Monday, June 30, 2008

Dum Maro Dum

You can picture the curvaceous Zeenat Aman, swaying seductively to the strains of the song. She was definitely on a high in that movie, and so was I. It is just a wonder that the cops did not catch me for ‘suspicious behavior’ as we stumbled out of the restaurant opposite the Panjim police station. Yes we were on a high , and the intoxicating substance that we had injected were ‘Dum Pukht’ delicacies from The Rajshahi.

What was it that made the meal so memorable? Meet Ankit Sahani, the proprietor of the restaurant. At a first glance, one can dismiss him as a college going kid…but Ankit as many untold laurels under his belt. To start with he is a student of the IHM Aurangabad, many would consider that institute as the IIM of culinary expertise.

I look around the restaurant, heavy carved wall furnishings….the stuff found in those palaces up North, even the chandelier is made to order. And the photographs of the Raja’s of yore sit in their glass frames smiling down benevolently. Ankit informs us that all these trappings are sourced from Udaipur. So step 1….he has created the ambience.

The waiters now start their performance. No shoddy service here, drinks are served to standards, the tray, decanters for mixers, even the stirrer. Even to the point of sqeezing the lemon on the kebabs. Well he has Step 2 organised…..the service.

But it is Step 3 which I am going to elaborate upon. The food after all, one goes to eat-don’t they? I do not have to ask Joe this question, as stated earlier- he lives to eat. Ankit has decided to pamper our tatse buds with Kebabs and Dum Pukt fare. ‘We will start with the kebabs as starters,’ he states. We nod slowly. Our maxim for a good time is let the experts tell you what is good. They know what their kitchen is famous for. Unfortunately, most diners insist on having a chicken fried rice when the USP of the restaurant is Indian or Goan.

The waiter walks to our table with a ceramic plate designed to hold the salad, shavings of carrots and cabbage strewn like petals in a pond, a tomato hollowed to hold a flame. I look across the table at Joe. Was he visualizing a sensuous harem girl walking towards the throne of the Raja? I give him a small pinch. He gives a guilty start. I was right in my assumption. I forgive him. I guess it is the ambience which creates those visions.

The waiter is solitiously saying…’ Chicken Benarasi kebabs, maam.’ I look at the dish. Was he serving a new paan concoction. No! They were tiny chicken kebabs rolled in Paan leaves. What a lovely idea. I unfurl the leaf and take a bite. Oh lal la, soft, succulent, so tender…I did not get much of a chance to think of any more adjectives as the second starter arrived to the table. Murg Sikandari kebab. I look at the mini tandoor appearing on the table. I peep inside…it even has the coal inside. The two skewers peep out tantalizingly, and then the waiter draws one out….a similar action as the three musketeers on duty…only he has pointed the skewer at the plate and had dexterously placed the chicken chunks on to the plate. I dip the kebab into the green chutney with a few shavings of thin onions on top…and then place it into my mouth. Did the strains of the music start then…I had no idea. This young kid on the block has learned the fine art of retaining the juices of the meat intact. The third kebab comes on to the table. This time the fire on the dish is ignited within an onion shell. ‘Asth Kebab,’ the waiter states. Was it a seekh? Yes it was…but with a difference. Ankit had managed to wrap the mutton mince with a coating of chicken mince before putting it into the tandoor. Well this was a jugalbandi of sorts…but the result divine.

‘Your creativity is stupendous,’ I remark when he popped out of the kitchen. Well no wonder, Ankit has trained in the best of hotels…the Taj, the Hyatt. ‘I even tried out a special dish called wine kebabs at a wine tasting dinner,’ he confesses.

