Dhaba is a hindi word for box and walla is a suffix of the previous word which means ‘doer’ or ‘holder’. So, dhabawalla is, indeed, the carrier of a box. The three or four tiered dhaba is also known as tiffin.

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The terms dhabawalla and tiffin carrier are used simultaneously. What does the box contain? A boxed lunch. Yep, one that is provided by your loving mother, grandmother or aunt. Restaurants sometimes supply lunches and use the dhabawalla (tiffin carrier) to deliver the meal to an office or private home.

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Back in the sixties, in Bombay, a dhabawalla delivered my meals to me where I worked in the Stock Exchange Building on Dalal Street. Daily, I watched them from my office on the fourth storey of the building, trying to make sense of their system. It was fascinating. The men, I understood, were not literate by any means. But they had a certain organizational skills which allowed for mysterious markings on the boxes, colour coding and grouping. All of this allowed them to deliver the food to their respective clients with astounding accuracy. In the late afternoon, dhabawallas picked up the empty containers and delivered them to the origins.I never knew how they did it but I was excited each day to see my meal arrive and anticipate what might be in it. My food came from a Goan restaurant in Dhobitalao and much as I loved my mother’s cooking, the restaurant food was different enough to tantalize my taste buds. They had a terrific knack for making meat croquettes, potato chops, caldeen and some other goan favourites. These foods that my mother reserved for special occasions, were the restaurant’s day-to-day fare.

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One day, I picked up my tiffin from the spot where the dhabawalla left it along with other co-workers who had their meals delivered. I was allowed to eat at my desk since my boss relied on me to cover the phones in the lunch hour. I didn’t mind since I could eat and read my novel. Hardly anyone ever called in that hour since most were likely devouring their own meals. I never ate breakfast in those days therefore, by lunch time, I was famished. I opened the clasp of the tiffin and separated the stacked containers, my mouth watering all the time.

I stared at the contents, my brows knitted together in total surprise – shock even. The top container held two dry looking chapatis, the next one, french beans with a sprinkling of coconut and just enough tumeric to tease the beans. The third container had a watery, greyish liquid with about four mustard seeds and one large cinnamon stick floating in it. I forced myself to look at the last container which held a banana halved to make it fit. I leaned back in my chair, threw my head back and sighed. Then, I proceeded to try each item. I was hungry enough to eat both chapatis. Aftertrying a spoonful of the soup, I decided that I wasn’t hungry after all. The beans – meh! I picked at three of them and they were tasteless. I broke off the blackened pieces of banana and ate the rest. Thank goodness that I had arrived at an exciting point of adventure in my novel. Somerset Maugham’s Magician gripped me with a terror that distracted my thoughts from the horrid lunch I had just consumed.

In the corridor of the building, two men were talking loudly. I recognized Mr. Vora’s loud and heavily accented voice. He evidently spoke better gujarati than english. He was talking to Ravi, the peon.

Mr. Vora: You will never believe what happened to me.

Peon: Sorry sir? What happened?

Mr. Vora: I opened my dhaba and lo and behold. A meal from heaven was inside it.

Peon: Heaven sent you a dhaba?

Mr. Vora: Arre, stupid fellow. Not heaven in the real sense. I don’t know who sent it but it was wonderful (sounds of smacking lips) – It was delicious. I have never tasted anything like it. Oh golly gosh! I am so happy I did not have to eat the stupid diet food my mother sends to me. She is worrying about my weight.

**********

My hair stood on its end and I wanted to go out in the corridor and confront him. But the feeling didn’t last. It occured to me that day after day, Mr. Vora gets to eat bland and yukky food. For once he got a taste of the delicious food I enjoyed every single day.

Incidentally, this error could not be attributed to the dhabawalla who had done the right thing. He had put the tiffins in one spot where employees collected them in the lunch hour. This error was totally the fault of Mr. Vora who picked up the wrong tiffin. Shame on you Mr. Vora but I am happy that you enjoyed my lunch!

