Category Archives: Eat

Stories from the plate.

The Goan good food guide

Goan food is the new flavour of the season in Mumbai. Tourists, who travel to the sunshine state, clearly cannot get enough of the food – the choris or cutlet pav; the Portuguese-influenced rissois, vindalho and sorpotel; the coconut and amsol-filled curries; and the coconut-milk based dodol and bebinca.

It’s an experience that is now possible to avail of, sometimes at a price, in the city. There’s no feni or shack and the sunshine and sand is missing but, a few restaurants here are doing their bit to provide a feel and a taste of Goan food.

Snow Flake

Walking into this restaurant is like going back in time. Nostalgia oozes out of the marble topped tables, the sepia-tinted photos stuffed in dusty shelves and the creak fans. The day’s specials, a stock list of about ten dishes, can be found scrawled on a whiteboard in the corner. The cats at the entrance all seem to embody to susegaad feeling of the place – you may sometimes feel like stretching yourself out and curling up into a ball after a good meal here. It is here that I find food that comes closest to what my mother prepares at home – offal laden sorpotel; the tangy fish curry, ambotik; tongue roast with browned onions and just a hint of gravy and quite the best fish cutlets I’ve eaten in the city.

Snow Flake started as an ice cream shop/bakery selling food to what was once a thriving Goan population. Today, the customers are sparse but they soldier on, relying on patrons like me, keen for a taste of home.
At: 18, Ribeiro Building, first Dhobi Talao Lane.
(Read a detailed review, here.)

Sushegad Gomantak

Sandwiched between shops selling Keralite fare and kebabs, this tiny restaurant isn’t easy on the eyes. What it lacks in looks, it makes up for with delicious food and warm service. The only wall décor here is a chart showcasing the fish in the Indian Ocean with their local names, a blown up clipping of a newspaper article mentioning the place and the day’s specials. There’s a menu of course, but everyone comes here for the fish – eaten fried or in a curry.

It is here that I always manage to find xinanio (mussels), best eaten fried and piping hot; kalwa (oysters), typical had in a thick curry; and muddoshi (lady fish), also eaten fried. The restaurant’s cooking style is Goan Hindu and is heavy on curries, many of which don’t feature coconut. The fried fish comes with a thick coating of rice flour and rava and isn’t oily. Other stand out dishes include prawn cutlets accompanied by a thin, green chutney; tisrya sukhe – shellfish served with a garam masala and coconut mixture; and a crab thali featuring one huge crab in a spicy red curry.
At: A11, Opposite Paradise Theatre, Mahim Shivsagar Society, LJ Road, Mahim.
(Read a detailed review, here.)

Gables

This eating house is often ignored by those seeking out the more popular New Martin, which is around the corner. A visit to this four-seater restaurant will surprise you. One of the few places in the city offering free Wifi, Gables has a faux tiled roof inside, a wall mirror giving the illusion of extra space, two glass-fronted stands showcasing chops, cutlets and other fried snacks, and even a bookshelf filled with old magazines and the odd cookbook.

Mel, the in-house cat, will accompany you while you eat. There are also a few Italian dishes but skip those and opt for the sorpotel (with chunky bits of pork) or sausage chilly fry mopped up with fresh pao. The prawn rava fry or calamari fry will satiate your fish cravings.
At: Opposite Shiv Mandir, Colaba.

Soul Fry

The 20-year-old place enjoys iconic status in Bandra, not the least for those weekly karaoke nights, I’m told, also serve as good matchmaking venues! The festivities apart, Meldan D’Cunha, the affable owner the place, loves experimenting with food. This finds the form of lesser known Goan, East Indian, Koli and Manglorean food. Here, the cafreal, prawn recheado, and sausage fry find place with the Portuguese-influenced crab xec xec, caldeirada (Portuguese fish stew) and Guisado De Galinha (chicken stew). These are best washed down with pints of beer for that perfect laidback vibe.
At Pali Mala Road, opposite Pali Vegetable Market, Bandra West.
Call 7208316545

New Martin Hotel, Colaba

This iconic institution in Colaba is a simple, no frills place. The formica topped tables, high seating, the two blackboards announcing the day’s specials – the interiors may not have changed even if the owners did. ‘Goan meals served here’ is proudly painted on the door shutters and a small board hanging outside.

