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Pic of Julia in hammock

Barbariga Beach Vindaloo

We were kinda stuck inside an old army compound for a while. We’d driven easily into this place but as the days rolled languidly on, we heard that the gap in the fence had been filled with boulders. A massive man who sounded Russian and looked like he was frightened of exactly nothing told us with a wink that he could let us out with bolt cutters. He claimed to be a ‘Night Fisherman’ and we never found out what he got up to and definitely would never have asked… He had legs as thick as oak trees and a large circular scar above his eye. It was a rough sewn scar, large jagged stitches at all angles… Definitely a man to have on your side.

Given that the way out wasn’t immediately clear apart from ‘Bolt Cutter Way’,  the only sensible thing to do was nothing and accept that life was telling us to stay a while longer.

Croatia had been quite challenging in terms of finding level places to park up in the shade of trees, but here our temporary home was perfect. Flat and shady and the sea? Just a few steps away. It was easy to do nothing but drink coffee and eat pancakes in the morning, and to read and swim. A deep peace descended. We read plenty of books, more books in that week or so than in the whole previous stressy year probably.

I missed Georgia and though I knew it was far too hot for her thick black labrador coat, I wished her to be there sometimes. I was blessed by the arrival of a black lab called Mya who was technically a failed truffle hunter dog (we were in Istria – famous for truffles) and I watched her do her rounds and say hi to beach strewn people during the day. Her humans were a lovely couple passing through and living on the beach and enjoying a simple life.

Vindaloo sprang to mind one day as the evening meal. I read about the origins of the dish with interest wondering why it is now such a hot and horrible (to my mind) dish in Britain. I read various recipes and consulted my own and decided to start anew and aim for something far more like the original Goan dish. Order it here.

Making the vindaloo turned that evening into a memorable one and I wrote the poem below the day after to record some very precious moments.

Her hot, salty skin shines conker brown as
she stands in the van kitchen weighing the spices to grind,
To cook carefully the warming spice mix… cloves, cinnamon, cardamoms, and more.
Despite the shade, the sun’s heat is at her core, burning the question? Why a vindaloo?

Garlic and onion petals char, the spices fragrant,
then water to cool them and stop the burn, just enough though,
She watches and adjusts to make it right, to see it right, to hear it right, to smell it right.

Tamarind too, vinegar and coconut sugar – redolent of the Portuguese dish that belongs firmly to Goa and respectfully not to British pint drinkers,
Rice steaming close, bright white against the red of this beautiful dish.

He’s reading The Eight to her as she cooks standing in the sun as it drops down across the bay.
They’re back in Paris in 1710, rolling pulchritudinous words around their mouths,
his voice soothes her, she likes it the sound of it as she keeps the meal moving,
She sits on her heels then to savour life, knees tucked under her chin,
Enjoying precious moments in paradise.

It’s ready, the meal, but it will be better tomorrow.
Their blue bowls, their travelling bowls, so carefully chosen and so right here.
A flat bread would finish the dish, coriander too, but it doesn’t matter.
This is food for the van, for their beloved Titan, their world within.

They eat watching the sun slipping down and away,
Delicious simple food, red on white.
Sweating as they eat but what the hell?
Shrug off the clothes after, the sea cools as ripples circle them,
Heads bobbing happily… they love it all – the meal, the heat, the memories.
A simple old window frame salvaged from somewhere frames the moment.

26 June 2022
Main image: Julia at Barbariga Beach, Istria, North Croatia


Picture of the vindaloo

Barbariga Beach vindaloo