Joseph stopped his car just a few minutes’ drive short of Calangute Beach, that famous tourist hub in Goa. I looked around, and saw a little village.
‘Get down, madam. Remember the traditional Goan bakery you wanted to see? It’s here,’ Joseph quipped.
Joseph was the cab driver we crossed paths with in Goa, one fine day. We was the person with whom we spent a day looking at sights around the place, on our recent visit there. He turned out to be a very interesting person, but more about that later. Today, I will tell you about my experience visiting a Goan bakery that had been around for hundreds of years. I had read about Goanese bread and traditional bakeries in a lot of travel blogs, and just casually happened to mention the same to Joseph. He offered to take me to one the very same day.
We stepped down from the car and looked around some more. There were narrow, crooked alleyways leading deep, deep inside the village, with colourful houses on both sides. I was confused. I had expected a shop, even if it were a tiny one, with big electric ovens and people queuing up to buy buns and breads that had just been baked. I couldn’t see any sign of that.
‘Just follow me. I will show you the bakery,’ said Joseph, highly mysteriously. We decided to trust our gut instinct, which was good (thankfully!), and decided to do as he said. We were richly rewarded, soon enough.
With Joseph leading the way, we walked a few metres and stopped outside a closed door with no signboard above it. By then, the aroma of freshly baked bread had begun to assail our nostrils.
‘Do you have a bag to carry the bread you buy back to your hotel?,’ Joseph asked. We said we didn’t, that we hadn’t known we’d be carrying back anything to the hotel. This puzzled us further. Wouldn’t the bakery give us packaged bread, we asked. ‘Oh, no, no, no! Just take a look,’ said Joseph, and went on to knock on the closed door.
The door opened, and we set foot into a tiny room full of heat and the overpowering smell of fresh bread. The room was dark except for a very dim light bulb just above the centre piece – a big oven. The oven was not an electric one, as I had expected, but one made of bricks. The man in charge of the bakery went on to tell us that the oven had been made by hand. Wood was burnt to power the oven, infusing its smell in the bread, making it very special and different from ordinary, store-bought bread, we were told. Splashes of cold water were used to cool down the oven when it became too hot, and the bread was brought out using huge, spade-like iron spatulas. Apparently, that morning’s bread had already been baked. Had we come in about five minutes earlier, we could have seen the entire process in person.
Apparently, when the Portuguese inhabited Goa, they missed eating bread which was so very common in their country, but very hard to come by in Goa. They tried making their own bread, but yeast was very difficult to find. So, they found an alternative – toddy. 🙂 It was at this time that Goan-made toddy began to be added to bread dough, which had the same impact as yeast. This practice has been stopped now, though. Did the bread we bought at this particular bakery contain toddy? Maybe yes, maybe not. We did not ask, because I learnt of this fact only after we returned to Bangalore and all the bread we had bought had been polished off long back. 😀
There are a variety of breads that these traditional bakeries make, all of which are popular in the surrounding villages. This bakery mainly made pao (the bread that we typically have with pao bhaji), konkon or bangle bread (which is typically dipped in milk and given to teething babies in Goa, to chew on), and poee (Goan-style bread resembling pita pockets).
We bought a few pieces of each type of bread to try out, all for a princely sum of Rs. 30! It did make me wonder at the amount of taxes and extras that we, city-dwellers, are forced to shell out while buying goods from stores.
Joseph and the baker told us how Goans (at least, the villagers!) prefer buying fresh bread made the very same morning they intend to consume it. They bring their own cloth bags for the purchase, apparently. 🙂
Every little bakery like this has a few delivery boys, locally called ‘poder’ or ‘bread boys’, who go around to the neighbouring villages to deliver fresh bread to households, on their bicycles. These bicycles have huge baskets attached to them, which are filled with hot bread and get empty within a couple of hours. When we visited the bakery, it was almost afternoon, and the bicycles were resting in the shade nearby.
We headed out of the bakery with our precious bag of still-warm bread hugged to my chest (Joseph had managed to find us a plastic bag, making me feel very, very guilty!). In a bit, we were dropped off at our hotel. Joseph was thanked profusely for the experience. The bread made their way home to Bangalore with us. What became of them? I will tell you later, in another post!
If you get a chance, do not miss visiting a charming little Goan bakery and buy fresh bread from them. It is definitely an experience worth savouring. If possible, do enquire about the timings when the bakery usually does its morning baking, so you can be there and witness the process first-hand.
I will leave you with these two beautiful posts on Goan breads and bakeries that I came across today: