“Goa’s coolest bar owners, designers and artists tell us why the sunshine state is an oasis for creative minds.”
Jasreen Mayal Khanna
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that every place needs a strong band of creatives individuals who not only take inspiration from their surroundings but also bring new ideas and perspectives to them. With its gorgeous beaches, tropical hideaways and susegadled pace, Goa has long been a mecca for thinkers, artists, writers and designers. And in the past two years, as the pandemic has led to a further influx of those looking for less mundane and more inspired living, this community has only grown in spades.
For this Isprava Insider Volume IV issue, we’ve rounded up the coolest creative minds, some born-and-bred Goans, others part-time residents and full-time entrepreneurs who have found their home and have built a community that supports their pursuits. These are designers, genius chefs, brilliant mixologists and more, who are changing the design, culture and dining scene in Goa.
And who better than these folks to give you some Goa intel? From foraging in forests to international film festivals and feni distillery tours, these insiders reveal their favourite experiences that will show you a hidden side to this eternally golden destination.
FOUNDER & CREATIVE HEAD OF JOSMO STUDIO
Mody spent a part of her childhood in Goa but moved here permanently at the age of 31, when she and her husband wanted a slower pace of life and found Goa to be the perfect place to foster their personal and professional growth. She launched Josmo Studio soon after, and today, she runs Goa’s premier furniture studio with 85 employees, a 6,000sqft store and a 30,000sqft manufacturing facility. She currently resides in her family home in Nerul with her husband and twin babies. “When I lived in Mumbai, the pace of the city had control over me, but here it’s the opposite,” she says, despite still working 12 hour days through the week. She takes regular breaks, sometimes heading to the beach in the middle of the week, while on other days she switches off her phone. “Goa is grounded in the elements and we’re lucky to be surrounded by beaches, forests and waterfalls,” says Mody. “I always envisioned bringing up my kids around nature and trees and mud, close to the earth. Goa did that for me and I hope it does the same for my kids.”
Her Goa: Mody’s newly-revamped store in Porvorim has something for every home. She recommends trekking to old Goa to see the ruins and old churches, as well as to the waterfalls which flourish in the rainy season. “Adventure seekers should explore that aspect of Goa. Twice every monsoon, I arm-twist my friends and family into packing a picnic and heading to a waterfall. It’s simply splendid.”
CHEF-FOUNDER, CAVATINA & C’EST L’AVI
Martins is the force behind Cavatina in Benaulim and also C’est L’Avi, a specialty dining experience (also known as Table in the Hills) located on a 200-acre mountain estate. Martins is from Velim, a historical village located in the Salcette district that is surrounded by beach, sea, river and mountains. His favourite childhood memories are walking through the village with his grandmother, sharing meals with the toddy tappers, pickling seafood and mangoes in the summer and making pork sausages before the monsoon. While he’s cognisant of Goa’s immense cultural and culinary heritage, for Martins, its true heroes are its everyday artisans. “Every aspect of Goa and its people inspire me every day! My artisans are my heroes and I love to celebrate them and include them in my story. It’s not me, it’s we.”
His Goa: “I live for food, but the culinary scene in Goa is very commercial now. My recommendations are not fancy, but places that serve authentic food. Try the thaali at Mother’s Recipe which is a rather rundown place in Betul that offers home-style Goan dishes to its patrons. Pinto bar in Cabo de Rama is a tiny place but it serves the freshest seafood. There’s also a whole lot of culinary legacy in the forests and hinterlands of Goa. I run mindful tours here for guests who travel sensitively and can appreciate the offerings.”
STYLIST AND OWNER OF SACHA’S SHOP
Mendes started out as an editorial stylist, eventually moving back home to start a resort wear boutique in Panaji. Her brilliant curation of clothing, accessories and home goods became so popular, she now has a second outpost in Assagao, where she lives, and where her husband’s restaurant, the popular Tamil Table is based. “Goa is home. I was born and brought up here, so my roots run deep. It’s a paradise state and will continue to be if we look after her with love and respect. There’s something so refreshingly real and honest in the way lives are lived here.” For Mendes, Goa brings peace and clarity of the mind, which helps her thrive creatively. Her favourite part is the meaningful conversations and community interactions, she loves spending time with her father and his friends, listening to their stories.
Her Goa: “Spend an afternoon in Assagao, a sweet village in North Goa with shops, restaurants and interesting people. Have a meal at Tamil Table and do a spot of shopping at Sacha’s Shop. If you choose to go south, stop by Vivenda Dos Palhacos, a very special boutique hotel inside a heritage 100-year-old structure.”
ARTIST AND CO-CURATOR, THE AMCHE MOLLEM CAMPAIGN
A trained artist who practises drawing and photography, Saldanha creates surrealist comics and posters as well as animated films and also works on long-duration photo-and-text projects to document the ecology, economy and culture of his home state of Goa. It is precisely why he supports the Amche Mollem campaign, with an aim to protect a section of Goa’s Western Ghats from deforestation. The deliberate pace of life in Goa was very attractive to Saldanha when he was trying to find his rhythm and voice as an artist. Besides the lush, nurturing natural beauty, what makes Goa compelling, is the often unexplored community spirit. “Understanding Goa helps me to understand the factors that influence my own world view and outlook,” he says. “I live in Reis Magos, Bardez, because my family is historically from here. Living across the river from Panaji gives me easy access to the city and Goa’s capital is central to my work as a location, a backdrop and a place of inspiration.”
