The Chocolate Room, Margao, Goa

Everyone needs a pick-me-up now and then. For us, this was between shopping and making the long drive home. The promise of a hot drink and a snack was too delicious to pass up and we end up at The Chocolate Room in Margao.

The Chocolate Room is tiny but mighty. A small counter is fitted to the left of stairs that lead up to a cozy mezzanine floor. The counter is interesting. It has rows of cute looking chocolates. Tempting for sure.

The top floor is small but well-appointed, with two corner couches and a few comfortable tables and chairs. The walls are interesting and mounted with frames bearing quirky messages. The room is pretty enough to hang out in and the ambience is sedate and cheerful all at once.

And then, the menu. A list of all things chocolate, it’s difficult to make a choice. We opt for cuddlecups of hot chocolate with marshmallows and cheese nachos.

Service was prompt and chipper and it’s only a minute before the nachos arrive. Served with spicy salsa, they are a whoosh of cheese, veggies and crunchy flavour. My companion makes merry while I implore him not to drench the nachos with salsa.

The hot chocolate with marshmallows is all that we expected it to be. It looked so pretty in its branded mug, that I almost don’t want to sip and break the spell. Dark and fluffy, it seemed like it would be heavy and cloying. But, it is lightness itself. Warm and welcoming after a tiring day.

We’re the only ones here at this moment, possibly because the Covid fairy still looms. We take our time, clicking photos, reading the literature on the walls and generally goofing around.

The Chocolate Room is a good pit-stop in between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner. Unless, you want to make a meal out of chocolate. In that case, drop in anytime. Nobody will judge you.

We finally leave smelling of chocolate, cheese and bliss. I’ll take my sweet moments where I can get them. And my sugar rush right up until dinnertime.

Red Ginger, Colva- Restaurant Review

On the way from Vasco to Colva to Red Ginger’s new location, I noticed near-empty streets. It seemed like everyone had opted for a Sunday afternoon of telly or Netflix. It’s difficult to find consistently open restaurants these days and always a good idea to call beforehand. But Red Ginger was definitely open; the good folks there waiting to greet us with a thermal gun. Even that is somewhat comforting these days. It makes you feel mighty safe. Speaking of which, hospitality staff across the country must be exhausted trying to make this process cheerful.

I’ve been to Red Ginger earlier, but this new location is quite spiffy. There is a nice sit-out, a lovely interior and cozy looking first floor. We take a seat inside and find ourselves surrounded by a riot of grinning little Buddha statuettes that adorn the walls and interiors. I appreciate the well-stocked bar and the curious looking Oriental artefacts that are a fitting ode to the Asian continent.

The menu is accessed through QR code. Restaurants must now come up with creative ways to display their QR code and Red Ginger’s is placed most inventively on wooden blocks. The menu is impressive and traverses Asia like a backpacker on the run.

The cocktail menu at Red Ginger is interesting. There are feni cocktails and my ever so experimental companion chooses a Cazulo Granita, while regular me settles for a perky cosmopolitan. We walk up to the bar and watch the bartender mix the Cazulo Granita. A pain-staking process for those who are interested.

A concoction of cashew fenny, gently stirred with lime and sugar and garnished with frozen raspberries, this Cazulo Granita looks like a work of art and tastes like the work of an expert mixologist. We’re impressed.

For starters, we choose the Red Ginger sesame prawns and the Chicken Dumplings. The prawns served with a salad in vibrant hues of red and green, are a textural delight. The dish is intensely comforting and I love the way the silken pieces jolt my taste-buds each time I introduce a spoonful to my mouth.

The dumplings are served piping hot and fully flavoured. You lift the lid to reveal pearly cream skin that gives way to chunks of butter-soft chicken. The meat courts my tongue. Bliss surges through my veins. All of a sudden, I am ten years old again tucking into my very first dumpling.

For main course, we share a good-as-heck Thai red curry and a humble bowl of rice. A delicious blend of strong flavours, the spices were perfectly balanced to create one raver of a meal. The red curry is not just multi-layered, but so intense that you mop it up until its last stain. It’s definitely one of the areas where this restaurant earns its stripes.

