Monday, June 8, 2009

Welcome to my world

Now why did this sentence pop into my mind as we climbed up a narrow stairway to a cozy restaurant that is now celebrating its Silver Jubilee year. Perhaps the deep melodious voice of one of my favorite singers Jim Reeves singing ‘wont you come on in…’ played on as we met with the smiling faces of the proprietors Michael and Ovita de Souza. Or maybe it could be my usual one sided communication with hubby Joe who picks up the restaurant of his choice for the week. ‘Joe where are we going ?’ I ask. ‘Avanti..’ he mumbles as he tries to avoid the death defying act of a motor cyclist who was trying to squeeze in between our car and the one ahead at full speed. But yours truly was more concerned in getting her ‘I’s’ dotted and her ‘t’s’ crossed. ‘Where?’ I shout looking at him in exasperation. ‘Avanti-Avanti,’ says my long suffering spouse. ‘That means ‘welcome’ in Italian,’ I remark, ‘I wonder if this was the reason for the name’, I look at him questioningly but only get a frown of irritation for my query.

But there is something about good food that manages to put Joe into a positive frame of mind. And maybe more so because the proprietors had managed to retain the ‘old’ look….red chequered table cloths, topped with bright red cross cloths garnished with colorful table mats. Ah! Ha! I know that I am not talking about a food preparation, but the ambience of Avanti which has stood firm in its traditional belief of serving good Portuguese Goan food for over 25 years spelt this out loud and clear.

Now many of my readers feel that I only say ‘good’ things about the restaurant we visit. Let me explain my modus operandi! I ask the ‘person’ who knows the best about his or her place… Joe says, ‘if any one wants to know your plus points they have to ask me, or else they will get a good dose of ‘Odettiteee…’ So seated with Michael we put forward our standard question.

Now Michael is not a businessman proprietor (as many of the new joints boast of) alone. He knows food. Trained in Holiday Inns abroad he decided to utilize his trade skills back home in Goa, and in 1984 opened his ‘extremely popular’ restaurant Avanti- for a Goan Gourmet Experience. He chose his site well, I thought as I looked out of the window at the calm waters of the Ourem Creek.

‘We have 20 types of seafood cooked with our own home made recipes,’ he states in reply to my query. I glance through the menu. His boast is not a casual one. Listed were Oysters, Mussels, Squid, Bombay Duck, Crabs, Rawas, Rockfish….I could go on and on. ‘And if you notice,’ he remarks, ‘the fish is listed by names..’ I look again. He has got a point. Rauns, Gobro, Tamuso, Modso…In many establishments we normally see the dishes listed as ‘ Fish.’.

‘My restaurant was the ‘first of its kind,’ coffeeshop in Goa,’ he reminisces, ‘and I also believe that my recipes have something which is yet to be seen in Goa,’ I look at him questioningly. ‘For example, take the Balchao masala. My wife Ovita prepares the same six months before it is actually used. We prepare the mixture and leave it for fermentation.’ My look of confusion must have been seen on my face, because he smiles as Ovita produces a dust covered bottle from the cellar which has sediment in a liquid. I sniff tentatively as she explains.’ we use galmo (prawn larva with our very own homemade spirit and allow it to mature.’ I raise my eyebrows in astonishment. In today’s world of ‘quick fix’s’ I am surprised that people still have the passion to retain old home made recipes. I wait in anticipation for the food…

A delightful array of Rawa fried prawns (butterfly cut and dusted with the savory rawa), Stuffed squid (the whole squid stuffed with a delightful mixture of chopped squid, prawns and onions)…you can just pop those pieces into your mouth, gratinated masala stuffed crab (This had a green masala with onions, tomatoes and home made spices)…and as I had stated that Joe was not really fond of squid( he finds it too rubbery), a portion of masala squid peri peri too. Now if I go onto explain the feelings experienced at starter stage I will not have place for the main course…so I will be brief by remarking that there was not a single piece of food left on the plates…or more succinctly, Joe had polished every ring of Calamari, chewing onto the masalas…something a la Deepika Padkone in the Orbit chewing gum Ad.

But now let me talk about the masala’s of the main course…Balchao, Goan curry and the home made pickle that accompanied it. Now if the peri peri masala of the squid was a bright orangey red, the deep red with a tinge of brown of the balchao was an obvious different shade of color. And the yellow orange color of the prawn curry? These shades would never be found on an artistes palette. And here they were presented on the table so that we could feast with the most important sense…our eyes.

But did not a wise man say…’the taste of the food is in the eating?’ No not a wise man, but hubby dear, 26 years ago-maybe the same time that Michael had planned to open his restaurant. You see it was my first sojourn into the kitchen after marriage, and this ‘confused’ man…no not Confucious....but Joe, uttered these words. Not so wise after all. The rest of the honeymoon he was helping out in the kitchen.

But coming back to the food ,the Pork Balchao besides the color the thick creamy deep red masala-believe me there was no oil visible despite the fact that it was a pork dish… smooth, creamy enough to coat every grain of rice, so ‘spitan’. Now that is my own word to share the spicy tangy aftermath on my taste buds. A Spitan Ecstasy. That dish was polished off in no time…those six months of marination had paid dividends. And the prawn curry since we were in tasting mode I were doing one thing at a time. Wrong move. Although the food was served in the ‘soup plates’ of yore big portions, there was very little left for me to sample. Joe has always been crazy about good prawn curry rice, and when Ovita took out the homemade ‘Tendli pickle’…that combo was just what the doctor recommended…An unbidden thought. Why do we always agree to what a doctor recommends, but not to what a lawyer or a priest recommends? Anyway this ‘Doctor’ of Portuguese Goan food has a few special ingredients up his sleeve.

But there was still the Sera Dura to come. The dessert. Creamy! Yes that was the adjective. the chilled concoction was a delight.. a fitting finale to the wonderful experience. In Sanskrit, Avanti means ‘first or foremost.’ The name seems to be aptly chosen.

Could this be why the song was playing unconsciously in my mind? What were the words? ‘Welcome to my world, wont you come on in, miracles I guess still happen now and then…’ Absolutely right.. these sorts of miracles do happen now and then.

Hotel Avanti
Proprietor: Michael de Souza
Address; Rue De Ourem Creek,
Old Latin Quarter, Panjim-Goa
Tel no: 9822167005
E mail:

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