Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mama yo

Did you know that the first Chicken Cafreal in Goa was served at Coqueiro? Well I did not know that, and was happy to sit and soak in the history of a simple bar and snack eating joint, from the VP-Mr Shailesh Sanzgiri. I always knew it as the place made famous by the capture of the notorious Charles Sobraj and of course its reputation for serving authentic Goan Portuguese food.

This simple eating joint started way back in 1968, and then later in the 1970’s Chef Gines Viegas returned from East Africa…and created it into a haven of excellent local food. The name ‘Coqueiro’ itself lends credence to most of the masalas that go into the means coconut tree.

Now Chef Peter is at the helm, and here we were cosily ensconced in their air conditioned dining room called the ‘Sala de Jantar.’ Seated outside was the infamous Charles Sobraj… apologies he is now languishing in some prison, so don’t get worried…a white terracotta statue….in the very same place that he was seated when he was caught by the Mumbai sleuths.

‘So what was he doing? Did he order anything?’ I asked the captain Khaitan who was there when the capture took place. We were now waiting for the traditional starters that Chef Peter was organizing in the kitchen. Coqueiro used to have the best telephone connections outside Goa to any part of the world in the 1970’s, Khaitan informed us, and Sobraj was awaiting his call, nursing a feni. That apparently was his favorite drink. When the waiter approached his table and called out his name…remember he was a master of disguise, the police nabbed him.

He had apparently ordered his favorite dishes, Chicken Cafreal and stuffed Crabs, but when the cops busted into the kitchen it was not for the food, but a request for some rope, Chef Peter recounts. He had joined the establishment just a few days before. ‘And,’ he continues, ‘we will be serving you the very same dishes that Charles Sobraj liked.’

So here we were digging into delicious stuffed crabs, prawn stuffed papad and stuffed mushroom with cheese. Dee…li…cious. While we waited for the soup, the Soupa de Grossa was recommended, we were told that Coqueiro had the distinction of being selected for many distinctions. The restaurant has bagged an International award for excellence, it has also picked up accolades from the International Wine and Food Society, UK….and to top it all Nat Geo initiated their ‘Nat Geo investigates’ series by doing a feature of Charles Sobraj in the restaurant.

The soup had arrived. We take a sip. I stop. Where was I, I wondered. Barring the absence of those fancy alphabets that used to be put in the traditional soup at my grandmothers house in the past, the taste was authentic. Kudo to the chefs. They have created that traditional fare which brings back nostalgic memories. I look at the black and white photographs of the Goa of the past, adorning the walls. Small wonder that most of us Goans want to cling to this legacy.

And now for the main course, did we have place? No Sir! But food writers unfortunately have to do justice at one sitting to bring to the fore the authentic specialties of the place. So we dig in our fork and spoons. The crumb fried Bombay Duck, the Tisreo Sukhe, the Chicken Cafreal and to top it all the Prawn curry with rice. Finger- licking good….don’t even bother with the cutlery, which is my advice to you. And let me share a secret…no not really a secret…its displayed out there on the table for all to see, Chef Peter’s special lunch offer, the seafood Thali starring the Tisreo’s, Fried fish and of course a vegetable with the Prawn curry rice, is available for a fantastic price. Below the hundred rupee note, which in todays world is a steal.

I give a delicate burp…it is bad manners but everyone on the table seems satiated. And that too without patronizing the bar next door. Although you can imbibe if you want….Charles Sobraj style. But for heaven sake, don’t get caught.

The dessert platter was the sweet finale…Bibinca made at home, and chocolate brownies. Let tomorrow come, right now we are floating, like those swaying palms of the coconut trees…mama yo queiro…o…queiro.

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