Red Ginger feels like a pianist trying to find its rhythm again after its relocation. The tables were not full, the ambience was slightly somber, but we’re grateful that it’s open. Well, nothing is perfect anywhere these days, but at least the kitchen fires are burning and the doors are open. It’s a good start. As far as the prices are concerned, while I wouldn’t suggest that they are giving food away, I would definitely argue that there is value here.

Red Ginger, no doubt, takes all the anxiety out of the quest for quality Asian cuisine. It’s impressive without being ostentatious. And in these uncertain times, I’d definitely take it lock, stock and chopsticks.

Purple Martini at Sunset Point, Goa

A romantic outing to Purple Martini isn’t included in “Tips to help your relationship because people are just too stereotype. Move over candlelight dinners and serenaders. A restaurant with a heady view can bring back the magic too.

On a day when I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to travel all the way to the North of Goa, my companion suggested a change of place. After some resistance, I concurred and off we went driving to catch the sunset at Purple Martini.

Let’s first acknowledge that the weather these days has been playing truant. It could be sunny one day and downright rainy the next. Or somber with an overcast sky, but no rain. Today was one of these. Thankfully, all of this played to our advantage.

There are certain places that make everything better. Purple Martini is one of them. When we get to Anjuna, everything seems isolated and washed out. But just a five minutes walk into a tiny lane on the left, is a pulsing sign of life.

Perched on top of a cliff at Anjuna, Purple Martini has a vantage point. The most breath-taking view you can imagine. It’s a pat on the back. A splash of rain on the cheek. An exuberant hug of welcome.

You can see the sea for miles- undulating slowly, swelling and receding, crashing on the rocks below splashing sprays of salt water into the air.

It doesn’t go by time constraints or dress codes. You can show up whenever, looking sophisticated or dishevelled. You can order a pitcher of sangria at 5 pm or a coffee at 9 pm.

While I’m flirting with the view, my companion browses through the menu. It’s vast and has a selection of Asian, tandoor and practically everything desi and continental, making it tough to narrow down our choices. The server is cheerful and made us feel very welcome.

For drinks, we order a Manhattan and a Sangria. The Manhattan is a delightful shade of liquid gold and the sangria was just right.

For starters, we order the masala peanuts and tandoori prawns. I thought that, with a view this perfect, the food didn’t have to be grand. It just needed not to be bad. It wasn’t.

The masala peanuts may seem pedestrian, but they were simply delicious. The tandoori prawns were plump and pleasing featuring a side of salad and some meaningful pudina chutney. And each mouthful got a lift from the elements : the breeze, the salt, the slight drizzle.

The breezy view and relaxed ambience, made us yearn for some hookah. But the excessively high price which started at Rs.2000/- onwards was a big deterrent. Anyway, if that’s not your thing, there are lots of other less worryingly priced items that you can order.

Two Manhattans, one sangria down, and we’re buzzing like bees with an overdose of honey. Our senses leap even more, when a saxophonist begins the early evening with some jazzy arrangements, a few classics and contemporaries.

Tousled children prance around deck chairs, the wind whistles, we move to the rhythm and can’t help but grin foolishly.

As the twilight turns to dusk, the place fills in with tourists and the music becomes more trippy. Looking around, you get a sense that people have thrown caution to the wind, forgotten the pandemic and are just out to live their lives once more. This isn’t a new normal. It’s a whole new reality. Possibly one that I can live with quite happily.

As the crowds kept pouring in, right in tune with the now pelting rain, we decide to call it a night. There were magical moments but we’ve learned to leave before the party is over. This is after all, a restaurants main role at the moment : offering short, intense, lively moments of magic.

It’s not quite fine dining. Nor is it star service or budget-friendly. But it is dining outside with a terrific view. And at the moment, we should all grab it where we can get it.

The Liebster Award, Get to Know Me

I’ve been wanting to write this post for some days now. So, finally here I am with a cup of coffee getting down to revealing more about myself with the The Liebster Award.

