EATING & DRINKING:

Until recently a visit to Goa or India wasn’t complete without a bout of ‘Delhi Belly’. Today sickness is almost unheard of and most are pleasantly surprised by the high level of hygiene in Goa’s restaurants. Across the state there is a huge profusion of restaurants with every kind of food from Goan and indian specialities to western and far eastern cuisine.

By far the most popular are Goa’s own seafood dishes. From prawns to kingfish, lobster and squid - its all available and very fresh. Other popular local food is vegetarian Thalli, Balchao (fish in spicy, red sauce), Xacati (meat or chicken cooked with coconut), Vindaloo (spicy curry), Sorpatel (spicy pork soup), Reichado (fish stuffed with spicy sauce), Fish Curry (the national dish?) and Bebinca (sweet cake made from coconut pancakes).

With Goa’s increasing popularity restauranteurs from other states are moving in and there are Punjabi, Kashmiri and Marathi restaurants, along with Tibetan, Nepali and Chinese. Furthermore there are indian-style western restaurants offering pizzas and burgers. Increasingly there are bakeries with French, German and Danish specialities.

For alcohol, Goa has a special Tax-Free status and the huge number of bars bears this out. Beers, wines and spirits of every quality are available and even imports are fairly cheap. Marquise de Pompadour champagne costs half the price you would pay in Maharastra, where it is made. Feni, the local liquor, is made from coconut or cashew (caju). A weaker form is Arak which goes down well with lemonade. A number of brands of mineral water are available (check the seal before drinking), as local water, especially in the cities, may be dodgy. By and large well water (easily available in the high season in the north) is pretty good though it may be necessary to start with a few sips each day to get accustomed to it. Tap water should be avoided at all costs. Coke, Pepsi, Limca and other soft drinks are cheap and safe. Fruit juices (esp. Mango) are available in bottles or, for a real treat, from ‘juice bars’, where it is so thick that you have to eat it with a spoon. Lassi, an indian speciality like drinking yoghurt, is generally available with salt or sugar and in most restaurants with liquidized fruit. Coconut milk is available from small stalls at all major resorts and is cheap, tasty and healthy. Toddy, a drink made from the sap of young coconut shoots, is an aquired taste, especially good in the morning.
Still the most popular drink in India is tea or chai . In canteens, cafés and chai-shops across the state it is served the same way : hot, sweet and milky. ‘Special teas’ are made entirely from milk or with spices (esp. cardamon) added. In most of the tourist restaurants it is also served with milk and sugar separate.
BEACH LIFE: Though Goa has a rich cultural heritage, it is its beaches that attract 99% of its visitors. The beauty of its long, sandy, palm-fringed beaches is almost legendary. Whilst a few are fairly developed (noticeably Colva, Baga and Calangute), the majority are practically empty or have very limited facilities. Altogether, excluding the more inaccessible bays, there are 60 beaches on Goa’s 120km coastline. Some continuous stretches of sand, like Colva, have many different names which refer to the nearest village.
One of the most interesting aspects of Goa’s beaches is that, even in developed areas, the life of the fishing community goes on unhindered. Mornings are especially busy when the whole village may arrive on the beach to bring in the catch.
Facilities vary enormously and are described in the beach guide. Though Goa is starting to develop, the government have been fast to recognise that changes to the local environment must be controlled. As a result there is a law in Goa that no new buildings can be erected within 200m of the beach and those exceeding 9 metres must be at least 500 metres from it. The exception to this rule seems to be resorts built on the river estuaries, such as Bambolim. Apart from this all the beaches have shack restaurants with a large variety of food and drink. Many of these are illegal and may be closed down by the police at any time. Generally they are cheaper than permanent restaurants and, being by the sea, are sometimes more atmospheric. All have beach dogs which hang around the tables looking sorry for themselves and scavenging for scraps. As in the rest of Goa, where dogs are commonplace, a stern word (in any language) usually sends them away.
Another slight problem can be beach vendors (selling drinks, fresh fruit, beach blankets, clothes, souvenirs, ear cleaning or massage) whose tenacity is unbelievable. Normally a wave of the hand will send them on their way. However if you’ve just arrived in Goa they will spot your colour from 100 metres and descend on you like vultures. Though beach trading is illegal (without a license) the police seem to turn a blind eye.
NUDISM: Also illegal in Goa, and contrary to popular myth, is nudism. Not only is it against the law but also it greatly offends both Christian and Hindu sensibilities. Needless to say it still goes on, noticeably around the sweet-water lake near Arambol and between the quieter beaches of Colva. Notices have been erected along the major beaches and plain-clothes policemen mingle with holiday-makers to try and deter dedicated sun-worshippers. Away from villages and family groups it appears to be tolerated to some degree. Goa’s reputation as a nudist colony, though incorrect, has led to the strange phenomenon of “beach staring”. Every weekend morning, at the popular beaches, buses arrive from neighbouring states and large groups of fully clothed men take to the beaches en masse. After some simple preliminaries (“what is your country / itinerary?”) they take some photographs and move on. Though harmless they sometimes cause embarassment and covering up is the best way to deal with them. Needless to say nudists come in for the most attention.
