Patolio: The 'Spirit' of San Joao

The drink that embodies the true ‘spirit’ of the festival – and monsoon – in Goa. No pun intended!

By Madhulika Dash
Monsoon may be a dull month in Goa, but not for those in stay in this idyllic state. For them the rains meant celebrating the Sao Joao Festival (North Goa, to be precise). Celebrated to honour Saint John the Baptist, this popular Catholic festival doesn’t only mark the happy beginning of a joyful week, but also of two special treats: Te Patoleo, a quintessential Goan dessert made with rice flour, coconut and jaggery. Or as many call ‘the carnival version of sanna’. And Urrak. That’s right. While Sao Joao, which many believe is a modern-day version to an ancient Hindu ritual that saw the bride go back to her parental home for some tender love and care, is mostly considered as a harvest festival – lands are soon ready for the next till; there is a school that it is a celebration of the last few pots of Urrak and the first flush of coconut feni.

In fact, legend has it that the whole concept of jumping in the well began because of urrak that in ancient times were stored inside the cooler blanket of water inside a well. But since urrak cannot be kept for more than a month, the start of monsoon became the perfect time to bring out the hidden treasure and savour it. Aged, chilled Urrak was prized in gold, and was often be the perfect payback for people to risk their life jumping into the cold water to retrieve tightly sealed pots of this heady, sweet drink.

Says Cazulo Owner, Hansel Vaz, “and the best way to enjoy the drink, which was traditionally had neat and then mixed with Limica, is with the super fragrant, turmeric leaf- steamed Patoleo.” This labour-intensive sweetmeat with its perfect pairing of coconut, jaggery and rice flour made for an interesting afternoon treat. In fact, such was the fascination for this pancake shaped sweet that it was often the gift that the bride would carry back home as a reminder of her love-cocooned childhood. The Dutch who took a fancy to this indigenous dessert in fact called it the ‘parcel of love’. And while Urrak and Pataleo still stay favourites of the old timers, there is something more interesting that many indulge in through Sao Joao, a one-day festival with a seven-day hangover: the Patolio. First designed by a young Goan bartender, Rohan Barbosa, this cocktail was developed to showcase the local ingredient and culture – and was to be an innovation made for the competition. Hailing from a farmers’ family, Rohan knew the flavours of Patoleo well and decided to deconstruct the same and present as a drink. Says mentor and Feni bartender, Karl Fernandes, “We broke down the elements and decided to treat each ingredient to get the flavour exactly. The tender turmeric leave was cooked in jaggery syrup, coconut milk was used to give the drink its body and vodka for combining the flavour. “

Named Patolio, the cocktail that was described as the perfect marriage of the old tradition with new taste became an overnight success, first among those in the bar business and then those who loved drinking. Such was the popularity that Cazulo even made a series of Coconut Feni designed to aid the making of this cocktail.

Today, Patolio is as popular as the sweet dish it was inspired from. In fact, if you are in Goa this Sao Joao week starting June 24, have a glass of chilled Patolio, it is as good as having the traditional Patoleo – in a glass!