At the onset, I want to express my gratitude to Moksha Hegde from Happy Panda for nominating me kindly. Thank you. This is my first ever award here and I’m so happy that you thought of me. I love reading her posts. They are so peppy and thoughtful. Do read her posts and follow her, if you aren’t already.

The Liebster Award

Liebster in German means – sweetest, kindest, endearing, beloved and so on. It’s a great initiative to support new blogs. 

Rules: 

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you. 
  3. Nominate 11 bloggers
  4. Ask your nominees 11 questions
  5. Notify your 11 nominees 

Moksha’s Questions :

  1. If you could wear only one colour for the rest of your life, which would you pick? I love white. It’s been a favourite for a long time now. Though technically it’s not a colour, I appreciate order and simple elegance and I think white embodies both perfectly. I wish my wardrobe had more whites in it.
  2. Favourite dessert? Jelly is my all-time favourite. It reminds me of when we were school kids and used to freeze jelly for a tea-time snack. In addition, I love brownies and cookies.
  3. Which country are you from and if you had to pick a different country to live in, which would you pick? I am from India, but would love to live in the UK. It has both bustling cities and a quiet countryside. Moreover, you don’t have to learn any new languages to adapt and it’s so cosmopolitan.
  4. A novel you recommend that everyone should read? I would say The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. It’s such a thoughtful and insightful book and really influenced how I approached life and work, both generally and specifically. The main theme was individualism versus collectivism, not just in politics but in the souls of men. In the book, Ayn Rand presents her concept of the ideal man, “as he could be, and as he should be.”
  5. Can you cook? If yes, what’s your favourite dish to cook? I’m not a good cook and can just get by. I think a pulao and fried fish is as much as I can handle.
  6. Pick between – travelling with friends or travelling solo or travelling with your partner.- I think I’d pick travelling solo first and travelling with a partner second. I love solo travelling because you can take time to explore without being pressured to follow someone else’s itinerary. You can sit at a cafe watching the world go by or make new friends with people you’ve never met before. Travelling with a partner is also lovely because it’s so wonderful to have someone to explore a new place with. On the other hand, the memories of that place often become tied to the person you are with and that can colour your memory, if God forbid you’re no longer with that person.
  7. Do you prefer outdoors or being indoors? I think both, depending on the weather and my mood. I like to be outdoors at the seaside, if the weather is bright and sunny and indoors in a cozy corner if it’s rainy and chilly.
  8. A goal for 2020 that you’re still hopeful you’ll manage to do? I’ve been wanting to complete 60 blog posts before end of this year and hit 500+ followers. I’ve so far completed about 40 posts and still way short of that 500 followers mark. But let’s see. Miracles can happen.
  9. If you could only write about one topic, what would you write about? This is a tough one. Being restricted to one topic is so limiting. But, I would write about personal growth and self-development.
  10. Do you like adventure activities like hikes, rafting, etc.? Have you done any? I love adventure and exploring new activities. I’ve been on hikes. Never been rafting but hope to change that this year. I love being in the water and have been on jet ski rides, boat rides, kayaks and tried wind surfing also. I’m afraid of heights, so I guess bungee jumping and sky diving is a no-no for me.
  11. How would you describe your personal fashion style in one word (eg: comfortable)? Understated.

Thanks for reading through. Do let me know if any of my answers resonate with you in the comments section.

My nominees for The Liebster Award :

  1. Blessing Pius from My Diva Blog for the lovely quotes, poetry and motivational posts.
  2. Anjali from Chasing the Maximum life for her amazing fashion, lifestyle and inspirational posts.
  3. Mani from Mani’s Book Corner for the great book reviews.
  4. Debjani from Debjani’s Thoughts for the flawless way her words come together while reviewing books.
  5. Kamran from Top Education Hub for his inspirational and motivational posts.
  6. Christin from Life Stories by Christin for the lovely short stories and poems.
  7. Salsaworldtraveller’sblog for the detailed, informative and useful travel related posts.
  8. Rizwan from Writer Rizwan for his lovely excerpts and writings about Goa.
  9. Farshana from Rain ‘n’ Books for the simply superb and engaging book reviews.
  10. Shruba from Lemon Grass for her unique posts and lyrical poetry and words.
  11. Markus and Micah from Markus+Micah for their engaging travel related posts and beautiful photographs.