An Ode to Papa

Posted: March 14, 2012 in dribs and drabs
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Papa, my maternal grandfather, lived in Alto Ranoi, Quitla, Aldona. He and my grandmother raised six children in a large house. I believe all his children were born in that house but I cannot be sure. It’s true that some of his grandchildren were born in there. Papa, I’m told, in the days when he was able to work, managed a general store in the village. A store that sold every commodity that a household would ever require. From food to toiletries to even port wine, cashew and coconut feni. Some of you may remember Papa, a very distinguished looking man with a proud face and an even proud mustache. I have memories of sitting in his lap and curling the ends of his mustache. In the house, two portraits of him hung on a wall directly above a rattan settee. Beside the settee was a dark wood (teak or ebony perhaps) showcase in which were kept dainty little glasses for serving port wine out of, good china, elegant carvings of bone and other artefacts that we were allowed to look at through the glass front. I like to tell the story of Papa leading the evening rosary every day after which he took out the little glasses and poured all the prayerful people a shot of port wine. I remember sleeping through the rosary prayers but being wide awake for my shot. I couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4 so what does that tell you about me? Only kidding! I still say the rosary and I rarely partake of the shot.

The house was always bustling with people. Can you imagine? Six grown children, their spouses, their children. Oh my! Picture the celebrations at birthdays, first communions, marriages, baptisms and sadly, funerals. My grandmother would have had nine children in all but three died as babies. They were mourned in that house. By the time my own mother, the youngest of all the children was 27, my grandmother died. She had to be young and I never got to know her. She was mourned in that house too.

Did Papa and his wife have help with all of this? Oh yes they did. Zuzin, an adopted but important person in the family not only assisted with childbirths (a midwife of her own making), she cared for the children, home and farm. I can still picture Zuzin, who incidentally, was appointed my godmother, multitasking in a big way. One minute she was returning from working in the fields, next minute, she was bathing a cousin, then cooking up the afternoon meal, then attending to the yield from the field – setting it out to dry, preserve and so on. What a woman!

What did the house look like? My memory is fading but I remember large rooms with high ceilings. The hall was impressive both in it’s size and décor. The tables with doilies and bowls of artificial fruit or vases of flowers made the room look inviting. When the windows on the one side of the house were flung open in the mornings, the brightness was cheery and welcome. Every Goan house had an altar in one corner of the room towards which we all faced when praying together. This house was no different. The altar, a wooden construction of shelving had brass candlesticks, statues of Mary, Joseph holding Jesus and other saints. There were large gilt framed pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary on the wall above the altar and one of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Papa was a devoted man and led his family in prayer on a regular basis.

In my very early years, I was fortunate to live in the house with my mother’s sister (Papa’s eldest child), a remarkable woman who became my guardian. So, my very early memories of the house are of learning to walk and talk. Walking in the house was tough on a toddler in training – the entrance to every room seemed to be a step down or a step up. I fell a lot and cried a lot but it sure turned me into a sturdy youngster. I remember the stone wall surround on the other side of which was the road. I was allowed to freely roam the gardens outside, climb the low trees and even the stone wall. Many a times, I had bloodied knees from these attempts but such freedom for a child is defintely to be cherished.

I invite cousins and anyone who remembers the house to send me their memories and I will incorporate them into this blog post. One cousin remembers that Papa grew coffee plants along the boulevard beside the house. During the monsoons, the plants blossomed and the beautiful flowers exuded a sweet fragrance.

So, this is an ode to Papa and his house. May the house and it’s occupants remain strong in our memories. May the new occupiers of this home have just as many rich experiences as did Papa and his family.

Photos: Complements of Eddie DeSouza and my cousin Linda.

Mapusa Market on a Friday

Posted: October 30, 2011 in Uncategorized
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This market is definitely something to experience. Don’t forget to hone your bargaining skills and expect to haggle. It’s totally expected of you, the buyer. Of course, you can choose to ignore this advice and pay the asking price but the experience is bland and hardly adventurous. Bear in mind, it’s not cool to haggle over food prices because they remain fairly competitive. Feel free to haggle over the prices of other merchandise such as clothing, footwear, shawls, carpets, jewellry and so on.

