Our Goa trips are based on a simple philosophy – ‘Do not move even half a muscle more than what is absolutely necessary to perform essential bodily functions’. After exertions of a delayed Friday flight which lands in the wee hours of Saturday; we spend the entire weekend eating, lazing, sleeping and swimming, pretty much in that order. Our most arduous effort is a 14 minute drive to Benaulim beach, where we spend 9 blissful hours on Sunday.
A conversation on Sunday afternoon manages to put a serious dent in the above philosophy. Post a swim in the sea I lie under an umbrella on the sunny beach, enjoying a wonderful breeze and gazing contentedly at the water. Clearly in a generous mood since the elements have turned my hair into Medusa’s crown and my complexion about seven shades darker than normal, despite liberal application of an SPF Gazillion sunblock that leaves a chalky layer on the skin. A phone call from a very close friend at this time is icing on the contentment cake. This is how the conversation goes, after usual greetings.
R: Where in Goa are you staying?
T: Betelbatim, South Goa
R: Nice place. You must go for a meal to Bomra’s.
T: Er go for a meal where?
R: B-O-M-R-A’-S in Candolim. (Hey I trust your tastes implicitly but wild horses couldn’t drag me out so far!)
T: That is north Goa! No chance!
R: Get a car.
T: I have a car. But no way am I driving 2 hours for a meal!
R: Get a driver. And it is an hour fifteen from where you are, not two. (Had to be someone efficient enough to check Google maps while speaking!!)
T: Maybe next visit, if I stay in the north.
R: You will love the food.
T: I am sure the food is great, but…
R: Given that you write about food, it would be a shame if you don’t go. (Ya go ahead, hit me where it hurts!)
T: I don’t know…
R: Just go!
In reminiscence, I would say that my life has been largely shaped by ‘R’ people. My father, some of my dearest friends, close cousins, silliest crush, first heartbreak, crazy colleagues, some of the best people I have recruited and of course my son…all have names beginning with R. Reasons enough for me to take the ‘R factor’ in my life very seriously. Hence, even though I am clueless about the restaurant I have been instructed to visit by friend R, I set upon convincing friend M, that Bomra’s is ‘the place to be’. People who know M will understand this ain’t an easy task! She is quite likely to maim anyone wanting to drag her away from her South Goa haven. But I jump in bravely and God is kind as always. We realise our visiting local friend knows the eatery as well as the chef, so plans are sealed and reservations made for lunch the next day. I refuse to allow a niggling backache and the rational part of my brain to wonder about the hairbrainedness of the scheme!
After M’s semi blue fit, miscommunication about drivers and sundry delays, we set off around noon on Monday. Directionally challenged me is dependent on our trusted phones and the rather erratic network in Goa to save the day. Thankfully the drive is much easier than expected despite a couple of wrong turns. M and I have insane fun conversations as she quickly overcomes her cross country travel angst and we land at Bomra’s chirpy and upbeat, bang in the middle of lunch time.
Chef Bomra set up a simple seafood restaurant in Goa about 14 years ago. Over time his baby has transformed into a renowned eatery that discerning gourmets swear by. The food is influenced by various aspects of the Chef’s life including his Burmese ancestry, fascination for South East Asian cuisine and years spent in Europe. Bomra’s now occupies an enviable No. 4 position on Condé Nast Traveller’s Top Restaurants Awards 2017. A stickler for quality and authenticity, Chef Bomra grows a lot of what is used in the kitchen and passion shines through in the food. We are introduced briefly and realise he is a reticent man who prefers to stay behind the scenes and let his food do the talking.
If I have to describe my first impression of Bomra’s in one word, I would say ‘soothing’. The entire space is a testimony to beauty lying in simplicity. A small unpretentious black signboard hangs outside. The interior is an open space with shade provided by cane matting and thatched leaves on bamboo lattices. A profusion of shrubs add to the natural greenery around, while artwork and quirky artefacts decorate simple whitewashed walls. Dried coconut shells and bamboo pieces have light fixtures within and I imagine how magical this place will be at dinner time.