My questions for my nominees are :

  1. Which song always gets you on the dance floor?
  2. Have you ever disliked something and then changed your mind?
  3. Love or Money? What would you choose given the chance and why?
  4. What’s the product that you can’t live without?
  5. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard?
  6. Who or what has had the biggest impact on your life?
  7. Do you believe in second chances?
  8. Are you active on social media or do you prefer to be more private?
  9. Who would play you in a movie on your life?
  10. If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?
  11. What’s the app that you use the most?

Tataki- Immersive Asian Dining- Restaurant Review

Buzz is a crucial lever of the restaurant scene. It will put more patrons in seats and napkins on lapels than grand taste, fancy seasonings or organic produce. Tataki has made moves on Panaji- in a swashbuckling yet subtle way by placing itself in Panaji’s most happening corner that houses Soho and Down The Road, the mouth of the lane leading to Fontainhas.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for this re-opening for quite some time now. I’ve been here twice before and loved the place. So, it is with much anticipation that we decided on a third outing here.

I would have loved to reserve the balcony area but was informed that the whole verandah was booked. Impressive, for a restaurant that has re-opened merely four or five days ago.

We enter and I’m reminded of all the reasons I loved the place on my previous visits. It has the sort of ambience that can drive you to paroxysms of poetry, a vast room in shades of clotted pink, brown and rose gold, with a choice of low and high tables. The lovely candles on the tables lend a soft romantic glow to the atmosphere.

We’re seated inches away from the luminous bar, with a cherry blossom installation fanning the top and its subtlety highlighted by the flashy beauty of the many vivid bottles. The walls are punctuated by curious looking art and the menu trots around the Orient with the same kitschy attitude. My companion chose a high table close to the bar because, unlike me, he believes that salvation can be found at the bottom of a glass.

The server takes our order for drinks. My companion chooses the Mr Macho, a concoction of Bourbon, spiced tea and maple. I’m so confused that we ask the server for recommendations. She is so evangelical about the Black Rock, an activated charcoal infused gin cocktail, that I feel obliged to order it.

The Black Rock looks interesting, but sadly for me the taste wasn’t remarkable. It’s green-black, for crying out loud, and tastes similar to the celery juice I had that morning. On the other hand, the Mr. Macho has inspired a psalm of praise from my delighted companion.

Mr. Macho

For starters, we order the Classic La-Zi-Ji with Sichuan chilli peppers, scallions and Goan cashew nuts and the Malay style butter garlic prawns with curry leaves and chillies.

The service is super-rapid. The food arrives gaily: hot, fresh and vibrant. The presentation is exquisite- beautiful crockery and lovely arrangement. The chicken is delicate, diced and has an oomph of flavour. The Malay prawns are plump and glossy, intensely flavoured but not overwhelming. Both dishes are extremely satisfying and accomplished in their own way.

Malay Prawns

We’re thirsty again. Being seated close to the bar has its perks and my companion has his own chemistry going on with the barman. He orders a Manhattan. Feeling slightly left out, I holler for a Sangria. No recommendations from the perky server this time. The Manhattan with Jameson looked rich and was super delish. The Sangria was just right, garnished with an orange slice, that provided just enough of a fruity kick.

The Manhattan

For main course, we decide on a vegetarian truffles and pepper sushi roll. This is the star of our show and is a visual delight. I’d like to say it is life-changingly delicious, but I don’t have that many reference points to compare with. So, all I can say is that everything came together just as it supposedly should, and we gobbed on with perverse pleasure.

Vegetarian Truffles and Pepper Sushi Roll

Dessert came next. We zeroed in on a coconut panacotta with caramelised bananas. I wasn’t too keen on the choice, but unwilling to leave without dessert, I agree to go with the flow. It’s a pleasant dish, kind of bouncy with the caramelised bananas and gooey sauce adding gravitas.

Coconut Panacotta with caramelized bananas

It’s time for the bill. At Rs. 525/-, the Malay prawns was the most expensive dish we ordered that day. But we’re not complaining. The bill had us beaming. And we’re stuffed as comprehensively as a roast turkey at Thanksgiving.

