You would think that with the number of Gulf returns in Goa, there would be a lot of Middle Eastern food options, but the reality is, it’s slim pickings. In the early 2000s, there was a sudden surge of ‘shawarma’ stands across Goa. Omni vans and rickshaws were (and still are) outfitted with a rotisserie in the back, laden with chicken meat, and there you have it – shawarma wherever and whenever you wanted. For those who hadn’t tried the real thing, it was something new and interesting – a novel way to make a chicken roll, because, for the most part, these shawarma’s were served in regular hotdog buns. But it wasn’t long before the discerning foodie wanted the real deal – real Middle Eastern, Iranian, Arabic cuisine that went beyond the humble shawarma. Thankfully, we’ve seen a couple of great ones in the past few years, so we give you five of our favourites.
This new entrant in Sangolda was featured on our list of places to check out while on Chogm Road. Serving the finest in Middle Eastern Cuisine, Mezmiz has created quite a stir in Goa’s culinary circuit. The simple menu consists of mezze style hot and cold plates, with a small selection of mains and desserts. If you’re looking for a meat treat, their lamb Adana Kababs are heavenly. Pair that with a serving of hummus, and their creamy garlic sauce, and you have a winner of a meal. An unending supply of freshly baked pita bread and innovative home infused alcohols are a great way to round off the experience.
With a typically Hebrew name like Shimon (which means ‘listen’), you know you can’t go wrong. Shimon Falafel in Arambol is a very pocket-friendly ‘mixed bag’ of sorts, that specialises in falafel, a Middle Eastern dish of spiced mashed chickpeas or other pulses formed into balls and deep-fried. You can order yours in a pita-pocket or lafa (a wrap made of taboon bread), and it comes served with hummus, chips, and a salad – all for less than 200 Rupees. Other Middle Eastern favourites on the menu include bourekas (mini pastry puffs stuffed with cheese, olives, and mushrooms) and shakshuka (poached eggs in a spicy sauce of tomatoes and other vegetables). Yum!
Darvish in Vagator gives you a taste of the Middle East and the Spanish quarter all in one menu. Darvish skips the usual suspects of hummus and falafel for something that is more Persian inspired. Their concise menu consists of just six dishes, each more tempting than the next. Try the khoresht ghormeh sabzi if you’re looking for a comforting stew of lamb or beef, slow cooked with kidney beans and mixed herbs, served with saffron rice. If you’d like something off the grill, we recommend the kabab chenjeh, a skewer of grilled beef fillet marinated in saffron, and served with grilled tomatoes, pickled olives, and a choice of rice or bread.
Here’s another one of our favourites from Chogm Road. Saraya Art Cafe is the perfect place for a detox. With a menu that is mainly plant-based, Saraya is a great place for vegans and vegetarians. Saraya serves a variety of fresh juices, smoothies, and shakes, and though they are best known for their pizzas, we’ve often enjoyed their special falafel wrap featuring their homemade vegetarian shammi kabab, with a side of their make-it-yourself fiery hummus. You can choose from pita or toast, to accompany your jalapeno (yes, jalapeno) infused hummus, and top it up with garlic, zatar, or even vegetables. It’s quite an exciting take on a classic, trust us!
This place has been a mainstay of the Anjuna regulars for a few seasons now. Serving a menu of Mediterranean and Israeli cuisine, Goa’s Ark has been known to serve a mean Mezze Thali. But since it’s the more Middle Eastern cuisine we’re looking for in particular, look no further than the Middle Eastern Chicken right off the charcoal grill, and the Beef Kabab. For starters, we recommend the falafel plate, complete with an Israeli salad and tahini. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try the whole grilled eggplant with tahini – you won’t be disappointed.
Bonus Mention – Artjuna
Honestly, no list of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean restaurants would be complete without Artjuna. Probably one of Goa’s most popular health eateries, Artjuna serves a vast menu that is plant-based, making it a vegan and vegetarian’s delight. For that authentic Middle Eastern taste, try their authentic Baba Ganoush (eggplant blended with tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice), or their Humshuka – a mix of hummus and shakshuka. If you’re really hungry, their generous falafel burger is the perfect fix for those with a big appetite. Pair your meal with one of their famous smoothies for the true Artjuna experience.
Which one of these awesome recommendations are you going to try out first? Do you have a favourite that’s not on the list? Let us know in the comments below.