There is absolutely no end to the merchandise available at this market. Here is another sampling of what you can buy. The goods are diverse and you can expect to see anything and everything.

Take your time and when you get hungry, there’s ample food to tickle your palate with.  Feast your eyes on these scrumptious goa sausages (chorizos) which are not exactly like the spanish chorizo but similar.

There are cafes you can hide in if the heat gets to you – they’re usually air-conditioned. Cafe SF Xavier is my favorite because you can not only eat there but browse around the cafe market for curios and gifts to buy your friends back home. Authentic goan artefacts, books and sweets. The kind of sweets your granny made for Christmas. Dodol, Batco, pinag and all those yummies.

Photos: complements of my flickr friends Fred Noronha and Christina Pinto.

Cashew – A Fruit

Posted: January 30, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I’ll bet you didn’t know the cashew is a fruit. Am I right? If you didn’t grow up in cashew country, how would you know? Most people think that the nut itself grows on trees. Few know that it is actually attached to a fruit and that the fruit is utilized as well.

So that is one kind of cashew which is red. My grandmother had a grove and as children, we called it ‘secret grove’ because we weren’t allowed anywhere near the grove. You can guess why right? Snakes, they told us. The fear of snakes kept us from doing all sorts of exploring for excitement or so the elders thought. Still, I’m not sure where the fruit grove is and it can remain a mystery for all I care. What matters is that we all got to enjoy the abundance that the fruit grove produced.

So, it was nothing unusual to see Mae and Santan shucking cashew nuts from their fruit. The fruit all went into a big crock so that feni could be made from it. Wait, I’ll talk about the feni later. First, let’s talk about the nut. The kernel is quite soft and can be split with a knife if you want to leave the nut raw. For roasting, the whole kernel is roasted and the outer covering removed to expose the crispy roasted nut.

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While we enjoyed the roasted nuts as a snack, sometimes the raw ones were ground and used in recipes for both sweets and also in savoury dishes.

Now, I’ve never made feni but I certainly have sipped on this exotic and exhilarating drink. I’m sure at times, I hallucinated on it because I….. never mind. As if I would know what it means to hallucinate – cough, cough! Anyway, all I can say is that feni, also known as Cajel is quite the drink and would put Tequila to shame. Everyone has to try cashew feni at least once. By the way, feni can be made from coconut as well. Cashew feni has an exquisite flavour. All this talk of feni is making me wish I had some. Yeah right! Where would I find feni on the west coast of Canada? Dream on Bardezgirl!

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I found this link http://www.sendliquor.com and apparently they will mail a bottle of this feni for the price of $49.00 plus shipping. Now, I have to figure out whether it’s worth it to me to pay this or whether I should just wait until my next trip to India when i can buy some for a lot cheaper! Hmmmm….

Don’t you just love the sight of these incredible fruit? Incidentally, they possess a high content of oxalic acid in them which, if you eat too much, makes your throat pucker up! So, caution my friends. Eat a small quantity in one sitting or else, just enjoy the fruit or better still, sit in the shade of a banyan tree in your grandmother’s back garden and sip on the exotic alcoholic derivation known as Feni!

Engaged to be married

Posted: December 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

When a dear neice told me of her forthcoming engagement, I was excited and sad at the same time. I live in Canada and she lives in India. How would I celebrate with her? I wanted to share my excitement with my Canadian daughter but the idea of an ‘engagement’ being such a big deal was foreign to her. This blog is for my daughter and anyone who is interested to learn that an engagement ceremony in India is bound in tradition, ritual and perhaps even contractual in nature. For the purposes of visuals, I borrowed a photo from furiousphotographersblog.com. After my neice send me photos of her own engagement, with her permission, I shall post those here. So, my neice explained the meaning and method of the engagement ceremony in Punjabi tradition. My neice and the man she is getting engaged to are yuppie types and while wanting to keep the tradition, will make some modifications to suit their modern ways of thinking. All is done with the permission of their parents which shows respect for families and honor for tradition.

