For many people, the day usually begins with a cup of coffee and a meal of bread. And for Goans, nothing quite beats the whiff and taste of traditional Goan breads especially the popular ‘pao’, ‘unde’ and ‘poie’, often delivered to the doorstep piping hot, by the ‘poder’ (bread man).
And while these breads are available at bakeries around Goa, and at times at general stores too, more people are now choosing to bake their own bread at home.
“My dad has been trying to teach me to make bread for a long time. But I guess the timing just had to be right,” recalls Alison Jane Lobo from Dona Paula. Having worked as an air hostess in Kuwait previously, Lobo who came down to settle in Goa for good a few years ago, quickly realised that she needed to do something to ensure that she had her daily quota of ‘pao’ or ‘poie’ without fail. “Our house is the last on the hill and by the time the ‘poder’ got to us, we would either get the rejected bread or there was no bread left for us!” she recollects. A tad bit fed up with this, Lobo finally decided to pull out her dad’s recipe book and start baking. “I got a few rocks initially but then got the hang of it and began baking regularly for the family,” she says. Over time, people began suggesting that she start taking classes and thus she began her ‘Goencho Pao’ (Goan bread) classes. So far, she has conducted 25 classes where she teaches a variety of Goan breads like ‘sur poies’ (toddy), ‘poies’, ‘undes’, ‘katre’, ‘pao’, ‘kakon’ and ‘paozinhos’ (stuffed and unstuffed), in addition to breads like sweet buns, cinnamon buns and sliced bread.
The stories of pao
“To make the ‘katre pao’, one has to sit on the floor and do it with your legs. The ‘kakon’ or the bangle bread is more like teatime bread,” says Lobo. In addition, she also teaches the making of the ‘poderancho bol’, a coconut bread. “After the bakers finish their contract and the bakery changes hands, the ‘poderancho bol’ is made as a way of welcoming the new family which takes over the bakery,” says Lobo.
Interestingly, the names of the Goan breads also vary depending on which part of Goa you are in. “The ‘unde’ in some places is known as ‘pokshe’. While known as ‘poie’ in the north, in the south it is called ‘kundia bhakri’,” states Lobo.
Goan bread is losing its identity
And one of the main reasons why people want to make these breads at home today is because the quality of bread available commercially has gone down, they say.
“When you look at it, it looks nice and fluffy and everybody is buying it thinking it is the healthy version of our bread. But it’s not,” says Raia-based Fatima Moniz, who learnt how to make these breads by observing how people used to make it traditionally. “I realised also that it was so simple to make and since I was already giving cooking classes I decided to include these too,” say Moniz, who decided to include the teaching of ‘pao’ and ‘poie’ in her bread-making class where she also teaches participants how to make the focaccia, the French baguette, pizza bread, cinnamon rolls, etc. An interesting addition is the Portuguese bread called ‘bolo de rei de natal’ (bread of the king of Christmas), which is shaped like a crown with tuttie-fruity and dry fruits used as jewels.
“The bread nowadays isn’t like what we used to get before. Just the shape is the same, but it has lost its identity,” says Lobo. The ‘poie’, in particular, had about 60 per cent atta and the rest was maida, she says.
Homemade, healthy and wholesome
It also had a lot of ‘kundo’ (wheat bran), was brown and especially good for diabetics, says Lobo. “Now it’s the same white bread shaped like a ‘poie’ with just a sprinkle of ‘kundo’ on top of it,” she says.
In her class, she teaches the making of the original brown ‘poie’ and also adds a little ragi to it, to make it healthier.
Moniz too uses wheat bran in the preparation, and no white flour. This, she says increases the fibre content of the bread. She too experiments with ragi which in her opinion makes it tastier. “Initially, people never used yeast, toddy ie local sur was used. And I teach how to make the ‘poie’ using this too,” she says, adding that it is difficult to get toddy these days, which is why yeast has replaced it. The time taken for the preparation is also less with yeast.
“Also, when you make your own bread, at least you know what is going into it – there are no chemicals or preservatives, just pure wholesome bread,” says Moniz.
And with bakeries struggling, these home bakers say, that they are at least taking forward the tradition. “If you look at bakeries today, some of them are in very bad shape and there are hardly any Goans carrying on this business. My aim is to try and get housewives to make this at home and help with women’s empowerment too,” says Anita de Abreu, whose business goes by the name of Baker’s Table and is based in Candolim. Abreu too, teaches both toddy and yeast variety of bread in her classes which she began about three months ago. “When it is homemade it is very hygienic and nutritious,” she says.
Lobo’s students too have begun giving classes and she actively encourages housewives to start their own little businesses. “A lot of bakeries are closing down today because they have no support which I hope will change,” she says. “My intention though is not to put bakeries out of business but just to ensure that the tradition is kept alive in every single home.”