The hotel now has Manglorean owners, but the food is still Goan though heavier on the spices. The beef chilly fry is succulent and spicy; prawns pulao has golden long grained rice heaped over a masala prawns and their pork sorpotel is adequately greasy and flavourful. Their specialty is beef steak, cooked till tender and served with generous helpings of onions and potatoes. Here, just like at Udupi restaurants, you might have to sometimes share a table with strangers. There’s no need for conversation, everyone is too busy eating.
At 11, Glamour House, Strand Road, Apollo Bandar, Colaba.

Mangoes

This rooftop restaurant in Orlem gets its name from the fact that the owners are Goan and Manglorean. They serve both kinds of cuisines. The décor here is spartan with plastic chairs and tables. It doesn’t matter because Mangoes serves some hearty Goan fare, largely focuses on non-vegetarian food. There’s the beef, and pork roast – both of which are so popular, people freeze it and take it abroad; tongue jeere mere, caldin, the street staple roce omelette, cutlets and potato chops.
At: 601, 6th floor, Almar Arcade, Near Punjab National Bank, Orlem.

Fresh Catch

A pelican with his catch of the day greets you at the entrance of this Mahim icon. It’s an indication that if nothing else, you can get good fish here.

The interiors remind me of an old aunt’s home – patterned napkins, red checked tablecloths, black chairs, sepia-tinted photos on the wall and music from the 70s and 80s. The service is warm and the food, homely. Best known for its butter garlic crab, Fresh Catch also dishes up stellar bangda jeera meera, a spicy and tangy balchao, prawns sukka and a wholesome seafood pulao filled with juicy prawns, crabmeat and shellfish. The prices may be a tad expensive for Goan grub but the food is delicious, which makes it worth it.
At Lt Kotnis Marg, Near Fire Brigade, Off L J Road, Mahim West, Mahim.
(Read a detailed reviewhere.)

Porto & Poie

The azulejo-tiled space in Juhu is the newest Goan restaurant to hit Mumbai’s shores. It’s a simply-designed space – the outdoor area has a small balcao area with a bar in the centre. On the inside are black and white photos of markets in Portugal and Goa, a tiled ceiling and laterite stone-arched windows.

It is the food prepared by Goan chef Gracian de Souza that reminds me of home. The tender marinated salted tongue with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, the crunchy and cheesy Portuguese style prawn rissois, and the classic Goan fish curry and slow cooked tenderloin chilli. The vegetarian dishes are stellar too, especially the coconutty mushroom and tendli tonnak. There’s no feni but there is Vagator Rave, with its hints of cashew and sweet pineapple, and the welcome drink, the alcohol-soaked cherry liqueur ginjinha.  Best of all, there is poee, brought in from Goa every day.
At Above Royal Garden Hotel, Juhu Tara Road; 6 pm to 1.30 am; Call 26602955
(Read a detailed review, here.)

Lady Baga

A makeshift beach with a shack, a surfboard and swaying palms greets you at the entrance of Lady Baga in Kamala Mills. One whole wall is painted blue and has the lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s Going to California on it. Inside, the place channels a kitschy shack vibe with swinging hammocks, fairy lights, stars, coloured walls and cane furniture with tie-dye cushions.

Behind the bar, Eric Lobo dishes up cocktail experiments. His version of cashew feni is a potent cashew and and coconut vodka. I recommend the scotch-heavy Ginger Man, and the Bloody Mariana – a Bloody Mary with balchao and Goan sausage-infused vodka. The food, from the hands of an East India chef, is worthy of seconds. The stand out dishes include rissóis prawns, kokum & chilli pumpkin and Chef Aloo’s prawn curry – a rice plate with prawn curry with bhindi, tendli pickle, kismur, fried whitebait, and local red unpolished rice.
At Oasis Complex, Kamala Mills, Gate No 4, Lower Parel. Call 022 4931012

O Pedro

The food here isn’t Goan, not the way I’ve grown up eating it. But it is delicious and inspired by Goan food, which makes for some interesting dishes. There’s rissois stuffed with crab instead of prawns and coated with Panko crumbs; kalchi koddi served as a sauce with boiled eggs, kismur with raw papaya and shrimp, red rice sannas, and serradurra with orange segments. There’s even a sourdough poee, best paired with chorizo butter. The best one being the veal tongue prosciutto, a take on salted tongue with pickled cucumber and a garlic-mustard aioli.

