Through the eyes of a Goenkar – 6 things to do in Panjim for the culturephile.
One could argue that more than its beaches and verdant natural beauty, it is Goa’s unique culture that continues to draw tourists from both India and the wider world. Mario Miranda once described Goa as a ‘less orthodox East…but as sure and proud of its Asian origins and Indian roots…’ From architecture to music and food, Indo-European interchanges of the early Portuguese era resound in Goan culture. Nowhere is this diverse mixture better visually encapsulated than in the capital city of Panjim. Nestled in a peninsula encircled by the Mandovi river, Panjim promises quiet urban adventures unlike anywhere in India. Expect to see wide boulevards, stately bungalows, chic restaurants, busy bars, imposing colonial buildings all jostling for space with temples, art galleries, and the occasional fancy mall.
Catch a vibrant evening of Goan music at Madragoa
Retreat from the hustle and bustle of Panjim’s streets into the cozy first floor of an old Goan home to immerse yourself in a rare musical performance of fado and mando. The former is a genre of music born in Portugal carried into its colonies. It was recently added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Fado usually has a vocalist accompanied by a Portuguese guitar either Lisboan or Coimbran while mando is Konkani verse sung by a group accompanied by the violin and ghumot, an earthen percussion instrument typical to Goa. In fado, one hears the saudade characteristic of so much Portuguese music, melancholic and nostalgic. In mando, one hears the historic laments of Goan Christian women. Madragoa, housed at CIPA (Centre for Indo-Portuguese Arts) is the first place in the world to combine both these art forms for the public, playing with solos and duets, and introducing other variations. Don’t worry – for those who don’t speak either Portuguese or Konkani, the singer introduces each folk song to the audience.
The space itself brings together visual elements of Fontainhas, as well as the streets of Lisbon and Coimbra creating a dark, inviting ambiance for art lovers. During the intermission, feast on Indo-Portuguese snacks like pasteis, fofos, empadinhas and queijadinhas. Wash it all down with a glass of sangria! Plan ahead for an evening at Madragoa as performances take place a few times a month.
For jazz, samba and bossa lovers, Chafe Braz, named after one of Goa’s greatest jazz musicians, Braz Gonsalves is a wonderful way to check out local talent. Also found at CIPA, check out their schedule of concerts beforehand as seats sell out quickly.
History and heritage buffs have a quirky range of small museums to visit around Goa. While in Panjim, the Goa State Museum when it reopens in its new location will have 14 galleries to check out. The collections don’t exactly offer one an overview of Goan history. Instead, the 8000 artifacts on display represent various periods of Indian history. The Numismatics, Furniture and Geology collections are specific to Goan history. For now, the State Museum is temporarily found at Adil Shah Palace where only part its collection of relics from the Precolonial period can be viewed – Buddhist statues, hero stones, sati stones, and temple artifacts. People rave about the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum. The first of its kind in India, the museum is known for being well-maintained and air-conditioned in a heritage building. It offers a curious look into the imaginations of smugglers over different periods as their activities were thwarted by Customs officials. At the time of writing, the Museum is listed as temporarily closed.
