El Palacio: A Taste of Indian History

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Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

On my last day in India, I didn't feel all that good. The previous night, I stayed up a shade late at a birthday party, drinking a little too much of the very respectable, locally made Single Malt whisky. McDowell's Single Malt is distilled and aged in oak barrels in Ponda, Goa. You can buy bottles across the state for about 550 rupees, or about $11. And it's remarkably smooth for an Indian whiskey--many of which have a nail polish-like character that won't make it past my nose. But this entry wasn't supposed to be about whiskey, so I must get back to the task at hand.

On that last day, I was killing time on a hot Sunday morning, awaiting the Goa-to-Mumbai-to-Bangkok ordeal that would play out later, and toying with the idea of doing absolutely nothing. Then, Charlotte Heyward, the eminently classy proprietor of Vivenda dos Palhacos, asked me what I would be doing with my day, forcing me to come up with some sort of excuse. I went with 'work,' as my laptop was unsnapped before me, and I could just as easily have been working as, say, reading album reviews. Charlotte suggested that I might want to go have a look at the Palacio do Deao, a restored Portuguese manor about an hour's drive away.

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I smiled and said thanks, maybe, and went back to my work. But Charlotte returned, and again urged me to go. I had a mouthful of fruit salad and precious few excuses, so I reluctantly nodded my head yes. I'm exceedingly glad that I did (thanks again, Charlotte).

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Photo by Jarrett Wrisley

The Palacio do Deao is remarkable for many reasons. It is a living museum of sorts--a 213-year-old home, exactingly restored by a Goan family who also make it their home. The property has been arranged with a curator's eye for detail by Reuben Vasco de Gama (what a name!). He also has a stamp and coin collection that spans Goa's colonial history, which is on display in the sunlit hallways of the old mansion.

You can also taste the history here, in the throwback colonial food cooked by Celia Vasco do Gama. Reuben's soft-spoken wife happens to be an exceptionally talented cook, and at Palacio de Deao she is trying to create a period piece of a meal--the same sort of food Portuguese noblemen might have eaten two hundred years before.

There was tender squid stuffed with a mild tomato and onion masala, and fried in olive oil; buttery-crisp riossis, a fried, semolina-floured dumpling filled with shrimp; and local red rice from their farm. It was worth far more then an hour's drive, and foolishly, I almost missed it. If you're ever in Goa, I suggest you don't miss it either.