Not too many years ago, burgers were the monopoly of the McDonald’s, Hardy’s and Burger Kings on the block. To simply suggest that a decent burger could be found elsewhere was tantamount to heresy among the inner circles of foodies in India. Sure you could always settle for Regina Aunty’s choris pao down the street, but who stood to look out for the inner American in us all that desperately craved that sizzling grilled beef patty in a bun, patted down with greens, cheese and oodles of happiness? Goan foodies awaited redemption, the silence punctuated only by the low rumbling in their bellies.
In the last decade or so, however, a new era for the burger revolution began to dawn upon the horizon. Smaller diners and hotels began to pluck up the courage to challenge the burger behemoths that dominated the market. It began with a few, but a wave soon swept the Goan food industry, with independent restaurants going far beyond mere imitation; by innovating and creating their own unique signature styles and variations, and before long, the wheel began to turn; The Game of Burgers had begun. Whose patty would rise above all others to sizzle atop the Iron Grill? We let you, the people, decide.
The first burger that came up on one’s radar was found on a crisp evening wandering through the bustling streets of the capital city. Salt, a relatively unassuming restaurant at first glance will probably become your go-to place when it comes to Beef Tenderloin burgers. While they do have tempting beef and chorizo sliders as well as other burgers of interest, the tenderloin definitely captures a special place in your heart beginning with the first bite itself. It’s juicy patty practically melts in one’s mouth as you sink your teeth in, while the crunch of freshly washed lettuce and veggies contains its overwhelming meaty goodness perfectly. Rushing to the patty’s rescue, a generous amount of bacon is layered on top of it all, along with a homemade mayo that adds a truly distinctive flavour to the mix. Now that sounds like a lot to stomach, but the good folk at Salt have somehow found a way to ensure that the burger remains wonderfully light on the palate and the wallet too.
Situated snugly along the serene Miramar beach, Swing, a retro-style restaurant and pub, themed after the Swing music era, is seemingly more similar to a high-end speak-easy from the 50’s. But boy, do they cook up a mean American Cheeseburger! Everything about the burger stands out by itself; the bun, that is soft, fresh and lightly toasted, rather unlike the dried 2-day old shelf bread we are all too accustomed to. Nothing is quite as American as a cheeseburger, and the one at swing comes with a generous helping of American cheese and bacon, which adds a creamy, salty zing to the overall taste. Rather than win us over with its enormity, this burger does well with its perfect beef patty to bun ratio, keeping itself substantially large, without the patty somersaulting out the back every time you take a bite. No, the burger at swing exists to show the world that quality and quantity can co-exist in a burger at the same time.
If you’re looking for directions to the biggest, meanest burger in town, I’d recommend taking a ride down Route 66 in Patto. Walking in to the main entrance might give you the feel like you’re in a dinky diner of sorts, with its somewhat functional décor and dim lighting. But prepare to be blown away when you open their menu and find everything from milkshakes to nachos and pizza on it. Aside from this, they undoubtedly have one of the most extensive selection of burgers one’s ever laid eyes on. Ones like the Big Cheezz, The Big Boss and The M.C.B. (Mushroom Cheese burger, get your head out of the gutter!) did catch the eye, but decided on taking a trip down the wild side with The Hellboy. True to it’s name, the Hellboy was spicy enough to belong to a land down under. It’s perfectly grilled beef patty, smothered with Route 66’s own Hell Sauce sizzled like flavoured fireworks in my mouth, while the pickled jalapenos, Cajun sauce and crispy onion rings truly had me wondering whether the chef tossed the patty using a long pitchfork. Suffice to say, the Hellboy was not fashioned for mere mortals, but is worth the risk either way.
