Far too often, the most talked about and remembered Goan cuisine are the things eaten at lunch and dinner – fresh seafood, spicy meat curries, dried shrimps and fish, a host of vegetables, a medley of spices and the liberal use of coconut. All of this makes for hearty mains at mealtimes. But, equally popular and quintessentially Goan is the breakfast, which conveniently spreads into day-long snacks. A culture in itself, and like most other traditional breakfasts, local Goan breakfasts are warm heavy on carbs, and the kind of thing that really delivers a bang for every buck. Best enjoyed at popular snack homes, these breakfast specials are also served all day through, in the form of small snack plates.
Bread came to Goa with the Portuguese in the 16th century, and one suspects it served the purpose of wiping up thick gravies and curries that are a major part of the cuisine. Today, poee and pao are staple items in Goan meals, especially at breakfast and you can see them served along with spicy Indian-style gravies with vegetables or black-eyed peas/chickpeas or just a wholesome potato sabji. Served as bhaji-pao, this is the most popular breakfast dish and one that is filling, healthy and goes a long way if you have a hectic day ahead of you.
Buns are another much-loved breakfast favourite. Not to be mistaken for an actual bun the way we imagine it, this is a yeasted, deep-fried puri-like bread that is large, round and mildly sweet. Often spiced with a sprinkling of caraway seeds or cumin, it has a delightful balance of spicy fragrance and a hint of sweetness in every bite. Surprisingly good with any of the sabjis (or bhajis as they are locally called) they pair up unexpectedly, making an indulgent version of the humble bhaji-pao. Good old puris and chapatis are also usually on offer for those who prefer something familiar and comforting.
The main part of the breakfast, the bhaji itself, has many variants. It is a potato-based semi-gravy like dish that is easy to mop up with pao or buns or the bread of your choice. There’s also usually what is called a paatal-bhaji, which is the simplest kind of curry available, a thin, but spicy curry made of just onions and tomatoes. Hot and tangy at once, it is delicious with bread. Sometimes a pulse-based curry is also on offer, most often made with black-eyed peas, small kidney beans or chickpeas too. This gravy is thicker, sometimes coconut-based and delicious.
Breakfast means business and is usually a wholesome affair, as you can tell. But this is not all. Little side plates of snacks are also popular. Patti samosas filled with spicy potatoes and peas, mirchi pakodas,batata wadas with coconut and coriander chutney are had, with a knob of bread too. Top it off with a scoop of sheera if you have a sweet tooth and it could very well be the breakfast of champions!
The best places to try local breakfast are the nondescript snack houses that dot the lanes of Goa. Small tea houses usually serve some part of this elaborate menu, with some variations, while some others might add eggs to the menu too. Even if just to have a crusty pao dipped in a cup of tea, a visit to a local breakfast spot is a delightful experience.
The rustling of newspapers, clinking of tea cups or cutting chai glasses, the hum of waiters murmuring orders between themselves and the buzz of a new day's beginning – the energy in a breakfast café gathers people of all backgrounds uniting them with one meal. Here are some popular spots in the sunshine state to try this spread.
Café Bhosle, in Panjim is an institution and one of the best places to try local Goan breakfast if you’re in the capital. Vegetarian, this restaurant is known for its prompt service, fail-proof food and a little vintage charm.
Longuinhos, in Margao is another popular haunt that dates back a few decades. It still carries the old-world charm, with a languid air of familiarity and comfort.
Café St Francis Xavier, in the heart of the Mapusa market is an old favourite. Equally popular for its meaty snacks like chops, croquettes and patties, it is a legendary eatery that attracts tourists and locals alike.
Tato’s in Panjim, now has branches in Patto as well as Margao too and serves one of the most luscious channa masala bhajis to be had with pao or buns.
If all your trips to Goa have only seen an English-style breakfast at your favourite shack, step into one of these popular eateries to taste a bit of Goa like you haven’t experienced before.
The author is a writer and blogger, amateur photographer and self-taught home cook all wrapped in one!