The name of the engagement ceremony is Roka. As soon as the couple decide to wed, The Roka or Saith ceremony, which is an announcement that the boy and girl have found their soulmates and will look no further for a life partner, is held. The origin of this custom lies in the arranged marriage norm where the parents would let out the word that they are looking for a suitable match for their son or daughter. And once they had found that match, their search had come to an end. Rings are not generally exchanged but my neice and her man have decided to exchange rings. Prayers may be said though I’m not sure whether they will be in this case. Gifts are exchanged between the boy and girl. Gifts are also exchanged between bride and groom’s family. The gifts can be as lavish or as humble as one can afford. Some gift gold and others fruit and sweets. After this ceremony, the couple is officially engaged.

The familes then celebrate together with close friends and relatives. In my neice’s case, there will be a reception at a hotel as their home is too small to accomodate the thirty or so guests that will attend. Oh yes, engagement outfits can also vary from being lavish or simple according to one’s taste and purse. I think my neice will wear a sari. Oooohhhh, I am so excited.

All this got me thinking about engagements in Goan culture because I am a Goan. My memories took me back to some of the engagement parties I went to as a child followed by weddings and receptions. Of course, I only remembered the celebrations and feasts so, I had to research for the information on engagements. Here is what I found which is accurate according to my memory.

ENGAGEMENT: A suitable boy and girl are introduced to each other by an informal proposal for marriage brought by matchmakers (more likely mutual friends, female relatives, teachers or priests) known to both
families. After the young couple and parents are introduced, both
individuals and families pursue a dialogue and social interactions. If
both are interested in the union, after background checks (due-
diligence) and at times after a check on the horoscopes, the girl’s
parents officially visit the boy’s parents to bring a formal proposal.
Negotiations of the marriage process may ensue.

If fruitful, an engagement, soirik, mangni or sakharpuda ceremony is
planned. GSB refer to an engagement as nishchaytambul or nischay. Some
groups publicly announce the ritual prior to its event. Others do so
after the engagement ceremony but before the marriage.

Engagement rituals with prayers are performed at the girl’s home in
front of parents, close relative and friends. Among Catholics,
engagement rings are exchanged. According to Hindu custom, the girl
sits on a stool, her feet are washed, and she wears kumkum on her
forehead. In both groups, the boy offers the girl gifts of fruits,
sweets, green bangles (kankne or chuda) and gold jewelry. The boy also
receives some gifts. The new couple exchange pudos (cone-shaped paper)
iced with sugar. After a pledge of their intentions, the girl wears
twelve bangles of different colors which she continues to wear during
the courtship period and until the wedding.

After the ritual, there is the usual celebration, feasting and toasting.
This private celebration calls for playing traditional Goan songs. Lots
of Konkani tapes and CDs presenting a repertoire of Goan wedding and
love songs are now available! But, this should not prevent some live
joint-singing of traditional Konkani classical songs and love songs
special for this occasion. As this merriment can be an additional mental
burden for the girl’s parents in a nuclear family, it would help to
assign a relative (aunt or uncle) who has an artistic bent to plan the
enriching entertainment of the evening. This would be an honor and
pleasure for them to help – remember culture is inter-dependency! Goan
artistic events should also be about other aspects of our traditions
beyond Goan food and drink (an aspect of Goan custom that fortunately is
never in short supply). There should also be opportunities of the
members of the two families to come to know each other.

 

 

Village Chapel

Posted: December 10, 2010 in Uncategorized
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On the little road that led from the junction of the church road and the village road, on the way to Mae’s house, there is a chapel much like this one. A simple little chapel where you could see the cross through a barred off entrance. It wasn’t meant to be like a church where you stepped in, knelt down to pray and where a priest would preside. Instead, it was a little wayside chapel so that you could remember to stop and pray on your way to somewhere else. A ltitle whitewashed chapel. I loved to stop and stare inside it as if expecting something miraculous to happen. What I didn’t realize at that time is that the miracles were all around. In the kindness of the people I saw each day, my grandmother, my family, my friends, the fields, the animals, every single little thing. I hope that the chapel in Bodiem still stands where it used to.

