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Breaking bread: Traditional pav fights for survival in Indian birthplace Goa

Breaking bread: Traditional pav fights for survival in Indian birthplace Goa

Despite demand, the true Goan poi is ceding ground to high-flying croissants and sliced bread.

A 450-year-old legacy of the Portuguese, the poi (popularly known as pav bread), is struggling for existence at its Indian birthplace, Goa.

Despite demand, the true Goan poi is ceding ground to high-flying croissants and sliced bread.

Hundreds of home-grown bakers, locally known as podders, are shutting shop, no longer firing up earthen ovens around midnight to produce poi early in the morning. Amid dwindling profits, many have outsourced the work to outsiders.

Tradition making way for the new isn’t easy for poi makers such as Joaquim Pinto, 56, to accept.

“My grandfather set up this bakery. It was carried forward by my father and then me. Sadly, my children don’t want to continue in this profession,” said Pinto, whose bakery at Aldona in South Goa is one of the oldest in the state.

The state government is mindful of the poi legacy. Goans insist people should not forget that the Chardos community of Catholics were the first to make the pav introduced by the Portuguese and its popularity gradually spread across India, achieving street fame with vada pav and pav bhaji.

In 2013, then chief minister Manohar Parrikar acknowledged that many outsiders were running bakeries in Goa and said it should ideally not happen considering the heritage value. “There is a need to protect this business and youngsters should be encouraged. A subsidy will soon be worked upon with the bakers association, also modernisation needs to happen,” he had said.

A fresh batch of poi (pav) emerges from a traditional bakery in Merces, about 7 km from Panaji. (Nida Khan/HT Photo)

After a stint as defence minister, he is back as Goa CM, but poi makers are still waiting for a real protective net.

The All Goa Bakers Association (AGBA) estimates more than 40% of home-grown bakers have left the profession and only 1,200 remain.

“Inability to adapt to modern techniques, rise in prices of ingredients, low selling price and competition from sliced bread produced by big brands are among the reasons for the decline,” said Bond Braganza, general secretary, AGBA.

In 2016, the price of a poi was increased from Rs 3 to Rs 5. The subsidy Parrikar had talked about was introduced, but few warmed up.

“The subsidy the government gives on sacks of flour by classifying bakers under three categories is hardly used by any baker. Many are illiterate and don’t want to be involved in paper work every month for the subsidy. Also, one cannot compromise on the quality of flour as it can make or break the taste of pav,” said Braganza.

Xavier Fernandes, a baker from Saligao in North Goa, feels bringing back the respect the profession enjoyed a few decades ago is the key.

“No educated child wants to be called a podder or a pavwallah in Goa today. We might have given the country its first pav, but the industry today doesn’t have that reputation. The only way to bring it back is by understanding its beauty and declaring it a heritage profession,” said Fernandes.

Goa agriculture minister Vishwajit Rane agrees the tradition is threatened. “But the government cannot do things alone. I agree that existing policies are not enough. Better policies are required and we are already holding discussions,” he said.


This article was first published on hindustantimes on 31st Aug 2017

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