Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Ambassador of Goan cuisine

NDTV 24x7 was featuring the election results. The nation is watching. As the commentary continues, one waits with bated breath. ‘And can you tell me what is happening at Martin’s Corner?’ Dr Pranoy Roy suddenly asks his correspondent. Martin’s Corner being featured on NDTV?…….and that too remembered by its CEO. It must have made a strong impact on him.

Sitting in the warm and cosy restaurant, red checked tablecloths on the table, the bar like the taverna of old, I look at the photographs of politicians, sportspersons, actors….. the Page 1 and Page 3 celebrities who have visited it. As the rain drummed its staccato beat on the tiled roof, I look in fascination at the quiet and shy lady sitting opposite, who has made Goa proud…her Goan cuisine still lingering in the taste buds and the minds of the people who have visited the place.

Carafina Pereira, the fulcrum of the establishment…whose passion for cooking has made the restaurant the most sought after eatery, even on a rainy day. ‘Tell me how this started,’ we ask her. The ice tinkles in the Mojito, a cocktail made of Barcardi, lime, soda and mint leaves floating on top…..tiny droplets of condensation on its side.

‘This was our house,’ she explains, ‘my late husband, Martin Pereira, after retiring opened a grocery store, and we used to have two tables which used to be patronized by the waiters of Majorda Beach Resort way back in 89.’

‘Mum used to make Sorpotel, Prawn curry/rice and pork chops,’ states Bonny, who is now helping his mother in the restaurant, ‘and my brothers Joe, Pobre and I used to help her serve.’

We had the pleasure of meeting Bonny and Pobre as we sat there nibbling Batter fried Calamiri and Masala fried mussels. Maybe nibbling is the wrong word, the fish just melted in our mouths. ‘What magic has your mum used,’ I asked Bonny, ‘the squid is just delicious.’

The secret is apparently in the marination. No measurement of the spices, as is normally taught in the colleges. A quick flick of the fingers and the quantity is measured….and standardized.

‘Mum has never been to any school or catering college to learn her skill,’ states Pobre, ‘she has a passion for cooking, especially for Goan cuisine.’

‘Did you learn it from your mother?’ I question Carafina. It is just not possible to take out food which is remembered by people who have feasted in the best of restaurants, without learning it from a master.

She shakes her head slowly. ‘She even makes those pickles which used to be served in most establishments in the past.’ Bonny explains. I look at him skeptically. Most establishments try to cut down on their costs by giving the basic accompaniments with the meal…some onions, papad and a pickle from the bottle purchased in the local store ‘Just you see…she makes kharacho, para, mole…she even makes her own toddy vinegar.’

My Joe, not Carafina’s son…he is away on the cruise liner, mentally licks his lips….I know that he is thinking of the meals his mother used to dish out at home. The waiter brings the designer plates.

We watch in fascination as Mackerel curry, shark Amotik, Kingfish Masala accompanied by the Goan rice is placed in front of us. But it did not stop there. True to his statement out came the dry bombil pickle, the Kharachao, the homemade mango, and the lime pickle. Where does one start. Silence reigned as we devoured….yes that is a strong word, but it abjectly describes the passion that we displayed in emptying the plates. This restaurant needs no advertisement…if one wants a taste of Goa, a visit here is a must.

But the story does not end here… jaggery and coconut crepes are served for dessert. Not the flimsy pancakes that one sees tossed in a pan, but one that Grandma used to serve for tea on a rainy day. It takes me back to my childhood, sweet potatoes, banana fritters…uumm. I look at this lady with respect.

‘She also takes care of the under privileged senior citizen’s once a month,’ says Bonny. ‘Even when I ask her to rest in the afternoons she can never do so, she is always on the move.’ In management one is always told that there is potential within oneself, and all we have to do is to ignite the passion within. I look at the lady sitting before me…. from a modest ‘Goan Dhabba,’ she has created an institution which the likes of Vijay Malya, Sachin Tendulkar, Sharad Pawar, Hritik Roshan are seen dining time and again. She has made a small restaurant a household name in terms of authentic Goan food. A true Ambassador of Goan cuisine.

‘Tell me,’ I ask her softly a dreamy look on my face. After a meal like that it is very difficult to take your leave, ‘is there anything left that you would like to do?’

‘I would like to take the taste of our Goan food to every nook and corner of India, I would like to make it even more popular that Chinese,’ she says…a zealous light shining in her eyes. Well Carafina Periera, you make everyone who comes to Goa, happy with your passion and skill, I hope your dream comes true.

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