Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mother knows Best

I read in the newspapers a few days back about children in Anjuna joining their parents in family run businesses with no focus on ‘values and ethics.’ And so it was with a little trepidation that we ventured into a restaurant at Bogmalo which was family run.

The name fascinated me…the reason if we were to open a place of our own, it would definitely be called ‘Joets’…maybe with an extra ‘T’ for taste not because yours truly spells her name with a ‘tt’. We meet Selvy one of the partners in this venture when we enter the spic and span blue ambience overlooking the deep blue sea and the crisp white sands. Am I talking about Hawaii.…no siree. This is ‘Joets’ in Vasco, a place started way back in 1979, by his father Jose and his mother Ethelvina…and still going strong with the help of his brother Nelo, sister-in-law Lynn and Joe the fulcrum of the kitchen.

I look across the white sands, a few boats parked on the waterfront and the open expanse leading to the sea. As we order our drinks, my mind goes back to an article written in the Hindustan Times by a visiting food writer who laments the fact that most shacks by the beach in North Goa have lost the art of making good Goan food. But Selvy proudly confirms the fact that the Goan seafood is the pride of this coast, his mother still being at the helm of the kitchen, personally taking out the masalas for the food preparations.

‘My mother and father started this place,’ he states. ‘My father was a simple fisherman. He used to catch the fish, based on the orders got in the morning and my mother used to cook the food. We used to help in the service…..we still do, even my sisters when they come back here, help clear the tables.’

I raise my eyebrows at this admission, cause I am given t understand that over this period, the family have acquired a well run establishment called ‘Coconut Creek’ which does well even without marketing.

‘So what did your mother make today,’ Joe asks. I guess his cocktail ‘Joet’s Bogler’ had by now firmly settled in his empty stomach. He was smiling vacantly at the nearby tables. I nudge him under the table asking him in an undertone whether he knew those three pretty ladies sitting on the next table but he just smiles and shrugs off my enquiry. His mind must be totally ‘boggled’ I assume in no mood to create a scene. Husbands… they somehow learn the knack of evading penetrating questions.

‘Try the seafood,’ Selvy urges. ‘I would definitely recommend the Stuffed Crab and the masala fried prawns.’ While we wait for the starters I ask Selvy who was the brains behind this venture. ‘Mum,’ was his spontaneous response, ‘she showed tremendous business acumen even in those days.’

The starters arrive. I was impressed. I have been to many restaurants on the beach in North Goa. Many of them are not at all concerned with the finer details of food presentation. I call them ‘food factories.’ In…eat…and out. People waiting in line to see when you get up. The view of the beach with its dirt and milling throngs, especially at lunch time would definitely need a strong dose of ‘good housekeeping.’

The designer cutlery, the white designer crockery…the open view of surf, sand and sky…no bodies even the half baked variety, with retro music playing in the background, definitely spoke a woman’s touch. Even the food was attractively laid out….with garnishes of carrots and tomatoes cut into florets.

I dig my fork into the stuffed crab. I must say the portion is big. Four shells filled with crab meat, crunchy onions and Reichado sauce….grated cheese on top. And the prawns? Right down to the crunchy heads in the shells the masala had seeped into the preparation. Luckily the starters had arrived. Joe was fully preoccupied. And it was not only the food. The whole ambience seeps into your very being…you are lulled into a state of bliss.

Selvy had recommended the Red snapper and the prawn curry Rice. The whole fish was presented on a glass plate…but the fish was filetted right through, butterfly shape, the red masala and spicy crust masking it. We cut through the fish…cut is a wrong word. This family really knows fish. The soft meat with the moist crusty masala…was there a wrong choice of words ‘moist and crusty?’ No way! The masla was fried on the top but was moist immediately below retaining the juicy flavor of the fish. Mum Ethelvina knows the knack…delicious. And the prawn curry/rice? Served in square designer white plates, it was not only a square meal, but the extract of the coconut in the curry did wonders to the consistency. Could I use the word creamy. One does not normally associate that word with Goan food…but the curry coated each grain of rice, adding the flavoring to our overworked juices in the mouth.

We sat back replete. A beautiful way to let the fishing village environment seep in. We look back soulfully as we walk back to the car, the hot white sands crunching below our shoes. The peace and quiet envelopes us….just what the stressful world of today recommends. Ethelvina D’Cruz-in terms of ambience, peace, quiet and good seafood, I agree with Selvy and the saying..…Mother knows best.

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