The Wolverine burger, which can be made into a double, is another hot favourite on their menu, especially among Route 66’s more Si-Fi friendly audience. Exceptionally grilled, as any of their other burgers, then topped with bacon, a grilled hot dog (let that sink in!), chipotle chillie, jalapenos, the Wolverine burger is a fitting tribute to the wild legend that inspired it. They add in a special adobo sauce or Carne de Vinha d’alhos in Portuguese, which is essentially an immersion of raw food in stock composed of paprika, oregano, salt, garlic and vinegar to enhance the flavour. In this way, they hope to keep Goan heritage alive in their food, while still being the perfect burger for all those days when you want to let the beast inside out for a stroll.
ITC Fortune, Miramar is a relatively new establishment, a short walk down from Miramar beach. While few Goans dare venture past its automated glass doors and posh exterior, even fewer realize that it houses a restaurant that serves up the most uniquely appealing burger you can hope to find in Goa. At their recent “Make your own Miramar Burger” festival they recently held, ITC unveiled their two customizable masterpieces; The Black and Red Bun Miramar burgers. Other bun choices included the regular bun, whole wheat and multi-grain, though we all know what most people would opt for. The black bun variant consisted of jet black buns, dyed with squid ink with hints of onion, while the Red bun was dyed with beetroot essence. Breaking away from tradition I chose to go with the chicken patty this time, from among Veg, Fish, Turkey and the fairly tempting Pulled Pork, and I was pleasantly surprised. While most chicken patties turn out more similar to fried cardboard, the one in the Miramar burger was succulent, light and gave beef patties a run for its money. From amongst the sea of choices available, I chose to top it with pepper cheese, BBQ sauce, lettuce, jalapenos and dehydrated ketchup, a fairly uncommon ingredient to the average Goan diner. Additionally, I asked them to throw in some caramelized onions and bacon, because, well, who wouldn’t? I noticed, in particular how fresh each ingredient was, and how delicately it was prepared, down to the charring of the caramelized onions. A truly world-class burger, one that is worthy of the name behind it.
Not too far down the road, Café Basil in Caranzalem cooks up a strong contender to the Miramar burger; The MCR. The arty, quirky Café Basil has earned quite the repute for being a hangout for the school and college crowd in the area. That could be attributed to the fun board games you can play, the guitar in the corner or maybe, just maybe to the legendary burgers they whip up backstage. Beef, Double Cheese, Barbeque, the list goes on, but none has captured quite as much of the limelight as the MCR at Café Basil. A delightfully well-seasoned patty that is tender and oozing with flavour, along with fresh greens is all that’s needed to sell this burger, because it is just that good. But there’s more, with the MCR burger, you can opt for nachos instead of fries, if your heart so desires it. Add to that, the burger is well affordable, the air is with fun and energy, and you have all ingredients you need for a great burger fiesta.
When one thinks of a five star dining experience, Burgers is not what naturally comes to mind. But this monsoon at AZ.U.R., pride of The Marriott – Goa, has taken that step to bring you their burger festival. Chef Pawan and Swarnendra have carefully crafted Burgers to suit everyone with influences from all around the world. When one things of burgers, one tends to lean toward meaty thoughts, but the skilled chefs at The Marriott ensured that their menu was squarely divided into vegetarian and non-veg categories, though the sheer variation found within each left no palate unsated.
For the vegetarians, a heavenly merger; the Mushroom and Cheese Burger, uniquely fashioned to melt in one’s mouth whilst having a similar effect on their heart. The gently crumb-fried mushroom patty is packed with finely minced button mushrooms and English cheddar, and spiked with oregano and thyme. On a similar note, one may also find the Bara Pao just perfect for the domestic pallet. This delightfully Indian-influenced burger’s crumb fried patty contains juicy, shredded paneer, seasoned with tamarind, coriander, and turmeric with dashes of jeera and red chilli. Sandwiched together with greens like green capsicum, zucchini, the flavours present in every bite are reminiscent of a delightful paneer bhurji. Moving on, as a the stark contrast of the paneer burger, comes the fiery Veg Cutlet Burger. While appearing similar to a humble potato cutlet, this dynamite rawa-fried patty is filled with bell peppers, diced carrots and cauliflower, beans, mashed potato and piri-piri masala. It comes with a generous side of piri-piri dip, for the more adventurous diners and is well worth a try, but be warned; this burger is not for the faint of heart.
