Goa is unique in everything whether its hospitality or business. Industry in Goa is taking different shape with development in infrastructure and business, but there are areas where traditional Goan businesses and artisans still exist. This is the series of stories of the businesses in Goa which are getting extinct slowly and in this series of articles we will take you around the trip of Traditional Business of Goa…..
Our first subject in this series is the “PODER” The traditional bread makers of Goa. Poder is a wakeup call to all goans with the honk of their horn installed on their bicycle, I remember when I was small and and our family shifted to Goa in early 80’s we hardly had to use the alarm clock. Our wake-up call was in the form of Ponk! Ponk!, the horn announcing the arrival of the neighborhood baker on his bicycle. Piping hot bread delivered to our doorstep was something we took for granted. It was part of being in Goa. The tradition still continues but in villages only, although the quality of bread has considerably diminishing with the day and costs is sky rocketing. The art of bread making is a legacy which is granted by the Portuguese to Goa. The Goan pão is a culinary masterpiece. Pão is Portuguese word for bread, and the Goan breadmaker is known locally as PODER, an adaptation of the Portuguese padeiro. Bread making in Goa has for centuries been the prefecture of the Catholic community. It is a family tradition handed down over generations with the entire clan involved in the operation. Every village has its own bakery or two where you may drop in unannounced, roll in your pão straight from the furnace, deposit money, and be on your way, all in a matter of a couple of minutes.
The three main varieties of Goan bread are the soft and chewy pão (PAO), the crisp undo, and the poie (whole wheat pockets) & Kankna (the bangles). The undo is delicious dipped in hot tea, but it goes especially well with xacuti. Another intriguing form is what is known as katricho pão (lit. scissored bread) where the dough is shaped with scissors. Then there is the kaknam (lit. bangles), rings of crusty bread, so called because they tinkle like glass bangles when fresh out of the oven.
It’s been the practice that Poder goes door to door on the bicycle till today in villages and sell their breads but there are certain markets in Goa having the special places reserved for the Poder and the one such place is our famous Friday Mapusa Market, you will find all types of goan bread right here that too oven fresh. Most of the small village tea stalls cum restaurants keep the goan bread which goes well with bhaji and tea.
But things changes with the time as mentioned by renowned writer Mr. Nandkumar Kamat in his article The Unsung Lives Of Goan Poders …… Traditional architecture has been replaced by comic odd forms which the former principal of Goa College of Architecture, Mr Cho Padmasee calls “Micky Mouse” architecture. The general food habits of Goans are changing. Traditional diets are getting replaced with readymade, exotic and fast foods. There are many new commercial units which are flooding the stores and the shops with sliced breads fortified with vitamins and minerals. But people still identify bread by the local term pao. Given the choice of regular, fresh and quality supply of the local bread many would opt for the pao instead of the chemicalised sliced bread. So far nobody has gone into the details of the cultural and economic aspects of dietary transition in Goa. The poders are least interested. Many of them are still continuing in their congested, hazardous, unhealthy and unhygienic old premises which remind you sadly of some scenes in Charles Dickens’ novels. Theirs is an institution which has managed to survive against all the odds and by weathering unfair competition.
The five centuries old institution of the poders is Goa’s simple swadeshi answer to globalisation and monopolisation of the consumer tastes. The poders know that as long as there are people who love various type of Goan breads – the pao, undo, poyi, katre, the pokshie and the unique, crisp kakon – a patentable product of purely Goan origin, they would be able to continue with their traditional business.
After Goa’s liberation, people used to say nostalgically in Konkani- “Te poder ghele anim te undhey ghele” (the Portuguese bread vanished with the poders). But it is not true. Poders have managed to survive because they have perfected the art of door to door delivery service.
According to Mr. Nandakumar Kamat It would need a doctoral student in cultural history to explore the origin and evolution of the Goan bread making enterprise. There are regional variants of the art of bread making. The pao of the poders of Bardez, Salcete and Tiswadi would be slightly different in texture, flavour and taste.
There is not much done for the PODERS by the government by way of financial help to uplift their standard to compete with today’s challenging business scenario, if you visit their workplace cum residence you will witness that the rooms are full of dust. Even the walls and cobwebs are coated with white particles. Many poders store the firewood in or behind their houses. The presence of the dust and firewood makes their places hazardous. Generations of poders have grown up in such congested and occupationally hazardous and unhygienic premises, to produce the favorite Goan pao.
The risk in their business is high – the risk of falling demand, competition, risk of skin and chest diseases, fire, accidents. There is unrecognised direct and indirect employment in their business. In the city of Panaji itself at least 20-30 poders are servicing various wards. Their income is based on the total daily turnover. Many hotels and restaurants depend on the poders for their daily supply of bread as the customers do not touch the sliced variety. Very few bakeries in Goa like Cafe Central & Geeta Bekery in Panaji have perfected the art of converting the local bread into the packaged sliced variety appetizing to the people.
There are a number of local spicy recipes (Humon, tondak, sukhem, balchao, sorpotel and so on) which would taste bland without the accompaniment of the pao or undo. With the onslaught of globalisation, the institution of the poders and the varieties of the Goan pao are likely to be affected. The poders need practical support for their profession. They need to be given a economic, social and family health welfare package. There needs to be full documentation of the art and science of Goan bread making with toddy or activated bakers’ yeast. More than 800 tonnes of bakers’ yeast is annually sold in Goa. It is a vast quantity for a small population. But it shows the high consumption of bread in Goa.
It may not be a staple food but the pao is an essential item in many households and it is our duty to respect and acknowledge the contribution of the poders in our daily lives. They are doing an unsung service through their micro enterprise and it is high time that the educated civil society looks compassionately at their pitiful working conditions. Let us be true to our pao, undo, poyi and loyal to our poders. We must save their economically useful cultural profession from extinction. Before it is too late to act!
References : Dr. Nandakumar Kamat’s “The Unsung Lives Of Goan Poders”