Russian mafia, drug and sex scandals, Israeli hippies and dirty politicians. Goa has come to sound more like a Tom Clancy meets Sydney Sheldon potboiler, than the idyllic Portuguese beach town it has been for 500 years. Yet, cocaine coast or not, the one thing (outside of Goa?s infamous ?rave parties?), that makes Goa, Goa is that feeling of sitting on a beach doing absolutely nothing. A holiday in Goa is ruled first and foremost by your stomach,then by the sun, sand and sea and more than quite a few cold drinks.
Perhaps our most favorite activity of all in Goa, besides doing absolutely nothing, is lots of shack-hopping. Goan shacks are summed up very simply as bamboo structures with a life span of about six months in a year. Inside and out, tables are uniformly covered in chequered tablecloths, sun beds are rented out to tourists, and prawn curry, green tea and lots of hours spent staring vacantly into the sea are a staple diet. From Central Goa, to the Northern most beaches, we bring you a two-part on how to get the most out of shack hopping.
Baga and Calangute:
In the 60s hippies came to Goa in search of peace and love. They lived out their days in a lazy, hashish-induced haze, and today each beach, North to South is characterized by its own demographic of tourists. Starting from Panjim, the city centre and old town an obvious fallout of the intense commercialisation Goa has seen over the last few decades is the Baga-Calangute-Candolim beach strip. Baga beach is an ode to the newly monied Indian traveller, with some institutional Goan restaurants.
Brave the crowds, the dirty beach, smells of a brackish seaside, traffic jams and if you?re a woman, lots of groping hands, to eat Brittos extremely spicy crab and prawn curries. The best seats are the sea facing ones, and the pork vindaloo is almost as much a reason to come here as the prawn curry. For the weak hearted, you can choose the coconut milk based prawn curry or dry your post spicy dishes tears with a strangely out-of-place sounding Alpine chocolate mousse.
Set up in 1965 by owner-chef Cajie, Brittos is the oldest restaurant in Goa and is now run by his son Cajeten. Over the years its very basic feel has evolved into a resto-bar type shack. Another Goan gastronomic legend, whose restaurant-shack lines blur often, is Souza Lobo. Try the subliminal prawn curry, fried fish, Goan sausages and crab xacuti, in glorified dhaba interiors.
From Baga upward towards Calangute, the beach is regularly packed with fully clad Indian families crowded under umbrellas. The more adventurous wear one-piece suits, while most sport uniforms of orange lifejackets. Young and old mill around in shacks lining the beachfront.
On Baga the newer Shining Star Shack on Baga creek has some delicious fresh fish, from Red Snapper and Kingfish to crabs, all made even better on Mondays, during weekly BBQs nights.
With nothing African about it, Mark Fernandes? Zanzibar is an open fronted Portuguese house shack, is packed day and night, while Lucky Star and St Anthony?s Beach Shack are other no-frill options. With an older crew of Goan regulars, Caf? Roma in Calangute is a shack that patrons have been going to for eons, and the Flying Dolphin Beach Bar is somewhere you can vegetate for hours. Dig into both shack?s Goan dishes, and watch out for a delicious Prawn Vidaloo at Caf? Roma.
To work a meal off and some sweat up, head into the almost always-crowed Caf? Mambo for some hip-grinding hip-hop, and a surprisingly decent Strawberry Daiquiri. Off the beach, right opposite Baga River one name sticks out, the shrouded in white Lila Caf? and it?s all-day breakfast. Wash down the apple pie and croissant, with some delicious coffee.
On Candolim beach, shacks facing the beached tanker River Princess are slower paced. Both Candolim and Sinquerim (under the shade of Fort Aguada) largely see chartered, tour package groups of middle-aged tourists. Just opposite a popular old school restaurant Bob?s Inn, on the main Calangute-Candolim Road a little lane leads to the stumble-upon Oceanic. Run by a matronly lady named Stella who serves delicious Pork Curry and banana pancakes. It?s so hidden we couldn?t help with any directions, even if we wanted to! But that?s half the adventure in Goa.
Closer towards Vijay Mallaya?s famous pad the Kingfisher Villa, an odd sounding but cute resto-shack Calamari Bathe & Binge overlooks the Arabian Sea and Fort Aguada. Served under twinkling lights, their lamb chops are worth writing home about.
Towards the northern end of Candolim, near a rather mediocre Sunny Side Up, one of the few shacks that remains open all year round, stands Bobby's Shack. While regulars love the food and a very jovial Bobby, recent moves to charge Rs 100 for sunbeds, have quite a few up in arms. On the same beach, Fisherman?s Cove is a shack that?s packed at almost any time of the year. Occupying the other end of the spectrum, the elegant beach lounge and party place for Bollywood stars, Club Fresh tried its hand at Niki Beach style posh, in the middle of Candolim.
North of Candolim, Anjuna is where the original hippies settled in the 50s. Today, while most have moved to greener (pun intended) pastures, shacks like Curlies continue to hold Anjuna?s hippie flag high. That, and of course the weekly flea markets.
At Curlies tucked into a corner of the beach, the food here has gone from atrocious to shockingly good, courtesy of the addition of a chef from Sublime, an upmarket Goan restaurant. Renovations have even added Club Curlies to the existing structure, a scary all-bamboo club above the original now mega-sized shack.
Inside the Wednesday flea market?s Xavier's Bar and Restaurant is a nice old school hippie hangout to rest your retail weary feet, while down the beach Guru Bar, Shiva Valley, Disco Valley and Caf? Lilliput offers not much but safety from the crowds at Curlies. The latter also promising a Mojito in the afternoon, and dusk to dawn parties. Also in Anjuna, Shore Bar run by a local Goan and his English partner is well known for its imaginative menu, excellent fresh seafood and comfy home-like atmosphere. The shack is also being re-launched as a fine-dining restaurant.
To be Beach-Chic Ready, shop our looks here.