As we make our way out, I realize I’m truly smitten by Tataki. Again!! The food, the ambience, the drinks. Needless to say, I’m impressed. And most definitely immersed.

Moment Marketing – Does it help brands?

The other day I came across this news article that stated that Maurizio Cattelan’s much talked-about Banana artwork is now in the Guggenheim museum in New York, courtesy an anonymous donor.

The piece of art which went viral, Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian – a simple banana, duct-taped to a wall and priced at $ 120,000 was the subject of much controversy. To recap, Cattelan is an Italian artist and known for edgy work. In 2016 he replaced a toilet at the Guggenheim with a fully functioning gold one. He called the artwork America.

So, what was the thought behind the banana duct-taped to the wall?

A glimpse into what the gallery had to say about it may help throw some light on the matter. “Back then, Cattelan was thinking of a sculpture that was shaped like a banana. Every time he traveled, he brought a banana with him and hung it in his hotel room to find inspiration. He made several models: first in resin, then in bronze, and in painted bronze (before) finally coming back to the initial idea of a real banana.”

The idea behind it, according to the gallerists, was to explore ‘how we assign worth and what kind of objects we value’.

The artwork caused so much of a stir that large crowds assembled before it. To court even more controversy, New York-based performance artist David Datuna literally took a bite of the action by plucking the banana off the wall and eating it in front of stunned onlookers. He claimed that it was performance art and his answer to the supposed question posed by Catellan.

What began as a work of art soon turned into a meme that went viral across social media and brands had a field day with their own version of the duct-taped “banana.”

This was a prime instance of moment marketing. Moment marketing is the development of relevant and consistent links between current trending topics and a brand’s messaging and then communicating it on various media platforms. The question is, does it really help brands?

Burger King is quite well-known for its moment-oriented social campaigns. It has always found ways to integrate its brand with trending topics through social platforms and influencers. Having previously launched campaigns around ‘net neutrality’ and the horror movie ‘It’, it only made sense to get onto the Art Basel banana wagon.

However, bouncing on a trend isn’t simple. For certain brands, the choice feels organic and seamless. For others, it feels laboured and forced. You may get a high number of impressions, but it’s unlikely that one meme will impact the long-term success of your brand.

There are too many bad examples of brands attempting to “get with” the trending news in their web content, especially when they try to connect with a younger audience, and get it wrong- often comically, sometimes tragically. The impact is similar to the elderly uncle who loves to dance with the younger folks at weddings.

Remember the ill-fated Pepsi commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall of that creative meeting. Pepsi wanted to position their product as a cultural diversity unifier. The goal was well-intentioned but the idea failed. It showed reality star Kendall Jenner settling a Black Lives Matter standoff between the police and the protestors by offering a Pepsi can to the police officer.

The result was an outcry. The commercial was spoofed, memed and ridiculed to death. Eventually, the spot was pulled. Pepsi’s in-house ad group had conceptualised this disaster. PepsiCo president Brad Jakeman stepped down six months later, and said that the spot was “the most gut-wrenching experience of my career.”

The other issue with moment marketing is that it tends to go stale pretty fast. Its relevance can last from a day to a few weeks and then it loses out to the next “hot” thing. Such messaging is also quite context-driven. Most are referential to their geographic location or cultural surroundings, and may not make much sense out of this captive context.

The impact value of viral content like “memes” is very low from the strategic marketing perspective. For one, memes are constructed on their own history and not on the foundation of your brand. Moreover, there is always the underlying assumption that the audience already knows what the subject in question is. If they don’t, they’re either going to be racking their heads wondering what’s so funny or they’ll just pass it over without a second thought. Both aren’t desirable outcomes for brands. Memes have plenty of width, but no depth. If you really want to target your whole audience, and not just parts of it, you need content that has depth.