The interiors, some call it granny chic, are filled with knick knacks and elements expected in an old house – cane backed chairs, hanging creepers, the red tiles and the plates on the walls. A good place to hang out at is at the polished wooden bar, sipping on the homemade Vasco Sour with its hit of Goan toddy vinegar, and tapping your feet to the music.
At: O Pedro, Unit #2, Ground Floor, Jet Airways-Godrej BKC Building, Bandra Kurla Complex.

Box:

Goa Bhavan Canteen
At Cross Road No.12, Samarth Ramdas Marg, Gulmohar Road, JVPD Scheme, Juhu.
Call 98205 97275

Goa Portuguesa
At Mili Building, TH Kataria Road, Matunga.
Call 24440707

C D’Souza
At 314, Cawasji Hormusji Street, Opposite Our Lady of Dolours Church, Marine Lines.
Call  22065893

Goan Cart
At 1st Domnic Lane, Tank Road, Orlem, Malad West.
Call 9820756797

Cozinha Goana
At: Beverly Park, WING-A, Mira Bhayandar Road, Chandan Shanti, Mira Road. Closed on Mondays.
Call: 9920854955

 

[Versions of this story appeared in The Hindu and The City Story]

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Kalchi kodi and the taste of nostalgia

When I was growing up in a village in India’s then-smallest state, Goa, my family had a Sunday tradition. We love to eat and we have the hips to show for it.

Located on India’s west coast, Goa is known for its sun, sand and beaches. A typical Goan meal is xitt-koddi-nustem (rice, curry and fish). A long coastline meant a lot of wealth came from the sea; an easy availability of coconuts meant they often found their way into the food – which, like all aspects of Goan life, is heavily imprinted by four-and-a-half centuries of Portuguese rule.

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The prawn curry at Lady Baga, which I then turned into the kalchi kodi!

Our breakfast, after early morning Mass and catechism classes, was an elaborate affair. It was a mix of local food and imported (‘tinned’) foodstuff. The dining table would be loaded with tinned cheese, butter, beef roast, omelette, tea, coffee, jam and fresh poee (Goan flatbread). The piece de resistance, to us children anyway, was kalchi koddi, a dish that literally translates to yesterday’s curry.

Kalchi koddi was usually made of fish curries inflected with coconuts – either grated coconut ground into a paste or coconut milk. The beauty of this simple dish was that it made leftovers exciting on their own. Yesterday’s fish curry, minus the fish, was just warmed over a low flame till it condensed and thickened. This was then eaten plain or topped with an egg.

When we were children, visions of that perfect kalchi koddi were enough to ensure that we ate a little less fish curry the night before. Reheated, the orange gravy thickened to a point that enhanced the flavors of coconut and various spices; it was an exciting new way to eat our staple curry.

Though we didn’t know it at the time, the dish was born out of necessity. “The Goans have always been a practical community. They never wasted anything. If a pig was cut, the entire animal, from snout to tail, found its way into different dishes,” says Odette Mascarenhas, a Goan food critic and author.

Refrigeration didn’t become commonplace in Goa or much of India until much after independence in 1947. Even then, only the affluent could afford to buy one. So food had to be cooked fresh daily. Whatever remained “was eaten the next day or just fed to the pigs,” says Mascarenhas.

“When fish curry was cooked, only the required pieces of fish were added – usually one per person. If this curry remained, it would be kept in the kunddlem [an earthen pot] overnight over the burning embers so by morning, it would thicken and coat the sides,” she says. “This was then scraped out using hot poee.” She recalls her mother-in-law serving her kalchi koddi made out of sorak (coconut curry made without fish).

