Papa Joe’s serves traditional Goan food, not just the way Mum cooks it, but the way Grandma used to cook it. And the fish is caught by the owners every morning. You cannot get fish fresher than that. Their recipes have come down through generations. The flavours come from authentic spices, hand ground and every meal is freshly cooked. This means you will have to wait at least 20 minutes after placing your order and that wait is totally worth it. The curries are cooked on a slow wood fire in earthenware vessels. Where do you get that in a world of pressure cookers and microwave ovens?
The test of an eatery selling local cuisine is the number of locals coming to it. Papa Joe’s passes with flying colours since Goans will drive all the way from North Goa to tuck into their delicacies.
The place is comfortable and from the really interesting menu, (remember to read it till the end) to the decor, to the garden, to the lovely retro music, it’s a good dining experience. And no one hurries you through your meal. You can spend hours savouring your fat, juicy, masala fried prawns, or prawns lightly tossed in butter-garlic and pepper; you can sink your teeth into beef crumb chops, or the pork creation of the day. For vegans, there are always at least five different types of fresh vegetables on offer. The rice whether, white or red, is fluffy and properly cooked.
It’s a great place for kids too!
A day trip to Papa Joe’s is fun, kids feel happy to check out the geese, jungle fowl, chickens, ducks, dogs and sometimes rabbits ... The aquariums are a joy to watch and the place safe for children, in fact many relate to the place as a farm especially, the city kids.
Among the varied traditional pork dishes, Pork Amsol which is chunks of pork stir-fried with kokam. Prawn curry with bimblis is particularly popular, fish cutlets also sell a lot, the beef crumb chops and for those who don’t eat beef, there are chicken crumb chops and Fried Prawns –either in butter garlic or reichado masala. “Some people tell us they go to Sousa Lobo for pomfret and they come here for prawns. Fish sells the most,” says Nella Miranda.
Vegetarian food: “I will have at least four vegetables for my vegetarians, I’ll have dal, chappatis, rice and four or five vegetables. We always have enough for a family meal. I always say we provide home food away from home. We serve chapattis, whereas everywhere they have naans, and as our guests are tired of eating naans everywhere else, they really tuck into our chapattis.
Desserts: “We serve a bread pudding or a jelly, our jellies are always exotic ... In season we serve mango mousse, coconut delight from tender coconut, passion fruit juice from our garden, our sauces our home made, our pickles are also home made ... yeah ... we are different ...” says Nella who also makes the most amazing soft centred chocolates, smooth dark chocolate with cherry, or strawberry or honey preserve soft centres.
Papa Joe’s sits in a garden with 35 different fruit and spice trees. “For those interested in the same, they can look around ... Our jaguma tree has fruit almost all the year round, we also have a yielding mabula tree ... in short we are not just a restaurant we are the Goan way of life ... laid back ... and fun.....the feni is sourced from the hinterland, the fish is fresh, the music divine and the food the best a Goan can offer,” says Nella.
The Miranda family was a very old family, everyone knew them. The restaurant is named after their father hence Papa Joe’s. For those unfamiliar with the villages of Benaulim, Varca and Orlim, you have to keep your eye peeled when you enter Orlim. Papa Joe’s is on the left branch of a fork in the main road. Orlim may be a tiny village, but it has the oldest church in South Goa. If you shoot past the fork, turn around and find the fork. You won’t regret it. Imagine you are hunting for your food.
Freshest fish caught on the hook
Their specialty is fresh fish, which is caught occasionally by them. We can vouch for that because we were inhaling rock fish fillets from a 16 kg fish caught that morning. Nella and her family do not use nets. They are dedicated anglers and since they all love fishing they take turns. There's freshly caught fish for the diners. It cannot get fresher than that. Another reason why the food at Papa Joe’s is so special is that the spices are ground by hand on a large rogddo, or circular grinding stone, and all the dishes are cooked on a wood fire. Wood fire? Really? In this day and age? Nella says, “Once you are used to cooking on a wood fire you cannot use a gas stove or a pressure cooker. You lose all juices from meats in a pressure cooker. Cooking on a wood fire takes longer, but that much water is not lost from the meat, so the flavour is richer. Our curries are all cooked in large earthenware pots. You get so used to cooking on a wood fire, you wake up in the morning, start it up and everything is put on the wood fire.”
Everything is cooked from scratch. They need about 15 to 20 minutes to get the meal ready. Sometimes guests come in from the swimming pool and are tired and hungry, they come in at 4 and ask, “Khana milega?” The answer is yes. "And then they cannot understand why it is not served to them immediately. We tell them they have to wait a while and they understand. That’s why they return, time after time,” she says.
Papa Joe's - a favourite with Goans too
It’s not just tourists. Goans are notoriously picky when it comes to eating Goan cuisine, but Goans will travel a long distance for a good meal, says Nella, “some of my guests drive all the way from North Goa when they feel like having a meal with us. They stay here till 4 – 4.30 and then go back. It’s the meal yes, but it’s the peace, the soft music, the ambience of this place that they look for. We don’t advertise. It’s only by word of mouth that people come here. We get lots of people from Hathi Mahal coming here. Our guests hear about us in Bangalore, Mangalore, Pune. We don’t get too many foreign guests and personally, I enjoy cooking for Indians, because they appreciate Goan cuisine.”