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? ‘Oo..oo..la…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.