It was Tuesday. It was sunny and windy and I and my friends found ourselves in the most colorful by lanes of Fontainhas, Panjim. We reached there around 11:00 am and this part of Goa was indeed infatuating, charismatic, insouciant and peaceful. Narrow winding lanes, masses of bright bougainvillea flowers, and overhanging wooden balconies all together make you feel you are walking in Old Havana or New Orleans’ Latin Quarter.
Brightly colored houses are a characteristic feature of the Portuguese architectural influence, and Fontainhas is full of them. Deep azure blue houses with white trim, mustard yellow houses with slate-tiled roofs, maroon red houses with dark wood doors and balconies. Each one is unique, and many have names emblazoned on white-and-blue tiled plaques.
We had a jovial time at the Hygge Cafe, sipping on some golden coffees and gorging upon some healthy bruschettas, exploring the streets and talking over to the locals, visiting the infamous St. Sebastian Chapel and of course, engaging in some breathtaking photography what with those picture-perfect backgrounds. It’s a fascinating experience and also fun, as the historical area is peppered with places to eat and drink.
With all that done and as the sun was getting harsher, we decided to now head back to Anjuna where we were staying. Thank god, it was windy that day. The cool breeze gave relief from the humidity and within minutes almost all of us dozed off holding our tummies tight with those severe hunger pangs killing us.
The watch read 3:30 pm as the wind unfurled my silky hair. We were back in the Anjuna market. My friends were craving for some fish curry and rice. Oh well, and I was super hungry too but at the same time, I was craving something nice and sweet as well. We were walking past Monginis on the left and as I looked to the right, something fascinating and welcoming caught my eye. It looked light a lovely bohemian-styled restaurant, magnetic, bewitching, unpretentious yet beckoning me to the core. I just crossed the road and walked off towards it. Boho is my weakness and so is everything vintage, these kinds of interiors are so full of warmth and exude a distinct culture. It was here that I was going to enjoy my meal as I saw the word “vegan” on a blackboard hung on a beautifully textured wall outside with “Soul booster” in bold. Yes, that was the name of the restaurant. My gang walked off to find their perfect place for the fish curry and rice and I headed in.
Finding a vegan café in Goa is like trying to look for a needle in a haystack. After all, the coastal state is dotted with fishing villages and towns that offer plenty of opportunities to sample all manner of seafood. So, you can imagine the surprise when I found this great place in Anjuna.
The word ‘bohemian’ refers to someone who is socially unconventional and often involved in the arts, making it a great interior design option for a rich and heady space full of visual interest and a relaxed spirit and “Soul Booster” was everything that and more.
As I moved in, it was a lovely verandah kind of a structure, rectangular with an attractive wooden door in the center. The hippy days of the late 60s and early 70s are back with a vengeance, I thought as I walked in here. The place was full of bohemian elements – Fringe, crochet, and macramé abound—cushions, antique-looking artifacts, patterned fabrics, and throw-rugs combined to make a cozy, globally-inspired hangout. Canopies, being the signature Boho embellishment added to the beauty of the place also helping against the harsh sun. A Bohemian style interior is not complete without a statement piece of Mid-Century style furniture. I saw this and a lot more accent pieces as I entered through the door.
There was a room with a three-walled sofa compete with vibrant cushions, multicolored rugs, and a lower height center table. It was super cozy. As I moved ahead, I saw the kitchen on the left-hand side where a staff member was busy making a lovely salad. He was so deeply engrossed that I didn’t even feel like disturbing him and as I turned back, I heard him say – “Hello mam, welcome to Soul Booster! Please feel free to explore.” I asked his name and he was Akesh, a very presentable and smart guy. There was also a counter where I could see big glass bottles of natural hemp seed oil, organic hemp seed packets and a lot of organic chocolates.