He now has decided to pander our tatsebuds to the Dum Pukht preparations. Enter the waiter with two miniature wooded blocks on which the sizzling handi’s covered with the tradition flour paste. The waiter rolls back the ccooked atta, to reveal Dal e dum, Dum ki Macchi with the platter of Tandoori breads. Khasta Roti, Garlic naans and Kheema paratha. What can I say…let Joe state his mind. ‘I can drink this dal all by itself,’ he confesses. As for me....I dip that crispy roti into the thick masala of the minced fish roundels and the yellow dal…da dum, da dum, da dum. That reverberating beat was the slow movement of the muscles of my oesophagus. They were waiting to get into action but you see my mouth refused to let the food go down my gullet. My gastric glands were having a field day. I am given to understand a little later when I was forced to relinquish the food from my mouth, that the dal is not boiled over the fire. Ankit lets its cook slowly overnight with the heat of the embers of his tandoor.

The icing on the cake was the mutton biryani and the cold creamy mint raita. Ankit was one of the chefs cooking for that major bash…the Sahara grand wedding. And more recently the Badshah of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachan himself, dropped in for a quick meal of omato soup and curd when he was shooting for the fim Bhootnath. No wonder. The curd that he used for the raita was par excellence blending effectively to coat each morsel of the biryani rice, the mint leaving a subtle flavour to complement rather than mask the rice preparation.

As we got up to leave the restaurant, with yours truly gorging on a matka kulfi, I give those majestic rulers an eye for an eye. Although their courts might have dished out the best of fare, in this small niche of Panjim Ankit had given us a meal that is fit for Royalty.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mistress of Spice

The problem with husbands is that they never really appreciate their wife’s cooking. It is either compared to what ‘mother makes’ or to the expertise of some cook in a local restaurant. Well it is no different with Joe….he looks forward to getting his taste buds pampered weekly, come what may.

‘How often can we eat out? I ask petulantly, ‘the oil that is used is not very good for your cholesterol levels, at least we can control the excesses at home.’ ‘This chicken tastes like hospital food,’ he grumbles taking a bite of the chicken stew which I had so lovingly prepared, ‘my Mum’s food was much tastier,’ he grumbles.

Determined not to let him get under my skin, I pondered about the restaurants that we could visit since he was in this reminiscing mood.

‘Amigo’s,’ I cry. ‘Where ? Which friend is coming to eat this food? Let them not see what we eat at home,’ he says hurriedly looking towards the door.

‘No one has come,’ I pacify him, ‘Jyothi Nunes and Arvind have been raving about this restaurant under the Nerul bridge. They say the food is ‘home cooked’. Let’s try it out.’

He did not look convinced, even when we set out for the long scenic drive. The problem is that especially in Goa, only a few restaurants are known of…the others remain undetected. We cross the bridge and stop. Were we on the right track? Cause deep down nestling along the river bank is a house…how do we reach the place?

‘There are some steps going down,’ I point. I know this man of mine is not in a mood to find the place. We climb down a donzen or more steps…an old bullock cart wheel is propped against a tree. Was it put for effect? I do not think so. This little hamlet has no pretensions of glamour. A cement floor with a few rustic tables and plastic chairs…..overlooking…… Now this is something to die for. Shades of ‘Goa of yore’ . The serene blue river winding itself under the bridge, lush green mangroves from which a few birds fluttered for their afternoon snack, and a lonely canoe with a fisherman paddling down the watery expanse. I waited in expectation. Was he going to break into song?

Our reverie was broken with the arrival of the waiter. Of season there is no menu. What madam cooks is available for the taking. ‘So what is available,’ I ask. ‘Meats,’ was his response. I wrinkle my eyebrows. So spoilt and accustomed am I to 50 odd dishes listed on a menu that this monosyballic salesmanship was beyond my comprehension.

I guess the gnawing of the juices in Joe’s abdomen helped ease the situation. A little discussion brought out the fact that the meats chicken, beef and pork(depending on availability) are prepared in the chilly fry variety and vindaloo preparation.
‘What about fish?’ was my query… ‘Yes we have fresh red snapper and prawns.’

Meet Sabita Fernandes. This young lady with a shy smile joined us once the order was placed. ‘We only serve fresh sea food, and whatever is prepared in our kitchen,’ she says. ‘At times we tell our guests to go and try some other place as we cater for only a limited number of people.’