If not for breakfast, kalchi koddi was eaten with the mid-morning meal of congee or pez (rice gruel) in most Goan homes. In her book, Cozinha de Goa: History and Tradition of Goan Food, Fátima da Silva Gracias writes, ‘In the past, people ate congee with the previous day’s condensed coconut curry, to which they at times added leftover ambot-tik (translates to sour-spicy) curry and a little sugar before placing it on the fire. This was called kalchi koddi in Bardez (or North Goa) and atoilolem humon(translates to condensed curry) in Salcete (South Goa).’

The pez was plain and watery, so the accompaniment had to be tasty and mostly dry —- like pickle, dried fish. Those who worked in the fields – Goa and much of India back then was largely an agrarian society – would rely on this healthy meal to sustain them till lunchtime.

Ask any Goan and they will tell you kalchi koddi tastes best when made in an earthen pot. “Each dish had its own pot for cooking, and fish curry was always made in the kunddlem and served with a dhoilo (coconut shell spoon),” says Gracias. The taste probably was enhanced by the fact that these utensils, in essence, came from the soil of the land.

Over the years, this dish has seen its fair share of variations. Any curry that has coconut in it, but no souring agent, can be turned into kalchi koddi. These days, people have leftover xacuti (spicy chicken curry) or caldin (a stew made with coconut milk) heated the same way.

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A modern take on the dish: Kalchi kodi with devilled eggs at O Pedro, Mumbai

Old-timers will tell you these new versions don’t quite taste the same. It could be the shiny copper and steel vessels that have replaced earthenware, the stove top that’s replaced firewood furnaces or the fact that curries are now refrigerated and then reheated the next morning. There’s some romanticism still attached to the act of sneaking into the kitchen as a child with a piece of poee and scraping the sides of the kunddlem for a taste of that thick gravy.

This curry has the distinction of being one of those rare dishes that has inspired a song. In ‘Kalchi Koddi’, the (late) Goan singer and actor Alfred Rose sang about how the dish added flavor to his rice or pez and how he didn’t need fish or anything else as an accompaniment as long as there was kalchi koddi. Sing this song to a Goan and chances are they will either rhapsodize about the breakfast staple or serve you some (if available), giving new meaning to the phrase, sing for your supper.

But, for a taste of that delicious leftover curry, I would sing like a canary.

 

[The story was first published in NPR’s The Salt as An Ode To Leftover Curry on March 11, 2018.]  

Eating Banana fritters in Hoi An

On our first trip to Vietnam, my friend and I found slices of India everywhere. A popular Hindi TV show played on tiny screens in markets, hosts shared notes about their favourite Bollywood movies, and we had in depth discussions about why Indians don’t win global beauty pageants anymore.

At the end of our ten-day trip, we chanced upon a fried street snack that satiated our craving for home food. The Banana Fritters (chuối chiên) were as brown as our skin, and as sweet as they were cheap. The golden brown banana fritter was sticky, speckled with sesame seeds, crispy on the outside and oozing with sweetness on the inside. It was the perfect morning treat, a sweeter version of the fried snacks we eat on Mumbai’s crowded streets when in need of a quick and filling meal.

We discovered it, much like the best things in life, by accident. It was our last day in Hoi An, that heritage town of cobbled paths, ancient shopfronts and lanterns swaying in the wind. We had guzzled cheap beer, munched on grilled meat on the streets and loaded up on cheap trinkets at the night market. We were on the hunt for an authentic eating experience.

A crowd led us to it.

They were gathered around a small cart so, we went to investigate. This curiosity is an innate Indian thing – we see a group of people gathered around something, and we will instantly gravitate towards it. People were engrossed in watching something. A closer look revealed a street cart, and the people around it were brimming with desire.