Right in front now was the open space, the main part of the restaurant. It was enticing to the level that it’s difficult to describe in words. I could see the bougainvillea, the white canopies, a whole lot of lovely greens hanging down from the canopies and giving the entire place the required shade and respite from the sun. I could also see lovely wooden tables, some distinct, bright fabrics that lay over the sofas, some amazing tall candle stands on the tables, and as I was admiring the place a cute little girl was running all around the area. As I stepped outside she was protectively held over by a short bearded guy who warmly smiled at me. “Hi, this is Lenny. Welcome to Soul booster. Please be comfortable, sit wherever you wish to. I will be right back”. I went ahead and found my perfect corner.
Boho is inspired by people who choose to lead an unconventional life such as constant travelers, actors, and writers and “Soul Booster” is just the right place for them. This aesthetic flies in the face of modern sensibilities and embraces the carefree, relaxed, and the unusual. The Bohemian style mirrors that life by combining objects, colors, and patterns from many areas of the world. I could see a lot of deep browns, greens, and grays with saturated purple, pinks, blacks, fiery orange, and electric blue here in the interiors. There were vintage items everywhere and each furniture piece told a story. There was also a pleasant table set up for two on my right. A very old world charm kind of a table set. It had a marble top and carved antique wooden chairs with stunning lights hanging from the greens above. A romantic corner!
As I was admiring all of this, Lenny came and placed a pedestal fan on my left. It helped ease off the heat though the sun was getting softer by now. He placed the menu on my table as well. After a thorough chit chat with him on the “Soul Booster” specials and the highly recommended stuff, I settled for the Vegan thali and the Johnny Bravo smoothie bowl. Since it was already late and I was dying out of hunger, the ice-cold water served to me helped ease off the headache I was experiencing. A little to my right were a bunch of ladies from other ethnicities relaxing and enjoying their vegan wine. They smiled as I waved off to them. There was an Indian couple seated diagonally opposite on a lovely black and white patterned fabric sofa. That was a splendid corner. The flowers of the bougainvillea fell on them as they enjoyed their conversations. It was a sight to behold. Everybody was just relaxed and enjoying their own time here.
Accessories like tapestries, vintage bottles, mismatched china—you name it, everything was there. Lanterns and lights featuring Moroccan design added comfort and visual interest to the place. Bohemian design thinks outside the box—it’s random, eclectic, and devoid of structure and order and Soul Booster was all of that and more. The spaces were bright, colorful, and patterned. Chairs and couches were plush and comfortable, inviting a sit back and lounge around kind of vibe. Potted plants, hanging plants, succulents, and ferns created a calming aesthetic in the space.
As I settled into my corner, I went about admiring every little thing in Soul Booster. Whether it was the way the names of the dishes were written on the board outside or the long recycled wood counter that was right in front of me with high bar stools.
Within a few minutes, Lenny came in “Here Snigdhaa, that’s your Vegan thali and smoothie bowl. Let me know if you need anything else”. The portion was good and I just didn’t know where to begin, the smoothie bowl or the thali. But that sweet tooth of mine, of course, forced me to dig into the smoothie bowl first. There were raw cacao, dates, banana, peanut butter, oats, and almond milk. I’ve been obsessed with breakfast bowls always! They are such a simple way to combine various flavors into one delicious bowl – and then you have the best excuse to load up on all your favorite toppings. I am used to eating tons of oatmeal bowls and rice pudding bowls at home sprinkled with my favorite fresh fruits, crunchy granola, chopped nuts, drizzles of homemade jam… the toppings are the best part, really!
But for this one, the toppings came second. This Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl tasted like DESSERT in a bowl. The first time I dunked a spoon in the bowl to give it a taste, I audibly breathed, “OHMYGOD”.
The very best part about this Smoothie Bowl was that it tasted like a treat, but it was so healthy! The base was frozen bananas, mixed with a little almond milk, peanut butter, cocoa powder, dates for sweetness, and oats for thickness. And all those healthy, whole ingredients made up for a real treat and the smoothie bowl was worth every bite.
As for the thali, I would say – Thali is not a thali till you get hit by a ‘how am I going to finish all this’ fatigue.
