There are only two occasions when it is acceptable to wake up and have a drink before 10am. One is Christmas morning and the other is at an airport before a holiday. On 25th December 2015, both of these conditions were satisfied, so I drank a half with breakfast at the Gatwick Airport Wetherspoon’s (‘the Beehive’). I was flying to Goa, where I’d booked a holiday to laze around on the beach. Then, after ten days, I would head on to Varanasi for something more active.
As well as swimming and reading, I had another plan for my trip. I recently read Lizzie Collingham’s book, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerers. She describes it as “a biography of the curries of the Indian subcontinent”, promising that “each recipe tells the tale of the different people who prepared and ate the dish”. It’s an excellent book, explaining where the dishes on the English curry-house menu come from.
My usual curry order is a vegetable vindaloo. Sometimes they are good, other times disappointing, but at least you have an idea how spicy it is going to be. Reading Collingham’s book, I discovered that this much-maligned dish had a tangled, curious history, spanning five hundred years.
Travelling on Christmas Day has its advantages. It meant I got a chocolate with my airline Christmas dinner, and there was a brief visit from Santa Claus. I landed at about eleven on Christmas Day but it was well into Boxing Day before I passed through immigration and found a taxi to Mandrem Beach. It was about two before I was in bed. Spending the day in planes and airports meant it wasn’t the most exciting Christmas Day of my life, but it did mean I woke up in Goa on Boxing Day.
And it was pretty good. I was about three minutes walk from a quiet beach – Mandrem is very peaceful compared to its brash neighbour Arambol. I found my way to a seafront cafe and had breakfast. A little later I came back and installed myself on a sun lounger. Once an hour I would go swimming, but the rest of the day I read. Every so often I would move the sunbed back a little to stay in the shade.
I’d read about goan food before setting off, and was impressed by the dishes available at Brighton’s Goan takeaway, the Nishat Tandoori. The thing is, most places on the beaches didn’t go much for local cuisine. They had a few dishes, maybe a vindaloo or a xacuti, but these were crowded out by the usual traveller fare. Some people refer to India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia etc as the ‘banana pancake trail’ because of its reliance on certain standard dishes. Many of the Goan cafes and restaurants had menus similar to the ones I had seen in North India or Nepal. Even worse, the few goan dishes they had contained meat, which is no good for me as a vegetarian.
So, while I was content to laze around on the beach for a few days, seeing out the last of 2015, I’d need to explore a little to find an authentic vindaloo.