Rediscovering Cashew-The wonder fruit of Goa

I have loved cashews ever since I can remember. Roasted, plain or in marzipans. I love them in any form. Being married to a Goan, of course I am now well-versed with the importance of cashews in Goa and its popularity, but it was only recently that I rediscovered the fruit, apart from the nut, I am so familiar with.

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Park Hyatt Resort & Spa Goa’s Cashew Trail beckoned us to Goa. I am ever willing to go to Goa, just as most of us are. But in reality, it was the cashew related itinerary, which intrigued me.

As a food and beverage writer, I was keen to know more about feni and urak, the drinks made from cashew apple and of course cocktails made with these. I was equally curious to see how Chefs infuse the cashew into a variety of dishes across cuisines. And that’s exactly what the culinary wizards at Park Hyatt Goa did. I was mesmerized.

I was in for a surprise at Casa Sarita, the Goan restaurant at the Hotel. The special five-course menu was paired with urak, feni aged one year, an Oak Cask 2012 edition feni and a Port Oak Cask 2010 edition feni. These feni selections were specially presented by the Vaz family for Cashew Trail 2015.

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I loved the passion with which Mac Vaz painstakingly explained each feni as we got ready to sip it with each course. I have great regard for Chef Edridge  of Casa Sarita, who is a master of his craft. He loves his Goan cuisine and knows it really well. Well enough to, give it his own contemporary twist. And yet, the dishes are authentic. That’s what makes him a class apart.

Chef Edridge Vaz - Casa Sarita

We began with the Assiette of seafood peri peri and Cauliflower tondak served with first pressed coconut milk and salted cumin biscotti. Exquisite flavours enveloped my mouth, as, I savoured each morsel. The spices used were 100% Goan and the modern twist to it was laudable. Light and flavourful, I relished the cauliflower tondak. The cumin biscotti added the right amount of zest to the course, in terms of the crunch. Never knew Vegetarian Goan food could be so appeasing. The Cinnamon feni sorbet meant to be our palate cleanser, was so delicious that it well could have been my dessert. Smooth in texture, it almost had a creamy feel to it.

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The highlight of the evening was the Alle Belle Cold Cheese cake with Cashew Jam. It had me spellbound. A traditional sweet of Goa, Chef had presented and served it so interestingly. It looked so appetising that my heart broke to upset his presentation on the plate. The base of the dessert was crispy and crunchy, juxtaposed perfectly with the smooth and creamy cheese cake on top. The highlight undoubtedly was the cashew jam, which I tasted for the first time ever. Chef Edridge had yet again proved his mastery. This was an example of innovation at its best.

The gourmet dinner and exquisite fenis proved to be a heady experience.

If the dinner, was an extraordinary experience, so were our subsequent meals, where cashews were so skillfully integrated into various dishes. Pulaos, curries, lentils, soups, chutneys and dips. Yes, there was cashew in all of these and more. And yet, the palate never did tire of it, even though we relished this cuisine for three days, albeit in different forms. The Cashew Trail finale brunch replete with cashew based dishes is something I will always remember and cherish. Each dish stood apart from the other. The chefs’ creativity knew no bounds today.

What can I say about the cocktails created with feni and urak? any of these were a revelation for me as I discovered several spices and seasonal fruits which were cleverly used with feni and urak to create the innovative Buenisima, Orange Sunrise and Fenirinha among others.

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Apart from savouring myriad cashew creations in various forms, the picking of the cashew apple at the Cashew farm in Valpoi and watching the feni being distilled, is something which made this trip so memorable and the experience unparalleled.

And as I sit at home in Mumbai and bite into my cashew chikki and relish the cashew nut and mango chutney, so generously provided by the Hotel, as our lil’ giveaway, I get nostalgic about the 4th Cashew Trail at Park Hyatt Goa. I had embarked on a guilt-free, hedonistic journey, but I am not complaining. For this one, once is clearly, not enough.

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