But what about brands that are built entirely on Moment Marketing? The Amul girl has always caught on to trending topics, both political and non-political. Till date, the Amul girl engages the Indian audiences with its phenomenal one liners nearly every day. In this case, Amul did not merely cash in on the moment marketing trend. Rather, it was the trail-blazer and was doing it for years, even before a word was coined to describe this kind of marketing. Its marketing is an intrinsic part of the brand itself and can’t be considered as exclusive from it. It’s something that the audience has come to love, accept and look forward to from the brand.

So, while moment marketing can create a connection between brands and consumers, it should also be handled with kids gloves. The questions to ask are : Is it high impact? Will it create a lasting impression? or Will it destroy what the brand has built over years of careful positioning and messaging? Most importantly, will it connect with your target audience or alienate it? And lastly, if it goes wrong, will the audience be laughing with you or at you?

Black Market, Goa- Restaurant Review

The best moments happen when they are unplanned. And moments like these are rare. In the middle of a work day, thanks to some free time, we went out to lunch. Selecting a restaurant these days is like picking a bespoke suit. There’s so much to take into consideration : the taste, the style of cuisine, your mood. Most importantly, is it the right fit for you in the current pandemic situation?

I appreciate that restaurants these days have more than a few problems. If you’re lenient, customers will feel trepidation. If you’re strict, they may get annoyed. And if they don’t see any visible effort to sanitise and take temperatures, they’ll believe you’ve been flouting the standard operating procedures. It’s little wonder that most restaurants haven’t bothered to open at all.

Our first choice was Black Sheep Bistro. But we were informed that it was shut. Instead, its sibling Black Market was open for business. So, with some reluctance, that’s where we went.

The folks at Black Market seem to have honed the art for taking ordinary interiors and transforming them with swank, taupe shades, embellishing them with vintage pictures and offering diners a lovely ambience without pretension. The interiors are so spacious and the tables positioned so remarkably apart, it felt like I owned the place.

On the walls hang a set of pictures. The distinctive board of Cafe Aram peeps out from one of them, while another depicts the charcoal factory. Look closer, and you’ll see a close-up of the statue of Abbe Faria, the world’s first hypnotist. The black and whites with a blondish-brown wooden frame add a slice of vintage Goa to the ambience.

I’ll leave nostalgia to do its whimsical thing. But those images are a nice touch.

For drinks, we chose a recommendation by the steward : spicy watermelon, while my companion picked the old fashioned with Jim Beam.

Apart from being as pretty as a picture, the spicy watermelon packed a nice light airy punch. One sip, and I was sold. Not everyone can get the old fashioned right. But at Black Market, its preparation was enthusiastic and taste as smooth as it comes.

The service was diligent, yet unobtrusive. The menu is short but displays verve and ambition. After much consideration, we chose the Malwani Stroganoff chicken and the Tribal Chicken.

The Malwani Stroganoff chicken comes first. It’s a powerful and dynamic plateful built around robust, reliable ingredients : rice, gravy and chicken. It’s a delicious dish that greases the conversation rather than being the highlight of it.

The Tribal Chicken comes next. It’s a beauty! Two hunks of chicken perch atop a yellow puree and a side slide of mash potato and soft boiled veggies. The chicken was cooked just right and the puree lent a tasteful hit to the taste-buds. It’s an appealing plate of food that’s considerate of your well-being. I must make a mention of the garlic bread. I’ve never had garlic bread served quite like this. The piquant sting of garlic, along with butter undertones and bread that was softer rather than crunchier, made for a pleasurable eating experience.

While our palates were on a trip to food paradise, a few diners made an appearance, adding to the liveliness of Black Market. The music was just what the afternoon ordered- low and loungy. Our senses were humming.

My love for churros can be traced back to Black Sheep Bistro, where I first tasted these flaky wonders. Unfortunately, they don’t serve them here. Instead, the person taking our order recommended that we try the “basque” a cheesecake pastry inspired by the Spanish variety or so we were told. His elevator pitch was so passionate that we decided to go for it. It turned out to be the best decision ever. I don’t think I’ve tasted a more delicious cheese cake. It delights with every mellow, melt-in-the-mouth spoonful. Be nice to your sugar levels and share it with a buddy.

