17th August, 2106.
Goa is known for many things. It has beautiful beaches, a vibrant party scene, adventure sports, cheap alcohol, and amazing sea food. We could write about any of these, but then again, it is easiest to write about what you love the most. So we decided to go with exploring the bakeries of Goa. Trust me, this was not an easy decision, given how much we love Goan prawns curry, spiced sausages, and pork vindaloo. However, the bakeries of Goa won the debate by a narrow margin. After taking the pains to sample a good number of baked products from nearly half a dozen bakeries, we bring you a few interesting treats from two of the best places in Goa. The first is JILA bakery in Loutolim (South Goa).
JILA bakery was started in 1972 by Mr. Jose Antao, who as a 14 year old boy, left Goa for Mumbai. He started by cleaning dishes in hotels before picking up the basics of baking from the chefs he worked with. His innate talent and hard work soon got him to Taj Mumbai, Star bakery and other prestigious culinary institutions. JILA is the bakery he started once he returned home. The name is derived from the first letter of his family members (Jose, Inacio, and Ludovina Antao), and the whole enterprise ran out of his home. It still does! Today, if you drive by Loutolim (a quintessential sleepy Goan village) past noon, you are bound to see a good number of cars parked outside a very ordinary old house. This is the easiest way to locate JILA bakery.
It is now operated by his sons and the third generation is already stepping in to help. When we mentioned our travel plans, Rose Antao, the daughter-in-law gladly welcomed us in for a tour of the bakery (which is essentially three rooms attached to the house). The batter here is still beaten by hand, and they powder their own sugar. The bakery was so clean and well organised that you wouldn’t mind eating off the slabs. And it smelled like food heaven. The baking is done is a sturdy wood burning oven attached to the house. The baked products are packed by hand into tiny paper packets and sold off to customers by evening. “You are lucky, we do have some éclairs and melting moments left”, said Rose, when we met her at 5 pm. It seems that on most days it is sold out by 3 pm, within a couple of hours of the bakery opening. We decided to exploit the luck as much as we could and bought everything available.
Let us start with our favorite, the éclairs. Imagine the best kind of puff pastry you have tried. Now imagine it is filled with sweet white cream and topped off with creamy molten chocolate. That is what the éclairs is! The crust is crunchy, giving way to a soft fluffy and creamy centre. The molten chocolate adds to the flavor without making it any heavier. We completely understand why it gets sold out so quickly. We came back with a dozen of them.
A JILA original and a secret family recipe, melting moments are tiny bite sized concoctions that fall somewhere in between a biscuit and a macaroon. These literally crumble and melt in your mouth, filling you with an aroma of cocoa. Any chocolate lover’s dream. In addition to these, JILA also supplies cakes, biscuits and other snacks.
Their clientele included the likes of Ms. Indira Gandhi who followed Mr. Jose Antao’s career since his Mumbai days. Today, Rose points at each biscuit and names a celebrity who regularly buys it. “Naseeruddin Shah comes for this, Anita Desai likes that…” We have no trouble understanding why. We would certainly keep coming back. I mean, if it is good enough for Ms. Gandhi, it is certainly good enough for us.
The next place we visited is a bit more commercial. Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro is located in Fontainhas is North Goa, right in the middle of the old Latin quarters. That doesn’t mean it is easy to locate. We had to walk through the courtyard of an old house to reach this quaint little bakery. As we could not meet the owner, we do not have much information about the history of the place, except that it was started in 1930 by Andre Mascarenhas. Now managed by his daughter-in-law, the bakery is still very much a family affair. Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro has quite a few interesting snacks to offer.
Here are a few of our favorites. Consider the bebinka. Layers of flour, ghee, coconut milk and egg, perfect for a mid day snack. It is beautifully layered, moist, and not too sweet.
Another interesting item is a savory tart with prawn filling. The pastry is soft, and the filling inside spicy, though it does not over power the taste of prawns. These treats are the size of a coin, and we can easily eat a dozen in a sitting.
Even the lowly cream roll is quiet a star here. The pastry is perfect, the cream not heavy, and the presentation beautiful.
This bakery has a good collection of vegetarian dishes as well. Coconut cookies with a hint of ginger, wine biscuits, vanilla and chocolate squares; it is a pretty long, sweet list.
After eating our way through these Goan bakeries, we know this for sure. There is enough history behind these institutions, and enough passion behind each dish, that we can easily spend a couple of months exploring (and sampling) these sweet and savory treats. We are sure we have missed out a few great ones in this blog, but we hope to be back soon for more.