The seafood arrives. Baby Tiger prawns and Red Snapper Reichade. The crusty coating of the prawns mask the sweet tenderness of the prawn flavor. And the subltle marination does not detract from the freshness. ‘They are absolutely…fresh..’ I remark, as I take a bite of that crustacean delicacy. She smiles. ‘We have no refrigeration, so everything is fresh.’ ‘So when did you start this restaurant,’ I ask her. It was apparently her husbands Josefat’s idea. And moreover he goes out fishing in his canoe and nets the most delicious crabs and oysters.

‘We would however like people to call us in advance for crabs as we catch them fresh,’ she remarks. DJ Melwyn who was also enjoying a tasty prawn curry meal on the next table remarks, ‘Oh you must see those crabs, they are so huge,’ he gestures with his hand, the distance between the two approx one foot in diameter. Was he kidding? ‘

The waiter brings the crabs wriggling on to the tables. She serves it with an excellent butter garlic sauce,’ he states.

‘This recheade is out of the world,’ Joe remarks, he was on the snapper. ‘So what is the masala,’ I ask her, ‘Bardez style or Sacette.’ Sabita had learned her cooking from her mother and had married into the Bardez taluka. ‘I changed my style to the Bardez style,’ she says, ‘the vinegar keeps the masala for a longer time.’ She talks about the tamarind and fried onions used in South Goa compared to the preserving qualities of vinegar used in the North. ‘And my masala’s are ground on the mixers,’ she says simply.

I look forward in anticipation to the red snapper and look at the plate in horror. All that remains is the head. ‘The head is very tasty, a lot of people chew on it,’ Joe says sheepishly.

Now luckily for him, the prawn curry, unpolished rice and the local preparation of Bhindi Bhaji was there to sample. Sabita informs me that she only uses wood fire for the preparations. This ‘meal plate’ is changed every day…but she keeps prawns at the weekend as many families spend the day here.

‘Would you want to try to make any other masala’s, say a xec-xec, your reachade is excellent, and your prawn curry with that rice and vegetable brings back fond memories.’ Joe nods. I guess he is remembering his mother’s cooking.

‘I do not want to do anything that I don’t like to do,’ she says simply, ‘that is why we are only open for lunch.’ Reichade, Cafreal, chilly fries, vindaloo, when this mistress of spice puts her hand to it, everything is nice.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Romance in Tuscany

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, Joe and I did not go to Italy for a holiday for a much needed recuperating romance…..believe me it is a necessity at this time of our life. But the Hyatt Park Resort created just the right atmosphere at the Winemaker’s dinner to launch four of the Castello di Monastero wines, grown under the Tuscan sun.

Lionello Marchesi: The philosophee entrepreneur. If Joe was not seated by my side, this sucessful industrialist who began to devote himself to his great passion; wine growing would be the only focus of the night. Moreover he has purchased and restored a historic monastery dating 1000 years back at Castelnuovs Berardenga around which the grape vineyards….the Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot flourish. Not to forget the Chardonnay, Malvasia and Trebbiano white grapes. Talking about romance…this affable smiling individual with a humourous twist to his narration together with the staff of the Hyatt set the mood for romance.

It all started at the Praia de Luz, the Bar. The Vodka Martini served was one with a difference…it could be the basil leaves that added to the twist… but that certainly put Joe in a positive frame of mind. I am sure that the tit-bits-the Canape’s – Prosecco circulating also added to the conversation rising a few octaves higher. The seared foie gras and organic puple figs cooked with aged fig balsamic or the white and green asparagus on crusty pine nuts bread with wild rocket pesto…they were circulating around had people begging for more….but we have to come to the crux of the activity…the wine tasting.

