Located on the western coast of India, Goa is famous for its sandy shorelines, tropical topography and laid-back atmosphere. Even with its history as a beach destination, the main draw to the city today isn't necessarily what's on the shore, it's what's on the stove.
"Goa is definitely more than just about sun, sea and sand," said Mark Anthony Long, the executive chef for the Grand Hyatt Goa resort. "Food has become a major factor in people's travel plans here."
Long made his way to Goa less than a year ago to head up the culinary program at the Grand Hyatt.
Originally from Australia, this chef with 30 years of experience has cooked in kitchens in Singapore and Jakarta, Indonesia, and has served diners including former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Formula One driver Michael Schumacher and golf legend Tiger Woods.
As a longtime resort chef, Long is no stranger to creating menus for guests who may be wary of dining in local eateries or less-established spots.
Goan prawn curry is one of the dishes offered at the Grand Hyatt Goa inspired by the local cuisine and ingredients.
For Long, the unusual and intoxicating flavors of Goa were too good to pass up. Goan cuisine differs from traditional Indian food in that it blends local origins and those carried over from nearly 400 years of Portuguese colonization, and the chef has found a way to infuse the local ingredients into his multicultural menu of world cuisines and regional dishes.
"Goan food is distinctly different from the rest of India," he said. "Because of its influence from the Portuguese, you will find a lot of coconut used in the food and dried red chilies that makes the gastronomic experience different from the rest of India. I have seen a lot of travelers and locals who are open to experimenting and experiencing new flavors."
Instead of the burn-your-mouth spicy curries that traditional Indian cuisine has become known for, the Goan versions tend to include a touch of sweetness with a Portuguese twist, like the traditional Goan chicken xacuti that is made with white poppy seeds, grated coconut, clover, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and other spices or the crab xec xec, served in coconut curry and bursting with flavor.
The tastes of Goan cuisine run the gamut from sour to salty to sweet, where ingredients such as kokum are used for souring and rich flavors such as jaggery and coconut sweeten and thicken fish curries.
The chefs at the seven bars and restaurants at the Grand Hyatt Goa are constantly seeking new ways to help guests experience local flavors, and they frequently use native ingredients like tamarind, sun-dried red chilies, curry leaves, mangoes and cashew nuts.
"We try and infuse local ingredients in our food," Long said. "If you walk into the Verandah, serving modern Australian cuisine, we have a signature chocolate dessert with a hint of chili. The chili chocolate cake is definitely a mouthful of surprise as the chili lightly touches your taste buds, and it comes served with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream. You can be assured of a moment of delight."
The Grand Club rooms at the Grand Hyatt Goa.
Interested in taking the dining experience beyong the resort? The Resort Center team at the Grand Hyatt Goa arranges authentic Goan experiences for guests with the Grand Goa Plan, where some of the tours include trips to the Spice Plantation Farm and local market tours. Additionally, the resort has a Cook With the Chef program that has guests learning how to cook with trained chefs inside the resort's Indian restaurant, Chulha.