Sunday, May 18, 2008

By George…the King of ‘old’ times

History always fascinated me. The stories of the Portuguese officials, their horses clip clopping on the mud tracks as they made their way on dusty tracks through the dense undergrowth from Mapusa to Porvorim, the local academicians spouting verbose as they sat solemnly over a glass of Vinho tinto in café’s in the late 1800’s …where are the remnants of those days, I wonder.

Enter a modest little Bar and Restaurant…..’George’, nestled at the foot of the Immaculate Conception Church in Panjim. One could lose it amidst the quaint busy little shops, but since it was recommended for its modest and authentic fare we were on the lookout having passed it frequently.

Eddie the young proprietor seated behind the cashiers desk, greets us as we enter. The little place is jam packed with tables….I was mentally visualizing the popular place ‘City kitchen’ in Mumbai which had carved a name for itself for authentic Goan food. It seems that ‘George’ does not lag far behind…because this little place was filled with customers-both local and foreigners.

‘The place was started by my father Joao Camilo Jorge, way back in 1936,’ Eddie says. ‘He used to cater mainly to the hostelites of the Lar and Lyceum College up on the hill as well as the local Panjimites and the Portuguese officials.’ As he spoke my mind drifted out to the days gone by…students carefree as they sipped on authentic caju feni and vinho tinto over crumb fried pork chops or beef croquettes, signing a little register as they staggered out in high spirits as they finished their meals. ‘They would only pay at the end of each month,’ Eddie states interrupting my reverie.

Although the menu boasts of a variety of cuisines, we honed in the Goan variety. After all Eddie’s mum still takes out the masala’s. As we skimmed through the menu, I sneaked a glance at the next table. Bad manners….my mother had always told me not to look at another person’s plate…but the slurping sound of pure delight was distracting. The man there was really enjoying the concoction from the bowl-no doubt about that. ‘What is he having?’ I ask Eddie sotto voice. That apparently was the home recipe…beef soup boiled with bone marrow and an assortment of finely chopped carrots, potatoes, beef pieces and macaroni.

‘That must be a meal by itself,’ I say. Eddie nods his assent. I remember that same broth being served in all Goan houses as a child the different alphabet macaroni floating in the broth. ‘Do you still use the alphabets,’ I ask Eddie a nostalgic look on my face. Eddie smiles.

Placing the order of beef croquette, mussel fry and pork chops, I look at the queue waiting at the cashier’s desk…some prominent Panjimites too. ‘Are they waiting to pay their bill?’ I ask him. Eddie shakes his head. ‘From 10.00 am onwards we have many people waiting to pick up some beef croquettes which are a regular morning snack,’ he says, ‘and after that many office goers send their drivers…or they may come themselves to pick up our fish curry rice.’

Taking a nibble of the beef croquettes I can believe what he says. Not at all dried up….juicy is the word I can think off. Besides Remo who frequents this place, Bina Ramani drops in for a meal whenever she is in town from Delhi on a holiday.

The pork chops, which are really crumb fried pork ribs come onto the table. It takes me back to the past when the steamer-the Konkan Sevak or the Konkan Shakti, would steam into the port and the weary travelers would pop into these eateries for a taste of the local fare. Oooh those good old times…but this place still delivers the goodies, even though 40 years have gone by. The finely chopped meat of the pork sorpotel, am I sounding like those can-can dancers, the chicken Xacutti, the sausage pulao…..yummy..Yum...yum. Besides a small helping of that pulao which I was allowed to taste, Joe had heaped everything onto his plate. But I agree with him, I would have done the same, if I had got to the dish first….the lemon yellow rice covering the spicy sausage meat took one into a different realm.

After that meal I would have expected Joe to stand on his chair and beat at his chest like ‘George of the jungle’. That smirk on his face resembled that of Brendan Fraizer to the core. Perhaps we could have started a new fashion with the other diners aping him too. The lively chatter, the warm bohemian was intoxicating…and that too without the caju feni and the vinho tinto. After all it was lunchtime. But come evening I am given to understand the place transforms….would the ghosts to the past generation agree? I am sure they would. George Bar and Restaurant still delivers-as the King of ‘old’ times.

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