BAKSHEESH: Roughly translated this means ‘gratitude’. In practice it means giving money to beggars (and pens to children), tipping waiters, giving back-handers to petty officials and making payments to a Policeman’s Benevolent Fund. What might be reviled as bribery in the west is an ordinary part of life in Asia and most people are fairly open about it.
POLICE: In India, as elsewhere, the police do a difficult and sometimes dangerous job for comparatively low wages. Most visitors to Goa will have very little dealings with them, unless making foreigner registration (compulsory if you wish to remain more than 180 days). For the most part they are polite and friendly to westerners and, even when the law has been broken, they show a degree of respect uncommon in the west. This friendliness even extends to turning a blind eye to certain misdemeanors in return for a little respect and some gratitude (the exact amount of gratitude depends on your own bargaining ability).
DRUGS: Another popular myth about Goa is that drugs are legal. This is not the case and possession of even the smallest quantity of hash can lead to a heavy fine or even imprisonment. However a walk through Chapora village will certainly give you the opposite impression. As always, discretion is required.
PARTIES: The ‘party season’ generally runs from November to April and is concentrated mainly in the area of Anjuna/Vagator, though there are occasionally parties in Arambol, Morjim, Colva and Benaulim. They are arranged by individuals or groups and are open to all. Folk and reggae once prevailed but now the parties are 100% electronic. There are many venues, the most popular of which seems to be “Disco Valley” behind Middle Vagator Beach. They consist of up to 2000 people dancing the night away to music systems and light shows that would put most heavy metal bands to shame. Normally about 50 local women run small chai-shops with grass mats for dancers to ‘crash-out’ on. Drug dealers mingle with the crowds and do so with impunity. Most parties last until well after sunrise and are sometimes followed by a ‘chill-out’ party at Grandpa’s Inn (east Anjuna).
COWS AND BULLS: Sacred cows are everywhere in India. They wander the streets, without a care in the world, eating everything that gets in their way. Bulls, on the other hand, are rarely seen and then they are always tied securely. In Goa, and especially Salcete Taluka , Bull-fighting is an important part of local culture. However it is completely different to the western notion of ‘man against bull’. Here bulls of a similar species are brought together to lock horns in an instinctual battle of wills. Though some bulls may be bleeding by the end of a fight, most of the danger lies with the spectators who crowd around to get a better view. Often a beaten bull will turn on its heels and dash headlong into the crowd and the resulting human stampede may be the most exciting moment of the day. Some fights are over in a matter of seconds and others can take an hour. During the longer fights, the trainers provide further entertaiment with their dubious methods of encouragement. Often as many as 2000 people will turn up to see a series of fights which are usually held in a field surrounded by temporary fences. Whilst there is some gambling, most just take part in simple card games. It appears that bull-fighting has been made illegal in recent years.
THE ANJUNA FLEAMARKET: With the exception of Mapusa’s Friday bazaar, this is the most colourful market in Goa. Held each Wednesday (in the season) beside the beach in South Anjuna, it is aimed more at westerners than the general public. Here you can buy anything from souvenirs to luxury food items, ethnic clothing and cigarette papers. As always, drug dealers mingle with the crowds and this has led to the market being shut down from time to time. Though not strictly legal many visitors have stalls selling anything and everything. Whilst stall-holders are in earnest to make sales, a large proportion of visitors are only looking and taking in the atmosphere. In recent years the market has become one of the biggest attractions of North Goa.
LEFT HAND: Outside the major resorts, and especially in rented rooms, the majority of toilets are Indian style. This amounts to little more than a hole in the floor. Nearby there is normally a ‘Lota’, which is a jug of water in place of a paper toilet roll for personal cleansing. In Asia this is always performed using the right hand to hold the jug and the left for cleaning. Hence, no-one will ever offer you their left hand in greeting or to offer food. Some Indians, no doubt mindful of the ecology, have employed pigs to carry on the clean up operation in what might be described as ‘Hog-bogs’. In most cases this goes on out of sight and causes little concern to most visitors until they see the large number of pork dishes in Goan restaurants.
POWER: In Goa, as in the rest of India, voltage is 230-240 AC (50 cycles), with various types of sockets. The more luxurious beach resorts have their own generators, as power failures are a fact of life in the area, and smaller hotels and cottages rely on candles.