Coming to the more international burgers, the Panko Crumb Fish Burger caters to the more European palates at the festival. Lying between delicately sautéed zucchini, peppers, pesto and fine caramelized onions lies a heavenly crumb-fried Red Snapper patty, cooked to perfection. There is little seasoning added to fish, by choice, as this allows its natural flavour to be fully appreciated. Focaccia bread is used to preserve the authentic European style and it is served with home-made subtle pesto mayo, guaranteed to take many taste buds on quite the journey of taste and texture. The Marriott chefs went all out for the festival by making sure to include an Oriental Style Smoked Lamb Burger in their menu. Freshly prepared with the choicest refined flour and squid ink for colour, this burger turns heads as it passes between tables, with its raw visual appeal alone. The patty uses lamb, instead of pork, which has been smoked exquisitely with charcoal rather than wood chips, giving the succulent meat a barbequed finish. The patty is relatively unadulterated and is packed in with pickled ginger, shallots, spring onions and a tightly cooked egg on top of it all. In keeping with the theme, the fries that come with this burger are uniquely prepared as well, a deep black colour, after being parboiled with soy sauce, and are then deep fried, the salty flavour matching the lip-smacking Sriracha dip perfectly.
A burger of notable acclaim on festival menu is the Pulled Pork Burger. As the name suggests, the burger has a massive amount of soft pulled pork, nestled between Sage buns. While the pork is not packed into a patty, as most burgers are, what makes it stand apart is the beautiful balance of flavours found in it. The pork is intricately prepared by marinating it in honey overnight, allowing for an interesting play of sweet overtones on the final meaty flavour of the pork. A generous helping of cheese is added on top of it, to provide a general richness to this otherwise simple American-style burger, but one that definitely leaves an impression.
The worthiness of a burger can ultimately be determined by how far one ventures in pursuit of it. And if your quest for a great burger should take you far, then why not simply head to the source? Burger Factory, touted by many as the place where all burgers come from, has long since been wrestling for the seat at the top of the food chain. as far as burgers are concerned, and in all honesty, you could not find a more worthy candidate. Whether its the eccentric design, incorporating cycle tyres and mason jars in the décor, the artfully dim lighting or the aroma of spiced patties on the grill permeating the air, Burger Factory, Anjuna mesmerizes you the second you walk in. A simple one-page menu will give you a gist of how perfection can sometimes be emulated by paying attention to the details. Every single burger on their menu bears semblance to a gourmet level dish. To paraphrase Morecambe, Burger Factory succeeds in creating great burgers with basic ingredients, by simply placing them in the right order. While all their burgers stand out on their own, one to take note of is the Blue Cheese Beef Burger, A hot favourite, even among foreign tourists. Curiosity may get better of you when you order this burger, but rest assured, blissful indulgence will follow shortly after. A mammoth-sized burger, with an equally proportionate soft and perfectly simmered patty lies at the heart of this burger, topped with a copious amount of crisp bacon, freshly cut tomatoes, lettuce and avocado, not to mention rich, melted blue cheese. Although near impossible to finish alone, each bite will unfailingly tempt you to take yet another. Finally, to go with it, they have quite the selection of uncanny milkshakes such as the Boozy Banana that are guaranteed to entice and surprise you.
In the Game of Burgers, you either win or you die, figuratively speaking. The clincher is that none can claim the throne as the bar is constantly being raised. With daily innovations in ingredients, preparation, presentation, even incorporation of molecular gastronomy, the wheel will undoubtedly keep spinning for years to come, with many more joining in, vying for a place at the top. So, the question of which burger is truly the best becomes steadily less important, as burgers have always been more about the experience, the fun times and crazy stories, than anything else. So remember everything I just said, then grab a friend, go out there and forget it all. Because there will always be a better burger, and so, fortunately for foodies like us, the game continues.