Vasundhara Chauhan

Gourmet Files: Lo Straniero A Goa

Simply delicious. Photo: Special Arrangement  

In Goa recently it was brought home to me, yet again, that people are the same, no matter where you go. Especially in their eating habits.

The ever-growing expat community, of which I met mainly the Dilliwalas, are the same as Dilliwalas in Dilli. Daily home cooking is dal, sabzi, roti; with the addition of local fish. In fact Jivi, whose birthday it was, had a lunch to celebrate, in Amritsar da munda (son of Amritsar) style.

So in the shade of his terraced garden there was, appropriate to the season, sarson ka saag, flown in from Delhi, dal makhani, gobhi matar, sookhe alu, and, in a nod to those-that-cannot-eat-without-meat, Punjabi chicken curry, a mix of rotis — including makki ki and missi (a mixture of chane ka atta and regular whole wheat), raita, several salads and new gajar-rai ka achar, keen and tart with ground rai, the smaller, brown, mustard seeds.

Bloody Marys tempered with curry leaves and lassi to start, and moong dal and besan laddus to follow. As a thorough Punjabi, I felt the menu was just right for the end of December, the April weather in Assagaon notwithstanding. The “locals” loved it.

There is nostalgia — Kavita had asked me to carry frozen mutton — and I empathise: How much fish can a landlubber eat. But that was in homes. When they go out, the Gutter Kailash part IV Diaspora — as a cruel one of them put it — eat Italian. So we went to two ristorantes, several times. As recommended, we booked a table at Basilico in Anjuna. It's really not fair to judge a restaurant based on one visit, when the diners are two and so the number of dishes limited, but one gets at least an idea.

It was a crowded, pretty courtyard with candlelit tables, and so full that there was a bit of a wait. The owner overheard my questioning of the waiter, who was sweet and attentive, and came personally to discuss our order himself. This without knowing that anything was going to appear in The Hindu.

So he recommended the crespelles. We started with a thick, slightly sweet carrot soup — not my cup of tea but not my order either, so I didn't have to eat it. Then we ate pasta — penne — with clams. This was a bit dry, as if the penne had been boiled and the extra small handful of clams added later. No sauce, nothing to hold it together. The boss offered to add some gorgonzola cheese, it was, didn't quite do the trick, and we asked for Parmigiano as well. Nothing bad about it, just... ho hum.

More than enough

And then came the crespelles, little crepe parcels, surprisingly delicious, filled with cheese and morsels of crisp-tender broccoli. Possibly there were shrimps too — I don't remember. Because, wonder of wonders, the broccoli belied apprehension and was more than enough. No reek of methane, just golden, gratinated joy, with a super thin casing and creamy cheese and crunchy green broccoli filling.

And we went twice — on this visit — to J&A's, on the Baga river road. This too needed reservations for dinner, and is in a large courtyard, which has two parts. Some tables are canopied, but the whole place is airy and refreshing.

In the past I've had the beef carpaccio — deliciously juicy; and apple, walnut and parma ham salad. It also has rocket, arugula, if I remember right — this was years ago, but the combination sounds about right. Goa seems to have better lettuce of all varieties than I get to see in Delhi. Lola Rossa, arugula, romaine: all succulent, crisp, juicy and fresh, so they add not just colour, but crunch and texture. This time we had dinner, when I ordered the cheese soufflé — a bit stodgy — and shared two pizzas. The base is trendily thin, and the toppings cosmopolitan.

One had goat cheese and basil pesto, and the other salami Milanaise, onions marinated in balsamic vinegar and whole roasted garlic. The garlic was the entire bulb, oven roasted, and set the pizza out of the ordinary because the inner flesh had lost its pungency and become sweet and as soft as marrow, so you could just press with a fork to squeeze the pulp out of the tough, plasticky peel.

One has to prioritise, and I did: There was no scope for dessert. I tasted someone's chocolate fondant and it was just about passable; more appetite would probably have helped.

Another day I went there for lunch, when they make sandwiches, omelettes and crêpes. We were half a dozen and most ordered sandwiches, all apparently delicious — open faced with tuna, cheese, ham, the works. Salad on the side. I ordered a soufflé omelette. It's rare to find this quality of omelette anywhere else that I know of. Fluffy, airy and yet not undercooked, it lived up to its name: Soufflé means blown, puffed. This was a golden semicircle because the whole thing had been folded over after filling — almost to overflowing — with firm, blanched pink shrimps, smoked mozzarella and deep reddish brown bacon bits. Crisp brown toast and green lettuce leaves came as well.

Smoked cheese, salty bacon and flavourful shrimps, wrapped in just-cooked egg, are a perfect meal. And, though I'm not sure whether omelettes are typically Italian, this went with the menu and the overall atmosphere. Good coffee and full stop.

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 4:45:23 AM |

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