A Poder in Every Goan Home

Iris CF Gomes

Good bread in Goa is a struggle to find. Goan bakeries of the past have become just that – bakeries of the past. The quintessential poder (baker) is now some bloke who is not necessarily Goan while in times past it was a family affair being the occupation of clans of bakers. But that is not the real issue most Goans, who remember what the pão they grew up with tasted like, experience. ‘Progress’ and inflation has altered the appearance and taste of the various types of Goan bread alike. Complaints regarding the pricing and how more and more of the Goan bread tends towards the formulae followed by companies producing commercial bread, are numerous.

In this scenario, Alison Jane Lobo has appeared as a saviour of sorts of the Goan unddo, pão, katrim unde and so on, and she has already made strides in transforming the declining traditional bread of Goa in just a few months and is determined to safeguard what is very much part of our Goan culinary culture.

After her education, Alison took on a job at a call centre and later joined Kuwait Airways, working as an air hostess for eight years. Following her marriage and the birth of her twin boys, she decided to head back home to Goa.

Alison took on the mantle of a baker, baking her own bread when the family’s regular poder stopped coming with his daily delivery. She says, ‘We were stranded because we had to go all the way to Caranzalem to the closest bakery and pick up our bread. Sometimes it was in the middle of the night because the baker used to come around 8 o’clock.’ The family took to buying bread in bulk – about 20 at a time and freezing them. It was then that Alison thought about baking bread at home. Her father, with his scientific bent of mind, had years ago developed a formula for making bread. Using this as a base, which she refined and perfected after much experimentation during a period of two years, Alison was able to produce the delectable pão and undde she bakes today. ‘It started out as hard as rocks and then got softer and softer. Yeast is something you have to be able to work with. If you can manage with the yeast, you know your bread is going to be perfect. So just figuring that out was so difficult,’ says Alison.

The next step was poie, or poye, a round flat bread with a pocket, which people craved in place of the nutritionally deficient sliced white bread. Alison added wheat bran to the mix for the poie and, using her ingenuity, enhanced the nutritional value with ragi (millet). She went on to experiment and conquer the unddo, the pão, and the pãozinho (small bun with a filling). She says, ‘People were asking if anyone was taking orders for pãezinhos… that is totally different from the regular bread. It has milk and eggs. It’s a totally different recipe altogether. So I did a little experimentation and it turned out well. In this way I managed to learn the various tenets of bread making.’

When Alison’s family learned of her bread baking skills, they replaced the bakery bread, which would begin to turn dry within a few hours, with her bread, which would stay fresh for one or even two days. The quality of the bread was, of course, much superior to that of the local bakeries.

Initially, being the mother of two young boys proved a deterrent to launching a business in this line. Once the boys turned 3-years-old, however, she decided the time was opportune to deal with complaints like, ‘The bread is so raw’, ‘The bread is so small, but we’re paying so much’, ‘The poies are white when they are supposed to be brown’ and ‘They are using caramel, jaggery, etc to give the bread colour’.

Teaching baking is not just a profit-making venture to Alison anymore, as she says, ‘It started as a business but is much more now. First there were five students, then eight, twenty, twenty-five… I have never taught anyone before. I was really scared in the beginning.’ With more classes came the experience to bolster Alison’s confidence and she found that she was learning from her students in one class and passing it on to another. ‘Till date I’m learning, till date I’m experimenting. It’s quite a fascinating journey.’

There are usually a minimum of five to a maximum of twenty students in a class. Some exceptions are made during holidays such as Christmas time because Goans coming to Goa on leave have only a limited time to attend classes, aside from the fact that they have no certainty of when they might be able to attend next. This is when numbers go up to even twenty-five to twenty-six.

This increase in student numbers is a far cry from the one on one sessions with a single student at a time Alison had expected to have in the beginning. It seems everyone wanted to learn how to make bread, but no one knew how to. IHM (Institute of Hotel Management) Goa sent its teachers to Alison as well as Foody Breaks Academy. Even the Taj sent its head chefs. Alison says, ‘There was one group where I had goosebumps because it was full of chefs from all over Goa: Taj, Fox’s Fiesta, The Park Hotels, Carasid, and so on. Hard core chefs!’ These chefs who were once relying on external sources for their Goan bread have begun to make their own.

There are numerous Goan families that are making their own bread now, something that is part of their everyday diet, thanks to Alison, and she’s always available to them via Whatsapp to resolve their ‘bread emergencies’ as she calls them humorously. ‘The students know that after the class is over, it isn’t really over. It’s just begun. Every time they make the bread, they are fascinated because they are making it themselves,’ she says. The good example this sets to the youngsters in the family will ensure they will carry on the tradition.

With one kilo of flour able to produce about thirty to forty pieces of Goan bread, in addition to the pleasure of making it on your own and the lack of preservatives, makes the process a feasible one to maintain. One of Alison’s main goals is to make sure people are eating bread that is not saturated with preservatives to increase shelf life. She points out how expensive brands will mislead customers by adding anything else other than wheat bran or ragi to make brown bread ‘brown’. Even the flour they use is refined rather than whole wheat. For those who find the task of baking every day tedious, Alison advises her students to make the dough on one day and freeze it, using the dough as and when they want to bake bread.

A typical class begins with students being taught to knead different flours (from 10am to 11am). She teaches them to make two doughs for the poie, so the students can see an example of the poie made with yeast and the traditional poie made with soor (coconut toddy). In all, her students learn to make five types of dough, which are then left to rise for an hour. During that hour, students learn to roll out the same types of dough that have been prepared by Alison at 4 0’clock in the morning. She says, ‘This time gap between preparing the dough and rolling it out shows the students that they don’t have to stress about the baking because they can prepare the dough before leaving for work and then come back and bake it, or prepare it the night before and bake it in the morning.’

When the baking begins, the students are given refreshments. Alison pointedly uses bread that has been defrosted to make the sandwiches to show them that they do not have to worry about baking every single day. ‘We make the fillings for the bread ourselves to give them that feeling of home, says Alison, who also makes her own choriço. When baking is done, Alison critiques the students’ efforts to help them learn from their mistakes. After a chocolate tasting session with chocolate made by Alison, the students return to roll out the dough they had prepared earlier. This is exam time for them to put to test all they have been taught. The students can buy a starter pack for baking put together by Alison with all the key ingredients. All this happens in a single day with classes held three times a month, usually a Thursday or a Saturday.

A tie-up with Black Swan Journeys, a company that provides curated travelling, will bring Alison a batch of international students this February 2019. Cox and Kings will also be sending her students. Alison laughs, saying, ‘It’s hardly been seven months since I started and everyone’s a poder!

You can use mobile number 8554054640  to call or send a message via Whatsapp to Alison to book a lesson in making poie (toddy), poie (yeast), undde, katriche pão, pão, kankon (bangle bread),  pãozinho (stuffed and plain), sweet buns, sliced bread, and cinnamon buns.

Price - Rs 2500/- refreshments and chocolate tasting included. Payment to be made at venue on the day.

Address - La Solitaire, House 676, Nagali hills, Donapaula.

*All photographs courtesy of Alison Lobo.