We heard the sound first, the heavy sizzle that signifies something has been dunked into a pan full of hot oil. It soon relapsed into a melody of crackles and hissing. A young woman stood behind the cart peeling bananas and slicing them into perfect halves. The bananas, swaying in the wind above her head, were no ordinary ones but small and stubby (called chuoi su or chuoi xiem). She dunked these slices into a mixture of rice flour, sugar, salt and water, before popping them into a pan of oil. When they attained
a golden brown colour, she held it aloft for a few seconds before placing it on a stand. As it stood there, dripping oil, us hungry hordes could only gaze at its delicious crunchiness, willing it to cool faster so we could get our hands on it.

banana fritter

There were also plates of crab fritters and sweet buns filled with mung bean and coconut but we only 
had eyes for that stick sweet snack. Money exchanged hands and soon, we were holding then in our hands, a flimsy napkin protecting us from the heat.

We were soon busy munching on the fritter, enjoying the noisy eating process and savouring the ensuing sugar rush. It was a high that lasted us till lunchtime, and one that was more intoxicating than the local beer.

The piece was first published in Roads and Kingdoms, here.

A taste of the North East in Kalina

In the morning, the suburb of Kalina is a quiet place. A few shop shutters go up, a straggle of people return from daily Mass, and stray dogs start riffling through the piles of garbage being swept from the street. 

Near the St Roque Grotto, a small two storey space starts to come to life. As part of his morning ritual, Yaomi Awungshi, 36 is having tea and breakfast with his family. In some time, the plates and cups are cleared and the place is open for business.  

The business being Thotrin Café, the suburb’s newest, and what they call the city’s only, North Eastern restaurant. “We serve food from typically cooked in our homes, and from other states,” says Awungshi.

“This area has a lot of families from the North East. We wanted to offer them the tastes of home,” chimes in his cousin Worsem Zimik, 34. Awungshi and Zimik both belong to the Tangkhul tribe – they identify as Nagas but geographically, their home is in Manipur. The menu features Naga tribal dishes and some from other North Eastern states too.

Food stories

The restaurant launched three months back. It is a small space with just four tables. There’s a blue ceiling, few potted plants, and a full length motivational poster covering the door to the kitchen.

“You can call us and request any dish and we will make it,” says Awungshi proudly, adding that recipes are sourced from family and friends. On the menu are dishes like the Manipuri salad shingju, oxtail soup, thukpa, mayang pai manak – a meaty potato mash made with King Chilli and fermented river fish; steamed chicken with bamboo shot and shiitake mushrooms; thesui – fermented soyabean, ngari – fermented river fish with King Chilli, and even escargot. They also serve pork and beef items but that’s off the menu – they don’t want to alienate customers. Dishes are of substantial portions, cheap (the most expensive dish is Rs 220) and meant for sharing.

The diners streaming in and out of the place include family and friends from nearby, Catholics from all across Kalina and Vakola, and members of the community who come from as far as Mira Road and Borivli. “We get a lot of students too. They come to study at the Kalina University and so, settle down here. They often don’t have the time to cook or look for specific ingredients. This was our way of helping them,” says Zimik. When he first came to the city to study law 15 years back, there was no place to buy homemade food or ingredients so he started cooking himself. “We have airhostesses who are regulars who always gush about the food and say it tastes like home.”

Zimik, who had to abandon his dream of becoming a lawyer due to financial reason, has worked in the hotel industry for over a decade. He is currently an operations manager at AB Celestial, Mahim. He believes the time is ripe for the city’s diners to ‘indulge in their love for regional food by trying out our food’. He would know. One of his work stints was at King Chilli, the Chindian fusion restaurant down the street from Thotrin. There, customers could order off-the-menu Manipuri food items like Khaiko Kasathei (a dry fish salad) and Harsa Kasathei (chicken salad with onion, lime juice and King chilli) and Alangsa, a beef offal stew-like dish. The dishes, once only eaten by members of the community, are no popular with anyone looking for a taste of the North Eastern cuisine.  

The right ingredients  

The popularity of the King chilli (or bhut jolokia as its popularly called) these days means it is easier to source. For other ingredients specific to the region, people turn to small community stores that source their wares from the North East.  The Kalina Masjid lane has two such stores selling foodstuff, vegetables, breads and sweets specific to the Manipuri and Naga community. Think fermented fish and bamboo shoots.  