The meal was a formal sit down one, delicately balanced by the Executive Chef Asif Mehrudeen….with a wine(the ones that had to be sampled) served with each course. Although there was no formality at the table. Seated with the ‘founder’ of the Castello di Monastero enterprise and the Executive Assistant Manager Mr Trilok Narain, the efferverscent Shruti, the other guests Mr Jaywant Chougule, Roopali and Jitender Khanna, Anna and Chetan Timblo, Marion and Jehangir Talyerkhan and others added to the bohemenie of the evening. The waiters served the first wine-the Chardonnay Toscano, chilled to a crisp 10 degrees C. This wine is made of the Chardonnay grape and is an excellent complement for fish and white meat dishes or can be served as an aperitif. Good thinking….as my salivary glands stood ready for the dish promised on the menu-the safron tortellini filled with crayfish, king boletus mushrooms and porcini cappuccino. Served in deep blue bowls…the cavity of my mouth expanded to savor the delicate crayfish in the mushroom cappucino ably complemented with a sip of that wine.

We were not allowed to salivate on that experience, because the waiters were now fillling the wine glasses with rich ruby red liquid-the Sangiovese Toscana. Did I hear singing in the background? Could the voices of the Monastery be singing Hallelluia? Definitely a figment of my imagination, cause the monastery was actually a nunnery and runs as a resort. The singing was in my head. This wine although made of the same grapes as the Chianti has 100% Sangiovese grapes and is an excellent complement for meat, fish, pasta and rice dishes. The exquisititely designed plate placed in front of me…no, no the plate was plain white…it was the food..that shaved pink San Danielle proscuitto on beetroot…deep, deep red granules marinated in Lambrusco vinaigrette and the cannellini bean panna cotta. Heavenly…and so was the wine…perhaps the angels were singing. ‘You cannot get drunk with a few sips of wine,’ Joe growls. He is absolutely right. The alchoholic content is just around 13%.

Shruti got talking about Indian food...the different cuisines of India. It was a perfect exchange of East and West. ‘This wine is also excellent for Indian food,’ Lionello states. Perhaps it’s the acidity that complements the food.

By now the wine glasses were cleared and the next wine was served. The Chianti Classico. Well everyone has heard of the Chianti. But the Chianti Classico Riserva made from these vineyards was awesome. Comments like subtle, rolls on the tongue as the taste lingers on, were heard around the table. And coupled with the Baked rotolo of potato and spinach in a red wine spicy sauce….although Chef Asif had created the dish to resemble a swiss roll, the combo of rolling wine on the palate and the tatse of the dish could have us rolling around in esctasy if Joe had not given me a warning look. How did he manage to be so prim and proper I wondered…today he was on his best behavior. It could be the ladies on the table.

And finally the last wine to be sampled-the Brunello di Montalcino. They always say that the best things are kept for the last. This was no exception. This wine is an excellent compliment to roast and braised beef and game. The braised baby lamb filled with chestnuts and roman artichokes….I choke back the thought as I write this article…..will I ever get to experience that lamb slowly melting in my mouth and the wine-those murmurs of approval generating around as the clink of cutlery on the crockery played a stattaco beat of appreciation.

Well the meal continued…the Amareno cherry zabaglione. Chef Birendra also known as Papa had the sabayon done to perfection…. talking about perfection Lionello Marchesi believes in it too. There was a time in 2002 which was a bad vintage year. Rather than produce a sub standard wine, he sold the produce off as his philosophy sates that the wines must highlight the best aspects through attentive management of the vineyards, harvest, vinification and ageing. His wines are aged for 3-4 years before sale.

The romance of the evening came to an end to soon. But the memories like the excellent wine will always remain. So Arrivedecci Toscano……till we meet again.

Monday, June 2, 2008


I am sure a lot of you naughty males are casting your minds back to the series starring Pamela Anderson. That was the first thought in Joe’s mind when we were discussing the title for this article. But to tell you the truth, we found a lady more efferverscent and energetic than the Baywatch babe…no not on the beaches of Goa, but in an old Hertitage house in the by lanes of Fountainhais……..Linda deSousa.