At the risk of sounding trite, this was an afternoon well spent. The ambience, the meals, the music and the dessert can be appreciated in isolation- but it’s all part of the same adventure. This is a place that doesn’t demand attention but commands it regardless. I’d like to see how it fares in the night. Do the lights dim low? Is there more scurry and less laid-back? Does it feel more like a pub than a restaurant? For now, I can’t get involved. I’m immensely satisfied with everything at Black Market today. What happens in the black of the night, is for another story. And hopefully, lightening will strike twice.

Viva Panjim, Goa- Restaurant Review

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, Fontainhas, Goa

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.

Cocktails made famous by Stars- The Power of Influence

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Would you like to sip with the stars? If the martini was made famous by the Bond movies, the old fashioned made a comeback with Don Draper from the Mad Men, while the cosmopolitan acquired cult status after Sex and The City. There’s something to be said about the power of influence that these movies or series wield on our lives and lifestyle choices, particularly on what we eat, drink and wear.

“Shaken, not Stirred.” Remember that?

It was the catchphrase used by James Bond and hints at his preference for the preparation of his martini cocktail. The connection between the Bond movies and the martini is so intertwined, that it’s almost impossible to order a vodka martini without powering your inner Bond. Sean Connery was the first Bond and also gets credit for being the first to say the line.

The vodka martini immediately brings to mind the imagery of James Bond, replete with a glass in hand, a glamorous woman at his side and a sense of looming danger. The martini conjures up an aspiration of a lifestyle of sophistication, glamour and peril.

Many martini aficionados will tell you that shaking a martini will spoil the drink, while some opine that gin martinis should be stirred and vodka martinis are to be shaken.

So why vodka and martinis?

Bond movies cost the earth to make, and are a marketers delight. So, it’s a match made in product placement heaven. Smirnoff vodka was one of the first products to be featured in the Bond movies. It’s possible that the reason you see so much vodka ordered up in Bond movies, has less to do with the storyline and more to do with marketing. So James Bond is responsible for a whole lot of things : ruined cars, broken hearts, explosions and an overwhelming number of people asking for martinis in bars.

There’s a certain rhythm to the line,

“Can I get an Old-Fashioned?”

And just like that, Don Draper brought the old-fashioned back from the grave. The phrase epitomised a modicum of elegance, grace and style of an era gone by. Don Draper was the embodiment of classic masculinity, polish and style. An ad man at the peak of his career, clean shaven, with perfect hair and supreme confidence. Women wanted him and men wanted to be him. They don’t make them like him anymore.

The Old Fashioned was his drink of choice. Before Mad Men entered our screens and our lives, the Old Fashioned’s were literally deemed to be like their name, “old-fashioned.” Mad Men changed that forever. Don Draper made the classic older version of things seem cool. He made us crave stories, heritage and history.

There is a deep connection between Mad Men, Don Draper and the Old Fashioned. It made us want to remember the past, instead of forgetting it. Just like the scene, where Don Draper and Conrad Hilton are two generations apart, but discover the most basic way to bond : with an old fashioned in hand and a shared abhorrence for being left out. The old-fashioned became a symbol of history, legacy and elegance. Less about the drink and more about the stories we recall with it.

So, we’ve covered the men and their drinks? But, what about the girls? While the martini was associated with James Bond and the alpha-male personality, the Cosmopolitan in Sex and The City (SATC) established the women leads as alphas in their universe. The Cosmopolitan was the perfect female counterpart for the Martini.

The first time the cosmo made its appearance on SATC is on the episode titled “The Awful Truth.” It made a more pointed appearance later in an episode titled, “The Chicken Dance,” when the fab four attend the wedding of Miranda’s interior decorator. An upset Samantha says, “Another Cosmopolitan, please.” And the rest is history.

So why did the Cosmopolitan become a trend? Well, it’s pretty, it’s pink and it’s popping, all while maintaining an air of elusiveness and therefore worth coveting. When Sarah Jessica Parker and gang began regularly sipping the pink drink on screens all over the world, people were very intrigued by what was in those long stemmed martini glasses. Whatever the show featured, right from Magnolia Bakery to Cosmos, signified what was “cool” and “hip” at that moment. If the show glamorised “bitchiness”, the Cosmopolitan became the “go-to” drink for the basic bitch and an integral part of drinking culture among women.