Thotrin gets its produce from the store sharing its name, which Awungshi started three years back. He  gets his produce from home, thrice a week, and the pickles, fried items and bread all made by the family.  The small space is packed with clear packets of fresh vegetables – mustard leaves, Indian bean root, white pepper, aiyang thei (Naga eggplant), fermented bamboo shoots, and dried King chilli.

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Fresh vegetables and dried fish comes in every week from Nagaland

The fish comes in pickled form or a dried version (usually done over heated charcoal) and packed within small woven bamboo baskets. There’s a rack from which hang pickled sweet red plums, packets of meat masala, and tins of fish and meat pickle. Two small refrigerators nearby hold vegetable salads and pork pickle. The dry food stack has strips of dried beef intestines, fried beef and pork, chewy doughnuts sprinkled with coconut, crispy rice cakes and a sweet puri-like bread made from black rice. “When we opened, on the first day itself we had 100 customers!” laughs Awungshi. “That’s when we knew we were right in starting the place. It was that time we had the idea to open the restaurant too.”

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The vegetable rack at Thotrin store

Both places are open through the week. Sunday afternoon is the only time you will find them shut – it’s because the family goes to church. People from the Tangkhul tribe are largely Protestant and go to a small hall within the Air India complex at Kalina for afternoon (and English) services. And after church, they are usually joined by a small group of people who come to get a bite to eat at the restaurant.   

The brothers look at Thotrin as a space that brings the community together, a social hangout spot. “We want to take this food and the restaurant all across Mumbai,” says Zimik with a smile. “We want to make it famous.”

Thotrin Café is situated opposite St Roque Grotto, Kalina Kurla Cross Road, Santacruz East; open from 9.30 pm to 11 pm; call 077382 30296

 

 

Worth the Mani

I am at a table with three strangers. We don’t talk; our mouths are busy shoveling down idlis, wadas and upma. The only sounds we make come from the cracking of a crisp dosa, and the slurp of hot filter coffee.

A waiter hovers by, ready to refill our bowls with ladles of fragrant sambhar. The thin and tangy vegetable stew coats the idlis (steamed lentil rice cakes) on my plate, giving them an orange tint. In another bowl, the soup-like rasam, made with tamarind juice, tomato, chillies, and spices, soaks through the medu wada (crisp fritters made with urad dal), softening them up.

I wipe both dishes clean, resisting the urge to lick my fingers as many around me do. Someone near me gives a satisfied burp. Nobody bats an eyelid. At Mani’s Lunch Home in Chembur, table etiquette and manners are secondary to enjoying a good meal.

Rasam Vada

Rasam vada.

In Mumbai, there’s cheap and then there’s lunch home cheap. Mani’s Lunch Home, or Mani’s, falls in the latter category – nothing on their menu costs over Rs 150. The 80-year- old institution serves simple, homely, vegetarian South Indian food. Last year, it shut down its Matunga outlet and moved to the eastern suburbs of Chembur.

I visit the new digs for a late breakfast. It takes time getting used to the white walls, metals chairs and air-conditioned interiors. The old Mani’s felt like the dining room of a friend’s home, warm and inviting. Here, under the glare of white lights, the four of us sharing a table are extremely conscious of each other. We sit properly, without fidgeting.
Once our orders arrive though, all propriety is forgotten.

A flurry of waiters deposit plates of dosas the length of my arm, tiny containers of chutney, filter coffee in tumblers, fluffy idlis, crisp wadas and bowls of sambhar and rasam. There’s no cutlery so we use our hands and dig in. My Ghee Roast Dosa is paper thin and crumbles as I break into it, revealing a mound of masala’ (boiled potatoes with onion and tempered with mustard and curry leaves). In between bites, I pour the filter coffee from the stainless steel tumbler into the cup, cool it and take small sips. It is milky
and sweet enough to jolt me awake.

