2500 years ago the Chinese invented soy, the basic condiment used in all their cuisine. The Buddhist monks brought the soya bean to Japan, where they in the traditional manner mashed under foot on a special floor the cooked beans…perhaps a precursor to the ceremonial foot pressing of wine grapes. This liquid was also aged like wine in barrels, but the final product was called ‘Tamari’ which is derived from the Japanese word ‘Tamaru’ that signifies ‘to accumulate’ perhaps referring to the fact that Tamari was traditionally from the liquid byproduct during the fermentation of ‘miso’ their main condiment in cooking.
All these thoughts passed through my mind as we entered the elegantly appointed Pan Asian restaurant called Tamari in the spanking new hotel in the heart of Panjim called Vivanta by Taj. Elegant, classy, fresh…these words pale in comparison. We sink into the luxurious corner sofas as we waited in anticipation for our treat, into Chinese and More Asia delicacies as promised by the Executive Chef Gyanendra Gupta.
‘This is so exciting,’ I murmur as I leaf through the attractive bright red menu card, with window slats over the cherry blossom tree. ‘Yes,’ agrees Chef, ‘our aim is not only to create the food but also excitement.’ Now this was a statement that perked my senses. Was he going to produce sumo wrestlers as part of the entertainment or perhaps some Chinese dancing girls? But Chef Gyanendra was continuing, ‘our aim is to create an experience for our diners ‘
Well the first experience is the manner in which the menu card is put together. Innovative, now one would normally find a host of starters, main courses, rice and noodles with desserts ending the pages. Here was one with a difference. You could perhaps visit the restaurant with the idea of having a day preparation, or perhaps a curry one…or perchance something small to nibble on. Well this is how it goes.
It begins with small plates, you have a choice of Chinese or More Asia. Under More Asian you could have a choice of Thai, Japanese or even a few Indonesian dishes. Now some of the dishes listed there are Vegetable Crispy Fried Water Chestnuts, Chilli Padi Corn Kernel, Thai Wok Chicken…These are just a few…and they are the ones that arrived on the well appointed table. Cross cloths which resemble the eye of the tiger, elegantly black chop sticks with gold rims and Chinese teacups to match. But the décor pales in comparison when the colorful preparations arrive. What did Chef say? ‘One eats with their eyes first and so we work on our presentations.’ Well he was absolutely right. The Chilli Padi Corn kernel was presented in a huge wanton fried basket. There are two ladles used apparently to create the same. Crispy corn kernels with monkey chilli (these are the spicy red Thai chilly0, bell pepper and garlic….dont ever leave the restaurant without trying this. But then I had not started on the second preparation…the Thai Wok Chicken. .boneless chicken a deep orangey red, crisp on the outside, soft within in that tangy spicy sauce...uuum…mouthwatering. And the small imbedded garlic adds zest to the aftertaste. Now please do not blame me. You see Chef Gyanendra believes in ‘filling one slowly’ with his delicacies. The Vegetable Crispy Fried Water Chestnut tossed in Hoisin sauce had arrived. Sweet, Tangy, Crispy…the flavors warred with each other in my mouth. My gastric juices sent frantic messages to my brain…the result… to die for. Now I had eaten water chestnuts in Thai desserts…and if you have not tried them begin with these starters… Chef has also added Honey Hunan potatoes which he says “ is a favorite of children and adults alike”.
Now remember I have only started with the small plates. On the menu one sees a listing of soups, The Prawn Laksa- a coconut base and spicy soup topped with king prawn and fish cakes garnished with mint is the chefs recommendation, while for the vegetarians the lung fung, a thick soup flavored with garlic is a hot favorite.
And then comes the Grills and sizzlers. Think only about sizzling steaks? Well here is a new one. Toban fish, a full pomfret in chilli bean sauce comes sizzling to your table at your explicit order or maybe a Szechwan Double coated pork. Well when you think of something coated, and here it was the pork, my feverish imagination played on those suited and booted guys dressed to kill. Perhaps this sizzling coated dish could do the same. Knock you off the seat. I promised myself that I would definitely try this dish the next time…..
Because how much can one eat. The seafood dimsums had arrived with its accompaniments. Yes that is the next category. Honey coriander sauce, Black pepper and the Tomato sesame dips were placed on the table before those steaming baskets were opened. What a steamy affair…Would love to do it again.
But did the chef leave us to enjoy the aftermath? The Stir fried category followed by the curries and sauces were next on his agenda. Please no more…we plead. And so we combined all the dishes onto the Big Plate concept. But just a word on the Curries and sauces…. one can order a choice of Fiery Manchurian sauce, Red Hot Szechwan sauce, Hot and sweet garlic sauce, Hot bean sauce or chilli oyster sauce. The choice of meat or vegetable is now left to you.
And so now onto the big Plates, Kaeng Mass Man, vegetable in Thai Green curry and Hot and Sweet Garlic prawns with steamed rice. Now let me tell you about this Kaeng Mass Man….it is a dish which was the legacy that the Portuguese left behind in Thailand. Lean slices of meat cooked with potatoes, coconut and tamarind. We Goans will sure love this preparation. Joe definitely did. The Vegetable green curry definitely needs a mention. Pok Choy, mushrooms, green beans, asparagus, bamboo shoots and Thai eggplant. ‘ these little babies,’ Chef Gyanendra was referring to the Thai eggplant, ‘is available in goa, and they help put the spice in the preparation.’
Other fast moving preparations are the Sapo style Wok chicken…if you like it sweet and spicy, the Bo Hai Huppak Chicken, hot and spicy and the Smorgasbord seafood platter with a choice of Szechwan, salt and pepper or chilli coriander sauce. The chilli coriander seems to be the most popular.
What is in a name? Well let me tell you there is a lot to be read in a name. The mystery…the spice,.. and everything nice. 2500 years ago the Chinese invented it, the Japanese named it and today the basic condiment used in most of the preparations have found its way into the heart of Panjim. Tamari…their menu has accumulated it all.
Restaurant: Tamari (Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian)
Hotel Vivanta By Taj
Dr D.B Bandodkar Road,
St Inez Junction, Panaji,
Tel No. 0832 6633636