Thali is said to be a complete representation of different tastes which are essential for a balanced meal and a balanced body. Pleasing to the eyes, taste buds, and nose, the vegan thali proves to be an overall sensory delight and a meal that demanded a nice long nap afterward.
The thali had rice, papad, chapattis, lauki ki sabzi, rajma, dal, salad, and pickle. Lenny mentioned that the items in the thali change every day. For a vegetarian like me, all the items were just how they should ideally be cooked, without tons of spices, just aptly boiled, palatable and full of freshness. The rajma was without much oil or spices but it was delicious and blended well with the rice. Even the dal was so different in taste and thick in consistency. The lauki was so simple, almost without any sight of oil and I couldn’t have enough of it with those fresh and extremely soft chapattis. I am not too fond of lauki but this one will always be a favorite. It was so mild yet full of flavor. I wondered what did the chefs do in the kitchen. This thali is surely a must if you visit this place. It’s so sattvic in nature and just connects you with the roots.
As I enjoyed my meal, Lenny joined in to tell me more about the restaurant “The core virtue of the vegan concept is that it enables, through the tiniest efforts, the prevention of vast amounts of animal suffering and environmental degradation. My intention here is to define vegan in a way that maximizes its power to encourage people to embrace plant-based lifestyles.”
He continued ” A plant-based diet requires only one-third of the land needed to support a meat and dairy diet. With rising global food and water insecurity due to a myriad of environmental and socio-economic problems, there’s never been a better time to adopt a more sustainable way of living. Avoiding animal products is not just one of the simplest ways an individual can reduce the strain on food as well as other resources, it’s the simplest way to take a stand against inefficient food systems which disproportionately affects the poorest people all over the world.”
He concluded ” Every time we make the switch from an animal product to a vegan one we are standing up for farmed animals everywhere. Going vegan is easier than ever before with veganism becoming increasingly mainstream as more and more people from all walks of life discover the benefits of living this way. Everything that you have here, whether its chocolate, cheese, or the burger bun is all homegrown and vegan. We use our homegrown herbs, greens, and vegetables as well. Everything here comes from our earth ”
I was totally enjoying those conversations, making new friends like Lenny and expanding my knowledge which always happens the best when you share. Inga, Lenny’s partner in the business came in after some time as well and joined in the conversation.
After the meal was over, Lenny took me around the whole place. We went to the kitchen where I again met Akesh. Then Lenny got a big box from his refrigerator. Oh Boy, this box had all the homegrown herbs that you can think of, these come straight from the farm to the salads and other dishes that they serve here. They looked lovely – pinks, reds, greens, all of them were such a fresh sight on that tiring day. I had one of the microgreens and it was fresh like heaven! It was like the last thing I needed to make that headache go away, and it worked like that magic pill!
We then went to the counter inside where Lenny explained how the hemp seed oil is extracted and how adding those fresh organic hemp seeds gives a different meaning to any dish. In its small seed, hemp packs a good source of amino acids, protein, fiber, and essential fatty acids. Hemp is also considered to be more allergy-free than some plant proteins. You can buy the hemp seed here at a minimum price of Rs 400/- and I would say don’t give it a miss when you visit here anytime.
We took a few steps ahead and stopped at the small counter which had the stacks of their vegan chocolates. This, was simply irresistible knowing how much of a chocolate fanatic I am. The beautiful white and black wrappers looked graceful. “We have named our chocolates- Unus”. Unus is an Urdu word and that means love. ” Lenny exclaimed. I thought to myself – wow, what a pretty name. Well, not just the chocolates but even this place was full of love!
I spent a few more minutes with Lenny and his partner. We simply bonded over our love for vegan and animals, of course, the love for food as well.
After a few minutes, my friends called and it was time to leave. We had decided to head over to the beach for some downtime. Oh, our conversations just never stopped and our sessions on the beach almost became famous at Anjuna.
I bid my goodbyes and headed back to our guesthouse walking out of a mosaic walled semicircle which acts as a lovely door to the soul that lives inside “Soul Booster”.