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Masala Dosa. Photo courtesy: Mani’s Lunch Home

Eating at a lunch home is a lesson in portion control. I barely wipe the last drop of sambhar from the plate, when a hand materialises out of nowhere and fills it up. After two rounds, I feebly wave the waiter away. He is understandably surprised. Whoever says no to extra, and free, servings?

By now, I am regretting all the food I’ve ordered. I can’t seem to finish all that I have ordered. My fellow diners have finished up, paid and left. They know their limits. They also know that you don’t waste time at a lunch home, you eat as quickly as you can and leave, making way for other hungry diners.

As I pay the bill, the owner KS Narayanaswamy walks over for feedback. I am full of praise but, he isn’t fooled. He saw me wave away second helpings. “You didn’t finish your paper dosa,” he says, accusingly. I sheepishly apologise, promising to return and do justice to everything I order.

This was part of my breakfast series for Roads & Kingdoms; read a full review of the place in Midday

Sushegad Gomantak: A thali for your thoughts

Pennies are passé.

A thali filled with crispy fried fish, a thick curry the colour of the morning sky and a
colourful salad is worth a bagful of pennies. That is, if you are a Goan living in Bombay and starved of good fish.

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Tisreo Sukhe served with sol kadhi and cabbage.

On days when the craving for home food fills the mind and conjures up visions of a crunchy mussel fry, butter garlic prawns, or a vibrant mackerel stuffed with red masala, there’s only one thing to do. I go to Mahim, to the food-filled lane opposite Paradise cinema and walk into a tiny eatery called Sushegad Gomantak. There, I choose a spot among the five odd tables and settle in for a fishy feast.

But, before placing an order, there’s a system to follow. First is greeting Raju, a man with an easy smile who doubles up as cashier, waiter and delivery boy. This is followed by a discussion on fish – what’s cheap, what is good, what is special today and where did they buy it from. Once I tell him my order, he goes to the tiny kitchen at the back and relays it to his mother. 

Sushegad’s kitchen is presided over by Savita maushi, a diminutive woman of 65, under whose strict supervision passes every dish that’s served to guests. She doesn’t step out of the kitchen, greeting new customers and regulars from inside. Speak to in her native Konkani and she will reluctantly leave her post and come out and talk to you. Savita grew up in the now tourist haven of Calangute where she learned to cook
from her mother. Her favourite fish used to be pomfret, plain fried or coated with masala. Today, cooking it daily has made it lose its charm and she prefers the bangda (mackeral). Savita moved to Mumbai when she as 13 and sharpened her cooking skills by feeding a family of 10 daily. This continued after her marriage.

The eatery is small, just five tables, a board describing all the fish in India and another with the day’s menu scrawled on it.

Ordering fish here is easy – just pick the kind of fish and decide if you prefer it fried or in a curry. It is helpful to know the local names of the fish – bangda (mackeral), muddoshi (lady fish), tisreo (shellfish), makli (squid), muddoshi (lady fish), tamoshi (red snapper), mandeli, xinanio (mussels) and mori (shark). There are thali options and a few chicken dishes too but everyone comes here for the fish.

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Eating the crab masala can get quite messy. 

Fish at Sushegad Gomantak is prepared quite simply. The cooking style here is Goan Hindu – heavy on the spices and coconut and no beef or pork. There is the sukhe, the dry version made by pounding together ginger, garlic, chillies, turmeric and lime. The curries have a few additional ingredients – coconuts, dried chillies and black pepper (kali miri), dhania (coriander), jeera (cumin), garlic, onions, green chillies and tamarind. Then there’s my favourite type of preparation – coated with a batter of rice flour and rava coated, lightly salted and plain fried. As with the chillies, pepper and tamarind, Savita  gets her oil from Goa too – she only uses khobraya cha tel (oil removed after drying coconuts in the sun). It is the oil that gives the fried fish its distinct flavour.

My staple order is fried xinanio (Rs 250), a tangy and spicy mori curry called ambotik (literally sour-sweet) (Rs 200), the very spicy and coconut-ty tisreo (Rs 200) and the juicy and up-to- your-elbow- messy crab masala (Rs 250). The only correct way to eat here is with your hands, making a mess and calming the fire in your mouth with the tangy and bright pink sol kadhi. Sometimes, I also order a crisp prawn cutlet (Rs 150), packed with onions and juicy shrimp. 

