to its perfection with a quiet hurrah. A flourishing finish to our meal.
The restaurant world transforms quickly, but Viva Panjim has stayed rooted, serving great Goan cuisine along with Indian specialties. Old-world yet pleasing, it’s like a culinary hug from a cherished friend. It’s not turning tables like before, on account of the pandemic. Nevertheless, Viva Panjim is a fleeting burst of feel-good: nice food, a glass of wine, a tiny corner – that reminds us that life is worth living. Even if it’s in small doses like these.