While blatant product placement can definitely influence our choices, subtle lifestyle symbols like cocktails and cupcakes also have their moment in the sun. It’s all about imagery and associations. The old fashioned depicts classic heritage and panache, the martini is associated with sophistication and glamour and the cosmopolitan is pretty, flirty and elusive. Most importantly, all of these required a back story and some star dust, to come back to life.

A drink isn’t just a drink anymore. It’s the sum total of aspiration, perception and imagination, all in a glass.

Martin’s Corner, Betalbatim- Restaurant Review

I recall a conversation with a client over a year ago. The client was in Goa and looking for a good place to dine. I recommended two or three restaurants in South Goa. Martin’s Corner wasn’t one of them. Typically, because I felt it suffered from over-visit. Every tourist has been there at least once or maybe more. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the client and his colleagues ended up at Martin’s.

Martin’s reputation definitely precedes it, within and outside Goa. I’ve visited this place a few times; the first time over a decade ago and at least twice or thrice pre-lockdown. Ten years ago, I was blown away by it. In recent years, not so much. Perhaps, it has got something to do with the fact that similar restaurants have mushroomed all over the place.

Today, we retrace our steps of a year ago, to Martin’s corner, Betalbatim. Food shared is Happiness multiplied. I’m mulling over this as we drive past freshly washed fields, with the mulchy whiff of monsoon in the air. A favourite part of Goa, my favourite season, en route to a restaurant where I’ll be dining with my favourite person. That’s my idea of happiness. I couldn’t be merrier.

We are the first customers and are greeted with some measure of excitement. Gratifyingly, masks adorn the faces of the staff and an automated sanitiser stands at the entrance. We take our seats and the menu is sent to us via a link on our phones. So far, so safe.

The seating is comfortable enough, the bar looks interesting, but there’s not much to rave about when it comes to the interiors. However, the place’s friendliness is infectious and as the tables begin to fill up gradually, even more so. And you can tick off brick walls, lightbulbs, Goan murals mimicking everyday life and a photo-wall featuring celebrity diners. Intriguing? Maybe. Exceptional? Not at all.

We started with a Mojito and Sangria. A sip or two of the rich Sangria, many more of the fresh mint Mojito and the world seemed a happier place.

Chicken malai kebab and Prawns in Recheade masala were our choice of starters. The prawns came first. Red hot, fiery, fierce and drenched to glory in recheade masala. I somehow prefer the rawa fried variety. There was only so much heat my palate would take, before I put my fork down. Meat eaters can revel in luscious hunks of chicken kebab, the meat collapsing under the fork, with the green chutney giving it a bit of a kick. We placed our next orders even before we cleared these.

The next and final entrant was Thai red curry with steamed rice. It was earnestly prepared and nicely muted in flavour, much to our relief. It was definitely what we needed to balance out the super-hot rechead prawns. We would have loved to round off with the caramel pudding, but sadly our bellies could take no more.

Moreover, the afternoon was getting sultrier by the minute. The outer area lacks ventilation, and the heat made us decidedly uncomfortable. At the risk of sounding churlish, all we wanted to do at that point was take comfort in the confines of an air-conditioned room.

Martin’s layering of successive generations of cooks, customers and Goan sensibilities is one source of its lingering charm to locals and tourists. Tradition anchors it, but also makes it vulnerable. Because with great heritage comes great expectation. And I’m not sure that it lived up to that today.

I’m equally confused about taste and quality. I’ve heard food critics and patrons rave about authenticity. For me, the dishes ranged from amazing to so-so.

A quick glimpse of their instagram shows litters of pictures of drool-worthy dishes. So, maybe its legacy does live on. Even if it’s mostly on its social media pages.

For me, I’d pick taste over tradition and night over day for a visit here. Nevertheless, the crowd that still throngs Martin’s Corner makes me suspect that it will continue to hang around for at least another couple of generations. Especially for those who still live in Goa’s nostalgic past and want to taste it too.