Now this is no ordinary hole in the wall. The owners with great respect for the original structure of the Old Goan home have retained its exterior structure, unlike many commercial ventures in the vicinity that have knocked down beautifully arched latticed windows to put in full glass displays. Ever imagined an old Goan house with a full glass frontage? Our ancestors will be rolling in their graves.
We walk up a narrow flight of steps…oooh, the air conditioning is so refreshing especially in this month of October, when the temperature causes the mercury levels to shoot through the roofs. Up the stairway to a beautifully lit restaurant in shades of rich ochre, orange alcoves with an ochre and green chattai suspended on the ceiling. Straight back designer chairs with green cushions surround the tables which have gleaming platters filled with miniature katoris, all ready and waiting for us to begin.
We are led to our tables and then the ceremony begins. I call it a ceremony because the place is buzzing with activity. Waiters in brightly colored kurtas move around in harmony dispensing food and drinks, the moment you sit down. As soon as water is served, a staff with a traditional brass pewter and flask comes forward so that you could wash your fingers. Chaas, salad, green chutney, sweet and garlic chutney, onions, are put onto the thali. Why so many? I wonder. But the answer was prompt. Onto the thali’s came the farsan…little pouches which are deep fried filled with a spicy moong dal mixture and Dhokla. Well the green chutney was a perfect complement for the dhokla, but I realized that I could experiment with the fried pouches. They tasted superb with both the garlic as well as the sweet chutney. I hurriedly raised my hand for more. No compromise. You can eat as much as your heart desires, that is the motto of the smiling friendly staff. The waiter hurried forward to heap my plate.
But do not ever make that mistake of focusing only on one item. That was just the tip of the ice berg. The main course had still to arrive. Moong sabji, Batata lasooni, bhindi masala, palak corn paneer, Gujarati kadi, gujarati dal, tikka dal…the seven katori looked like a rangoli….rich greens vied with yellow and browns. A feast for the eyes.but that is not their goal. The Indian bread basket had arrived. Phulkas, Methi teplas, Makhai Rotla topped with white butter and white jaggery…..I had by know stopped counting. How can I describe it? The rich green of the palak paneer with the tender pieces of corn was a perfect filling for the phulka. Did anyone say that methi and bhindi did not complement each other? I beg to differ. It was a perfect combo. But do not get me wrong. These two breads were capable of being dipped into any of the katori’s, every bite was heavenly…and I am talking about vegetarian food.
Now you might wonder why I did not talk about the third preparation. The Makhai Rotla with the jaggery and butter. This is an entity which needs to be savored by itself. The warm rotla gives the butter just enough heat to melt and spread, slowly trapping the sweet particles of jaggery in its web. A bite and you are hooked. That is what the spider said to the fly. This preparation is a ‘web of ecstacy’, definitely worth asking for more. But as I mentioned earlier, you do not need to ask. The waiters are very upset if you do not take another helping. I did so just to please them. White rice and khitcdi with miniature batata papads and to top it all….pure ghee. I looked at Chef Motilala Devasi who has been a ‘Maharaj’ from 93. His words were soothing. ‘No oil except for the fried items’ he states, ‘everything else is cooked in ghee.’
The two black coated Captains Kesar Singh and Nagaram believe that service is the key. Despite taking time to answer my numerous questions, a click of their fingers brought the waiter with a tray of Indian sweets…the moong dal halwa, gulab jamun and fruit custard. Now you are entitled to only one. And even a sweet toothed person like me realized why. The moong dal halwa was bunofied for three hours, the flavors combined with the nuts and raisins was a treat to die for.
I did a mental count as we lefty the restaurant…15 full bodied preparations. I have not counted the nine accompaniments and the buttermilk. How much can one eat and that too at an economical price. All I can say is that if you take the Rajdhani at Panaji…..the express service, food and warmth would have you going back for more.