His Goa: “Walk through Panaji city to experience chance encounters, conversations and observations. The International Film Festival of India also takes place here every year and its curation is really the best of international cinema. Also, contrary to popular belief, I think the monsoons are the best time to visit Goa for its wet, green, lush, introspective atmosphere. It is often a time of rest and a time where new ideas are born.
JAGVIR MATHAROO AND MARTINO CARAMIA
DESIGNERS & CREATIVE DIRECTORS OF THE FLAME STORE, ELEVATION AND MAISON DU VOYAGE, GOA
“An eclectic mix of people from around the world have made Goa their home, making it one of the most interesting places to live within India,” says Matharoo. Along with his partner Caramia he runs a popular clothing line, Flame. Matharoo resides in a 300-year-old Portuguese home in the quiet neighbourhood of Parra, a small simple village in North Goa, tucked away from popular restaurants but close to their studio and stores. Both Matharoo and Caramia love living and working amidst nature and they especially delight in Goa’s verdant forests and blissful seascapes. The inspiring dialogues among Goa’s creative community has a deep impact on their work and sustainability initiatives.
Their Goa: “Visit the Friday market in Mapusa. It’s a chaotic, bustling space where you’ll discover local produce, vintage jewellery, eye-catching pottery and much more. The Serendipity Arts Festival in December is a must-see as well. It takes place in Panaji, which has undergone a huge revival as of late. Our favourite eatery for Goan food is an unassuming spot in Nerul called Bhatti Village. And on Sundays, you’ll find us enjoying sundowners with friends at Ashwem.”
ARTIST & ILLUSTRATOR
Wiehl studied art and illustration in Australia, but decided to return to Goa to build a career. Her preferred medium is watercolours and her work is inspired by the natural beauty of Goa as well as by her late mother Shireen Mody, who was also a painter. “My earliest memories are around the age of four or five, when I would watch my mum in her studio and mimic how she would paint,” she says. “I remember she did a series of paddy fields and she would be standing at her big easel I had my mini one trying to get the shades of the blades of grass right.” You’ll find Wiehl collecting odd bits and pieces from her natural surroundings bones, shells, stones, wood—and when she’s not scouring the earth, she’s revelling in the surrounding artistic community.
Her Goa: “Stop by my gallery, Studio Arpora. Visit the Saturday Night Market to discover Goan designers like Tia and Dadablui and make it a point to discover all the best fish curry places.”
BAR AND BEVERAGE SPECIALIST
After running a top-ranked bar in Singapore, Bose wanted to make his own mark. In 2020, he moved to South Goa and opened what has now become one of the country’s most talked about bars: Tesouro by Firefly. After living near the bar in Betalbatim for two years, he recently moved to Dona Paula to focus on his new project, an experimental lab in Panaji. Bose has found a microcosm of entrepreneurs including farmers, specialty manufacturers and distillers here. His team goes to forest farms and forages with experts to source hyper-local and seasonal produce—something he doesn’t believe he can do anywhere else in India. “I’m an outsider but have been accepted by the food and beverage community in Goa, and that acceptance makes it a sunshine state for me,” he says. Life in Goa also brings him much needed balance. He cycles and surfs during his time off and says that the absence of a daily, traffic-filled commute ensures he has the mindspace to innovate and play with new ideas.
His Goa: “If there’s one experience I can recommend it’s a tour of the Cazulo feni distillery (sign up on Urbanaut). You’ll get to see a 300-year-old technique in action, learn about the heritage of feni and sample delicious cocktails and snacks with your feet immersed in a pond (with fish nibbling on them). Follow this up by going to South Goa’s ancient tavernas. Just sip on urrak Limca or feni-soda and enjoy the atmosphere. These places are slowly going to die out, so enjoy them while they’re alive.”
NOVELIST AND PROFESSOR AT KREA UNIVERSITY
Akbar’s first novel, Leila, is a poignant, dystopian tale that was adapted for Netflix by filmmaker Deepa Mehta. In 2019, when his son was six months old, he and his wife Shanta moved from Bombay to Goa in search of a quiet place to work and raise their firstborn. They found a lovely home in the serene farming village of Ucassaim, located between Aldona and Moira, which suited Akbar, to work on his second manuscript. “Goa is such a warm, welcoming place. The people here can be very open-hearted if you choose to engage with the community in a meaningful way,” he says. “We have neighbours whose families have lived in Ucassaim for a hundred years. When we first moved here we would go on walks with our son and I realised that Goans love kids. That’s how we made friends in the community. It’s the people here that bring the sunshine for me.”
Akbar also credits the state with opening up his imagination as a writer. “I had all these ideas of wanting to write a certain kind of book. My first one was a dark, dystopian novel a very serious first book. I thought I’d always be writing those kinds [of books]. Coming to Goa helped me see that there’s a whole range of possibilities open to me as a writer. Living here helped me see more of myself, perhaps, and find different parts of myself that I could bring to the page.” His Goa: “Miguel’s in Panaji. It’s a wonderful experience with great food and cocktails, warm interiors, an open kitchen and friendly team. It has the right vibe for an evening out.”