Mapusa Fish Market

Posted: October 13, 2010 in Uncategorized
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goa fish market

It’s my birthday tomorrow and my mother told me that while she waited in anticipation for my arrival, all she could smell was fish, I decided to write a blog about the Mapusa market. Yes, you got it, I was born in Mapusa supposedly not far from the fish market.   I can’t remember if my mother liked fish after that but I certainly do. I could make it my ONLY diet but in this part of the world, fish is not cheap. Also, there are so many environmental and political reasons for not eating this or that fish. I just save it for special times. My family doesn’t care for meat so a special Christmas meal may consist of fish.  Great!

Anyway, back to Mapusa and the fish market. Now, check out the fisherwoman. She looks shrewd doesn’t she. Also, fish must exude some kind of hormone just in the odour because don’t forget these women transport the fish from long distances, carrying the baskets on their head. I tell you the hormones have a direct effect on the fisherwoman’s ability to tear a strip off you if she doesn’t like how you haggle. They either take a liking to you or not. If you are a regular, good thing but if you are a stray who stops by the inspect the fish for it’s freshness, ‘watch out’! You could get a barrage of swear words shouted at you in Konkani. Or else, just a plain  ‘Maka Kallana.’  Guess that shuts a person up. Anyway, my father who did most of the shopping in our family had no problem with these people. He was a regular and probably went to the same women everytime. He didn’t haggle because I think he felt sorry for them and wanted to help their sales. It didn’t make my mother happy when my father came home with way too much fish for just our family to consume. Anyway, none of us kids complained because we loved the fish and the way my mother cooked it.

I loved how Mummy stuffed the bhangde and been looking all over for a recipe. I found this one on GoaNet which looks pretty close to how she made it. I think these days, you can buy the ready made masala paste for the fish but this receipe shows how to make it:

Stuffed Mackerel – Goa Style

Cooking: 20 minutes
*Ingredients*
mackerel
6 mackerels, cleaned and deboned (see below), if you like you can skip
deboning the fish
juice from 2 limes
maldon salt
oil for cooking
Stuffing
18 curry leaves
4 onions, peeled and sliced
6 tbsp Goan masala paste (see recipe)
6 tbsp finely chopped corriander
1 large red chilli, seeds removed and diced
To Serve
lemon wedges
slices of shop purchases naan bread (optional)
pilaf rice with chickpeas (see recipe)
or boiled rice
Method

*mackerel:*
Wash and dry the inside of the fish. Rub salt and lime juice into the flesh
of the mackerels.

*Stuffing:*
Heat a little oil in a saucepan over a moderate-high heat, saute the onion
in the pan until golden brown. Add the curry leaves and masala paste and
cook for a couple of minutes until aromatic. Remove the pan from the heat,
stir in the corriander and chilli. Allow the mixture to cool.

*To Stuff:*
Rub the stuffing mixture on the flesh inside the mackerels. Refigerate for
1-2 hours (to allow the flavours to develop).

*To Cook:*
Preheat a grill. Cover a grill tray with foil and coat it lightly with oil.
Brush the mackerels with oil and place on the grill tray. Cook the fish
under the grill for 5-6 minutes on each side (turning carefully), the fish
should be golden brown and cooked through.
To Serve: Serve with wedge of lemon and accompany with slices of naan bread
(optional) and pilaf or boiled rice.

*To Debone:*
Cut the fish open along the belly, remove its inards, wash and dry it with
kitchen paper or a tea towel. Place it on a board belly side down. Using the
heel of your hand push down on the fish firmly on its backbone. loosening it
from the flesh. Cut the back bone near the head and tail, and carefully pull
it out. Remove the side bones with a sharp knife and pin bone the fish.

Enjoy

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