I understand Bomra’s makes some mean cocktails but the long drive back demands I be in my senses. So for once I pay heed to rationality and put them on my to-do list for next visit, with a driver! Over glasses of chilled lemongrass coolers, we have a delightful conversation with Chef Rachel Pereira who heads the kitchen brigade. Ex Bombay Canteen and The Table, the very talented and animated Rachel has joined Bomra’s a few months ago. We are happy to go with her recommendations from what she terms a ‘free style food’ menu and land up with the most divine selection.
Smoked Shark with Mango and Rocket Leaves – This refreshing, light salad is garnished with wedges of perfectly boiled egg with soft yolk. The freshness of rocket, slight smokiness of fish, sweet pulpiness of mangoes with just a hint of richness of the eggs make a perfect blend. I can see M’s Parsi heart is won over by the eggs and don’t think she would care if the rest of the ingredients did not exist!
Pickled Tea Leaf Salad (Lah-pet Toke) – Rachel calls this the most Burmese influenced dish on the menu. Created with an assortment of pulses, nuts, broad beans, tomatoes, tamarind, jaggery and pickled tea leaves that come from Burma, this explodes on the palate in a cornucopia of textures and flavours. Crunchy with soft, pulpy with brittle, tangy with sweet…I am happy to drive to north Goa again just for this. Correction – I could fly to Goa for this!
Chopped Rockfish in Banana Leaf with Fresh Herbs – This item catches my eye as I peruse the menu before meeting Rachel. Maybe it is the mention of fish in banana leaf, reminiscent of the Bengali ‘Paturi Machh’. I am delighted when Rachel says it as a must-do. Melting pieces of fish steamed inside a banana leaf – this, in my opinion is one of the best ways to cook delicate flesh. The herbs tease our palate, enhancing but never interfering with the natural taste of the succulent fish.
Slow Roasted Young Aldona Pork with Wasabi Pumpkin Mash and Spinach – Though it took a few seasons of Masterchef Australia for most of India to wake up to perfectly done pork crackling; it has been a global favourite for a long time. The beautiful village of Aldona in north Goa produces great pork which Chefs Bomra, Rachel and their team convert into a platters of divine gastronomic pleasure. Pork belly with perfect golden-brown crispy crackling, falling off the fork meat, silky sunshine pumpkin mash with a hint of wasabi and vibrant blanched spinach… my heart says many a silent thank yous to R.
In the midst of an on-and-off health trip (more off than on in Goa!) M and I decline Rachel’s suggestion of steamed rice with the mains. But my resistance crumbles when she mentions Black Rice. I have never been able to enjoy Brown rice but fell in love with black rice the first time I ever tasted it. And I need energy from carbs to drive back, so Black rice is ordered!
A mound of slightly sticky but firm rice flavoured with browned onions and garlic, the Black Rice (another import from Burma) at Bomra’s is sheer poetry. While served as an accompaniment to mains, it is delicious enough to stand out as an independent dish. M is not very excited at first but warms up later to do a stellar job and we polish off the entire bowl, leaving not a grain!
Dessert is always on the cards, regardless of the amount of food consumed. Rachel suggests two but we can only manage to eat one.
Sticky Rice Cake with Pandan Infused Tapioca and Tender Coconut Ice Cream – Maybe small batches yield better quality or maybe the extra dollop of personal care matters, but there is something about good homemade ice cream that the best industrial ones just cannot match. And this one is beyond good. The fragrance of pandan lifts the familiar coconut and tapioca flavours of this creamy but not overwhelmingly so ice cream beyond expectations. A great combination with the light rice cake which has a twist in the form of a crisped, blow torched semolina top.
The other recommended dessert is Tender Coconut Panna Cotta with Passion Fruit which like the cocktails has been put on the next visit list.
Replete post a splendid meal, we drive back after briefly riffling through junk on the street next to the restaurant. M and I agree that the long drive was worth every bit of effort. Not going to Bomra’s would have been a big big miss.
** MCT verdict – Fine dine in a beautiful verdant ambience – one of the best in Goa**
M: For the beautiful restaurant photos. I could do with your artistic eye on every restaurant visit 😊❤
R: For getting me there in the first place. I owe you big time 😊❤