Traditional Bakeries and Contemporary Cafes in Fontainhas
Explore Fontainhas, Panjim’s famed historic neighbourhood during the day through its many quaint, traditional bakeries and chic contemporary cafes. Gastronomic pleasure ought to be at the top of any self-respecting person’s list of things to do in Panjim. In this regard, Panjim does not disappoint the curious epicurean. Whether you’re feeling peckish or want to feast for breakfast, there is something for everyone. At Confeitaria 31 de Janeiro, you can nibble on patties, croquettes and bibinca from their traditional wood-fired oven. This bakery has been around since 1930 with little change to its ways and offerings. Also around since 1922 is Mr. Baker’s where you can snack on beef sandwiches, Goan cakes, and depending on the time of the year, classic Goan sweets like kuls-kuls, marzipan, doce and guava cheese. Coffee lovers beeline to Caravela where they serve up brews roasted from their in-house brand of coffee along with choriz rolls, rissois and a range of Goan light fare usually not found in restaurants. Goan Hindu dishes like moongachi ghati, khatkhatem along with Christian classics like pork chilly fry and vindaloo can be tried at Caravela. For those wondering what flavours chefs in Panjim are tinkering around with, find Cafe Teal and Cafe Rasa serve up newer experimentations bistro style. Tea lovers can luxuriate during the afternoon with High Tea the English or the Portuguese way at Tea Trunk. Housed in a lovely Portuguese house in Fontainhas, Tea Trunk also offers fun masterclasses and boast a tea sommelier! For another taste of Indo-Portuguese architecture, The White Balcao is a beautiful home now converted into three spaces – a café, a hostel, and a boutique store. Our storytellers on the Fontainhas Heritage Walk will bring the history of Goan food alive for you while sharing a wealth of stories about the evolution of the neighbourhood.
With satiated bellies and maybe after a proper Goan siesta, get your drink on partaking in Panjim’s vibrant nightlife. A glimpse of old tavern culture remains to be had at the legendary Joseph’s, your local feni-bar, no frills-no fuss and ideal for people-watching in Fontainhas. In the same hood, you will find Miski, a community bar serving up Goan style bar food side by side with upscale, sophisticated spots like Miguel’s and Vedro. Internationally trained star Indian chefs bring you elevated cocktails and food in a beautiful setting at Miguel’s. You can expect to rub shoulders with Bollywood glitterati at the newly opened Vedro. Music lovers can bask in the sound of good old vinyl at For The Record, a relaxed watering hole inspired by Tokyo’s listening bars all in the heart of Panjim. If you want to be accompanied by a local resident in-the-know, join our Feni and Tapas Experience.
Make space in your suitcase to carry back cute ceramics from Marcou, hand-painted azulejos from Velha Galleria and slices of Mario Miranda’s cheeky humour displayed on collectibles from his gallery in Panjim. At Global to Local, a kind of supermarket for everything Goan, support local artisans selling their crafts, earthenware, and tribal sarees; expand your pantry with specialty Goan ingredients and foods like jackfruit pickle, bimbli pickle and different chutneys. Fashion lovers can find outfits emblematic of Goa’s boho vibe at O.M.O., Sacha’s, and Sosa’s. Check out Syne for evening wear, although you may find glam pieces at Sosa’s too.
Art Galleries and Cultural Spaces
Residents of Panjim are fortunate to have vibrant cultural centres where people can come together. An art exhibition, a workshop, a book launch, a poetry reading, a short course, talks – there is something for everyone looking for a little bit of intellectual stimulation and like-minded folk. With a little planning, any culturati’s list of “things to do in Panjim” ought to be full. In the hills of Altinho, Sunaparanta – Goa Centre for the Arts is a well-funded space engaging the community through its multiple galleries, a library, and an open-air amphitheatre. Discover acclaimed international and Indian visual artists working across diverse media; listen to an academic panel talk on contemporary design methodology; or join a story-telling workshop at Sunaparanta. Their cafe is also a relaxing space to unwind.
Driving into Panjim, you can’t miss Kala Academy, a clean, expansive complex that almost blends from ground to water by the Mandovi. Charles Correa and Mario Miranda set a benchmark for a public space that nurtures creativity through thoughtful architecture in India. Festivals, concerts, and other events take place throughout the year but the space draws people from all walks of life wandering through its beautiful garden or sipping on chai at the Academy’s viewing point.
In Fontainhas, Gallery Gitanjali showcases work by European and Goan artists with an art studio and cafe. You will also find the art gallery of Fundacao Oriente in Fontainhas. The foundation organizes music performances, hosts art exhibits and talks. To see what young Goan talent is creating, check out the newly opened Sala de Arte at Kamat Towers, both an art gallery and pop-up space. Outdoor art and murals are found throughout Panjim city, discover the stories behind these work on the Panjim Art Saunter.