Every fish dish is a meal itself and is served with onions, a plain cabbage salad and a simple but delicious green chutney. If I’m feeling particularly, I will order the thali. 

The reason I come here alone or bring Goan friends along is because the food is good,
authentic and homely and just as in Goa, once the food is at the table, all talking ceases and attention rightfully shifts to the food.

The true taste of a good Goan meal: I always feel like taking a good, long siesta after eating.

Sushegad Gomantak is located on Lady Jamshedji Road, opposite Crown Bakery in Mahim; open from 11am to 11pm.

Snow Flake: a feel of Goa in Mumbai

In a neighbourhood rich in historic value, from the Art Deco building that is now Metro Multiplex to the ministry of sounds that is Furtados, you only discover Snowflake by accident. It is one of those places that time forgot.

On a visit to Kyani Restaurant down the road, I followed a line of cats sunning themselves on the road to find the entrance of what looked like someone’s home. As I would when faced with an open door back home in Goa, I entered and immediately felt as if I had stepped back in time. There’s a sense of calm and sepia-tinted nostalgia that envelope the place. The atmosphere is very laid back; staying too long can have soporific effects. Just ask the cats lazing around the doorstep.

 

The fans creak slowly. The chairs and tables are similar to what you would find at an Irani café: sturdy black wood and marble tops. There are half-empty showcases plastered with posters, old photos, plate souvenirs and other odds and ends. In one corner a blackboard states the menu; a white board has the day’s specials. Snowflake may appear rundown, but it has character. Everything has a sense of quiet pride to it.

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The whiteboard in the corner lists the day’s menu.

This is a place that has seen better days. Once upon a time, I learn, Snowflake attracted a huge crowd. Mrs Vaz, one of the members of the Rebeiro family that runs the place, is my source for this information. The family is generally reluctant to talk, which is why it is rare to find information anywhere about Snowflake’s history. It started out as a bakery, selling cakes, snacks and ice cream to the many Goans in the area. The customers may have moved on to other parts of the city or abroad, but Snowflake is adamant that the menu will remain unchanged.

The food is simple, like the kind you will find in every Goan home. There are the staple pork dishes, beef (they had removed it from the menu for a brief period after the statewide beef ban before bringing it back), fish curries, pulao and cutlets. I have tasted it all. The sorpotel is my favourite. Tiny pieces of pork, fat, liver, skin and various other parts of the pig, jostle for space on the plate. The gravy is neither too thick nor too thin, and no, unlike in Goa, they don’t use pork blood when cooking it.

Another underrated fish dish is the ambotik, that sour and spicy curry that bursts into song in your mouth. The ambotik here is a lightly spiced, thin gravy made with shark (mori). Mix it with steamed rice and it is fish-curry-rice heaven. The Sausage pulao is pungent and packed with flavour, the vindaloo has chinks of soft pork pieces and fat, and the xacuti is redolent with the taste of coconut.

Thanks to the regulars, if you go to Snowflake too late in the afternoon or evening, you are likely to find some dishes sold out. Like the fish cutlets. These delicious morsels are flat, oval shaped and thin and come packed with minced fish coated in a rawa batter. I’ve eaten six at a go.

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The fish cutlets are a bestseller here.

The food here won’t leave a dent in your wallet – all the dishes are priced below Rs. 200. Snowflake may not be making profits, but they don’t seem too bothered by it. As with the Parsi establishments in the city, they have their fixed ways – they will shut at 9:55 p.m. every night irrespective of whether you are still eating, and the food is cooked in limited portions, no matter the demand. I try to visit whenever I am in the area, have taken all my friends there, and even told a few city chefs about it. It is my little way of giving back to a place that has given so many wonderful meals that taste like home.

Snow Flake is located at 18, Ribeiro Building, Ground Floor, 1st Dhobi Talao Lane, Mumbai 400 002; call 22014252. 

 

[Note: This story was first published in The City Story]