‘V’ is for Viva, and ‘P’ is for Panjim, remember the ‘m’ is silent when you say the word…..and the ‘I’ is the one who made it happen…….Linda.

We enter the narrow lane which is full of tables and lively chatter, people exchanging jokes, words drifting in Konkani and Portuguese, definitely the essence of ‘Heritage Goa.’

‘Why Viva Panjim ? ’ I ask her curiously. Yours truly always like to have her ‘T’s’ crossed and her ‘I ’s’ dotted. You see we have no choice in the selection of our own names, but when it comes to naming anything else…business, children or pets, there is always a reason.

She smiles delightedly as the waiter places batter fried squid and fish lollipops on the table. Now that is something new. Chicken lollipops are a dime a dozen…old favorites, but fish? I take a bite into the crispy red coating as I wait for her answer. ‘Well we only came to Goa in the late 90’s,’ she confesses. ‘All my life we have lived in Vile Parle, so it was the ‘V’ and ‘P’ that mattered.’ I smiled in satisfaction, not only to be proven right but the fact that the delicious flavored fish just melted in my mouth. I asked her the secret and was told that because of a lack of storage space she is forced to purchase fish every morning…fresh. ‘Moreover,’ she confesses, ‘my husband Michael always had a dream of settling down in Goa, so whenever he brought up the subject, of settling in the house of his ancestors, I would say ‘Viva Panjim’ here I come.’

Well, I felt like echoing the exact words cause the squid with the cocktail sauce had me drooling for more. I think it was something added to the sauce. ‘Brandy,’ I exulted, the way perhaps Archimedes shouted ‘Eureka’ when he splashed out of his bath tub. Whatever was the secret of that sauce, it should be patented…. thick, creamy and temptingly delicious.

People abroad think so too, because she shyly confessed that a group of foreign chefs had come over to the restaurant to take note of her receipes. She must definitely be famous for foreigners to know about her little hideout…and so tremendously inexpensive. I cast a covert look at her prices and looked at her incredulously. 90% of her menu was listed under Rs 100/- per dish and that too the non-vegeterian section. ‘I do this because I love cooking for people,’ confesses Linda who was a teacher by profession, as the main course started appearing on our table.

A big stuffed Tomaso (Red snapper), its red masala oozing out from its side, Prawn Caldin, Goa Prawn curry, Fish Balchao, Chicken Cafreal, goa Rice…the table groaned under the spread.

Luckily the furniture like the rest of the house is made of good wood even though she started her business in 2003. We take a small spoon of the Prawn Caldin gravy with the rice. Believe me, you cannot eat much when you see so much food, I am sure most of you might not agree with this statement…but I decided to check it out a spoonful at a time. Looking at the ecstasy on my face, Joe’s manners forgotten…(you see in a place like that you meet so many known faces when people stop to thank Linda for the lovely meal), grabbed the dish and sprinkled a liberal portion on to his plate. After that the dish was kept out of my reach. The Caldin just coated the rice grain…’I only use the first extract of coconut milk,’ she states. And the prawn curry? ‘…la,’ Joe salivates…and he was not thinking of Pamela Anderson.

Well Linda does many dishes which we could not sample unfortunately. ‘Many people take my Crab preparations home,’ she says. ‘You see, you have to chew on the crusty shells to draw on the flavors…a messy business in a restaurant but definitely a delicacy at home,’ her impish smile flashes out again.

‘Where did you learn to make such food,’ I ask her looking at a silver plaque adorning the wall. The Government of Goa has awarded her the Life Achievement award at the International Cuisine Conference which was held in Goa recently. ‘From my mother when we were growing up in Nagoa,’ she says, ‘and my three daughters have learned it too.’

‘Their husbands are really lucky fellows,’ Joe tells me softly. I glare back at him.

‘I am happy that I met Sanjeev Kapoor,’ she says….but Linda deSousa, I am delighted to have met you. You are more ‘VIP’ than the others. In your own humble way with your passion for cooking you have made us Goans proud.