Sunday, May 18, 2008

Truly Gujarathi…Truly Scrumptious

This is what happens when we party so often,’ I complain, looking at Joe with reproach. ‘Don’t blame me,’ he states emphatically, ‘it’s the season…..moreover it seems that everyone in Goa seems to be either born or married during these months. We do not have so many parties after carnival or during the monsoons.’ ‘But that is a full month away,’ I moaned. ‘Do not worry,’ says the sage in my life, ‘all the rishi’s proclaim a healthy vegetarian diet, let’s try it.’

So here we were seated in ‘Shravan-truly Gujarathi’, as the hoarding states. I look askance at my better half…….Gujarathi? I had visions of sugar and pure ghee dripping off the items. Was this the way to shed those extra calories ?

‘This is the misconception many people have about Gujarathi food,’ states Neetu Khanderia, the young proprietress of the establishment near Hotel Keni in Panjim, ‘most Gujarathi food is cooked in jaggery, and off course the pure ghee which we coat our Indian breads with is purely optional.’

So with this comforting thought, I sat back to enjoy the numerous preparations that were being dished out by the waiters. ‘Why Shravan?’ I asked Neetu, as I watched the generous helpings of an Aloo rassa, Baingan, channa and two preparations of dal (one sweet, one savoury), come on the Thali. ‘That is the month that we all have pure vegetarian food,’ she states, ‘so in this way we ensure that people know we serve authentic vegetarian food.’

The waiters by now had Bajri roti, phulkas spread with pure ghee (I look furtively in Joe’s direction…he is not looking, but what the heck, his own phulkas are loaded with ghee), two savory farsans, methi gotta and khandvi and the glass of Chaas to ease it down.

‘Enough, enough,’ I protest looking around at the waiters giving uncounted generous helpings of food to nearby diners, ‘I do not want to feel stuffed.’ ‘No chance of that,’ smiles Neetu, ‘when we opened up our place we decided to give value for home cooked food. Some unsavoury establishments add soda bicarbonate in the food so that one feels full after the first helping…they tend to save that way, despite their promise of unlimited helpings.’

I look at her open mouthed…can people stoop so low to make a few extra bucks, I wondered. I sample the first helping tentatively…delicious…four vegetables, two dals, two farsans…unlimited. Plus the breads and the rice…the waiter approaches for the second helping…do I feel stuffed? No way! And believe me neither does Joe. And there is the vermicelli kheer to add to the ‘calories’. Diners around the attractively decorated Gujarathi basement, and believe me, all were not locals…NRI’s and foreigners to boot, were having their thali’s replenished…..all at under Rs 100/-per person.

Do we have the same thali in the evening?’ I ask her. ‘O no, she vouches, ‘we have completely different vegetables. We moreover serve Khichdi and biscuit Bakhri’ ‘Biscuit Bhakri?’ I had never tasted that preparation. She sends a message across and out comes minute crispy whole wheat flour delicacies. I say delicacy, (although it is the accompaniment served in the evening meals with two vegetables) because this crispy, slightly sweet preparation made of what flour, milk (no water is added), ghee and sugar, is something to savor. And the puranpolis, which are served on request, I take a nibble of the flat bread (it will be sacrilegious to call it a chapatti), the ghee a thin layer of ecstatic delight coating the surface… Scrumptious …truly scrumptious.

‘Sundays are our busiest days…family days,’ she confesses. I raise my eyebrows. ‘Every alternate Sunday we serve Undhiya and jalebi’s’ ‘Have you tried Undhiya?’ Neetu asks. I shake my head regrettably. ‘It is not very common,’ she explains, ‘as most of those vegetables are sourced out from Mumbai. A mince of valore (family of the French bean, papdi, baby brinjals, baby potatoes, banana, green chillies and garlic with a muthia (dumpling) are stuffed into the brinjal or potato. It goes very well with crispy jalebi’s,’ she adds. I have visions of swirling rings of crispy fried jalebi’s and soft stuffed brinjals melting in my palate.

Did anyone say that vegetarian has no dum? Did anyone say that Gujarathi food is fattening…believe me I stood on my weighing scale after that meal…and no I did not fix the needle to stay in one place. My experience at Shravan was truly scrumptious.

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