Big Goa Energy
Condé Nast Traveller India|November 2021 - December 2021 - January 2022
Offbeat experiences are changing the narrative in the sunshine state.
Smitha Menon

If you could start afresh, where would you go? Over the past year, worn-out professionals from across India have asked themselves the same question and flocked to Goa—its sandy shores and soothing waves the answer that appeared in many pandemic-induced crystal balls.

But this isn’t a story of how Goa’s pixie dust allows us to be who we can only dream of. This is a story about how the Goan term susegad—that stands for a peaceful way of being—is being interpreted to describe work-life balance, as old and newly minted locals are using some of that Goa mojo to create exciting new ventures away from the constraints of India’s big cities.

Goa-born and bred husband-wife duo Ralph Prazeres and Stacy Gracias of Padaria Prazeres ( padaria_ prazeres), a newly launched artisanal bakery in Panjim, has Goa literally eating out of their hands. While Ralph has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants across the globe, Stacy earned her finance chops at some of the biggest banks in the world. The couple returned to Goa to start something of their own, in a market that takes its daily bread very seriously. When I visit the cheery café, I see Prazeres and Gracias smile at regulars, graciously accepting superlative compliments for their breads, Berliners and their delightful pasteis de nata.

“Most locals our age went abroad to learn and implement new ideas. No one has brought this back home. We’ve had to educate our customers about ciabatta and brioche, but the response has been fantastic. If an artisanal patisserie like ours can become popular here, then this could work elsewhere too,” says Prazeres. When I ask for their recommendations of the places I should visit, they rattle off a list of new spots that weren’t on my radar. “There’s definitely a lot happening in Goa now,” says Gracias. “Fuelled by the demand generated by the number of people who have moved here and the increased influx of tourists, business owners are placing big bets here.”

“Drink feni, save Goa!” That’s what Hansel Vaz wants the official Goa t-shirt to say. The owner of Cazulo Feni (cazulofeni.com) who has spent years trying to change the perception of feni from foul to favourable tells me that he is finally seeing a shift in sentiment.

Speaking to people in the know, I learn that over the past couple of years, Goa has become a petri dish for creative entrepreneurs. Free from crazy costs, high rents and heavy taxes, offbeat businesses and concepts are allowed to take flight. Goa’s mixed expat and local population too makes it easier to experiment as there isn’t just one kind of audience to appease. And locals who have been working hard to showcase an alternate side of Goa are finally getting their time in the sun.

Vastly thanks to Vaz’s efforts, the Goa government introduced a feni policy that lays down set standards for the spirit, helping protect the state’s culture and biodiversity by preserving native cashew plants.

At the Cazulo fazenda (plantation), Vaz offers intimate and stylised feni sessions. Visitors can sign up via Urbanaut—an app that offers curated travel experiences across 20 cities around the world—for a foraging trail through a plantation followed by a feni mixology session (from 1,800 per head). They can also pick the ‘floating feni’ experience ( 2,500 a head), wherein visitors can cool their heels in a pond shaded by coconut fronds while snacking on ressois de camarão (prawn patties), sanñas (steamed rice cakes) and pinagre (a Goan dessert of roasted rice, coconut and jaggery) among other items and sip on cashew and coconut feni.

When we visit the fazenda after a long drive to the South, we’re greeted by a jolly Vaz, who blows our minds with his vast knowledge about Goa’s culinary legacy, as we forage for ingredients to make our own feni cocktails. It’s no wonder that Vaz is called Goa’s Renaissance Man by his peers—he’s pushed for the feni GI (Geographical Indicator) tag and later this year, is launching a set of new feni infusions.

Like Vaz, there are a host of other Goans who are working to preserve their heritage while making it accessible to mindful tourists. Mackinlay Barreto, aka Mac, moved back to Goa after several years in Mumbai and found himself leading expeditions to lesser-known spots across the state for visiting friends and family. He set up a Goa-centred eco-tour agency called The Local Beat ( thelocalbeat_goa) to showcase a side of Goa that most don’t have the privilege to discover.

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