Toddy-flavoured Goan delights

one a penny, two a penny

Toddy-flavoured Goan delights

In the shadow of Socorro Church in Goa, I wasn’t looking for salvation. The air was laden with the whiff of freshly baked bread and on a long table lay brown tortoise, crocodile, fish and crab. All dough-made.

On the first day of Poderachem Fest (Baker’s Fest), Father Santana Carvalho, the parish priest, had no Bible in hand; he was not elaborating on good and god. Instead, with a black mike in hand, he was telling the story of Goan bread, a story that began when the Portuguese stepped into Goa 500 years ago. With them, came the art of bread making.

The story of pao

Ironically, the bread-eating Portuguese landed in a rice bowl. Far away from home, they yearned for the crusty bread. Not only on their dinner plates but also for the Holy Communion. The devil, however, lay in the yeast – it was hard to come by. For that perfect bread, the dough had to be fermented. No yeast? The Portuguese picked the next best thing. Toddy. They added a few drops of toddy to the dough. And, well, the scrumptious Goan pao was born. Legend has it that the people of Utorda-Majorda were the first to bake bread with toddy as a fermenting medium. The art of baking bread spread in Goa and the podres (bread makers) woke up the locals with the trill of their bicycle and the aroma of freshly baked pao.

As soon as the pao stepped out of the oven and onto the plate, confusion related to its nomenclature started brewing. The British hadn’t arrived with the white bread; so there was no sliced bread. Smart alecks thought pao was quarter of a loaf, hence the name.

The finicky foodies imagined that the dough was kneaded with feet, that is why the pao (in Hindi, pao means feet). But the dictionary sets the record straight. Pao is Portuguese for bread.

Meet poie, katre pao and kanknna

At the Poderachem Fest, I shunned the idea of toasted bread with fried egg and bacon. I was learning traditional bread pairing. Chonne Ros with poie. Chouris with pao. Chau and kanknna. Mince potato chop stuffed into katre pao. Fish cutlet unddo. Confused with pairing and names, I ask baker Lawrence Rodrigues the whys of Goan pao eating. Rodrigues knows all about bread. He stays up all night to make 15 varieties of bread – nearly 1,500 breads every night. All baked in wood-fired mud oven, locally known as the ‘forn’.

Call poie pita’s cousin. Made of whole wheat flour with refined flour and a dash of wheat bran, poie is slit into half and usually used as a food pocket. Traditionally, early morning, Goans packed their poie with attuoilele (leftover curry) as breakfast. Now, it is more butter, jam or omelette in the poie. Chau and kanknna is tea with round, crusty bangle-shaped bread. Local chouris (sausage) is had with the common white pao (resembling a dinner roll). Katre pao is shaped like a butterfly which is stuffed either with potato chops, minced beef or fish cutlet.

At the Poderachem Fest, I learnt all about traditional Goan bread. To watch it freshly made, I drove to Madgaon (south Goa) looking for Pascal Gomes, the man who bakes 5,000 paos a day.

Six men, a 100-year old wood fired mud-oven, 200 kilograms of white flour every day. In Gomes’ bakery in Comba, men hurriedly rolled a mound of white flour dough into fist-sized balls and stacked them in iron trays. Round poie and butterfly-shaped katre pao were ready to be thrown into the mud oven, which is pre-heated for five hours before the poie is slid in with a long-handled flat shovel. The oven has a small opening and the poies are laid on its floor, two a  time.

The baking hierarchy

Two minutes. That is all it takes for the poie to turn brown and fluffy. Interestingly, there is a baking hierarchy. The poie goes in first because it needs the most heat and bakes the fastest. Katre pao takes five minutes, round paos eight minutes. Depending on the heat, the kanknna might take 15-20 minutes to come out crisp and brown. Poie is half-maida, half-whole wheat; all other pao are made of white flour.

Even before the poies were pulled out of the oven, a queue had formed outside. Old women in floral skirts were picking up pao for their families; school children were getting oven-fresh poie newspaper-wrapped for lunch. In Goa, pao is the monarch of the dinner table. Not the sliced, factory-made everyday bread. Instead, pao freshly baked at night and sold before the sun is up. At the crack of dawn, there’s fresh pao at the Goan doorstep.

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