In the Land of the foxes, there are new Stories
11 Dec 2016 04:47am IST
Anisha Hasan Mendes has come home. From college in Delhi, some roots in Hyderabad, which have delightfully stuck in the cuisine she is so fond of, she is indeed back to a space which is quintessentially a by-product of her creative explosion. It’s a story all right. And she has called this chapter- Saligao Stories.
Calling this just a restaurant would be taking a modern keyboard and calling it a classical piano. It’s a grand Goan home (or ‘Portuguese house’ as all old homes are called by our Delhi mates, little knowing that there was a Goa before the Portuguese arrived and people had homes then which were grand and they have survived, but that’s another story). A large living room, which is the heart of the restaurant, a little passage between the living room and the court yard, which has the bar and then the sprawling court yard with easy cane chairs designed for long conversations under the shade of trees in this hidden Saligao nook. Every cranny of Saligao stories has character, and there are stories on every wall. With hundreds of beautiful plates which alternate with printing blocks, a piano in the corner of the main dining space, its usual pride of place in Goan homes; and a little altar formation above, making the prayer and music imagery oh so complete; and then there are family portraits, so many black and white frames of family folks, some ancient and in a better space now.
In this very busy medley of friends hanging out, with no one really in an assigned table, some at the bar, some outside, the staff did a miraculous job of reaching the food and drink to the right recipient. Somewhere in the middle of this cacophony is the quiet, very quiet, ever smiling chef Siddharth Hegde. Sid, a Juhu boy from Rizvi college has done his bit and done well, in some of the better known cafes and restaurants in Bombay like Woodside in Colaba, started by another friend Sushant Kamat, where a night of drinking every beer in the world ends up with a mammoth breakfast, all in the same café/bar. Hegde happened to meet me at Barrels and Bones in Mala, which was formerly Baba café, which again was formerly Ernestos. In its different avatars, we have all been welcomed there, but Sid made the urgently needed difference to the food there since the iconic Chef Vasquito left the place. He tinkered with a lot of conventional dishes and made them unconventional; so much so that for yours truly if a steak does not have blue cheese sauce and some crab on the side, it doesn’t quite feel like steak.
But here at Saligao stories, it’s a much larger art gallery and a canvas that will allow him to do much, much more: Hyderabadi food for instance. With an élan which is so nawabi, two bowls of slow cooked goodness- haleem arrived; made of mutton, lentils and wheat, all in a paste and piping hot. Cashews, fried onions and lime are all pounded in, each playing their part in the symphony. While the gulf countries claim this is to be theirs, the nawabs of Hyderabad do not let this claim ever go far away from them. And since we are Anisha’s, our loyalties must lie with Hyderabad. Though the Bohris, in India make very traditional haleem as well, but less spicy. A personal wish though, is the addition of a boiled eggs and coriander on top for a perfect haleem.
The Hyderabadi biryani had a ring of fragrance and perfection that comes from cooking it slow and allowing the kache gosht to be buried in layers of fragrant rice. This went down amidst long conversations with old friends and new. Carlton Braganza, of fifteen year friendship vintage when his restaurant in Bangalore, Opus transformed from a great space for music and food to an entertainment institution, was in the house. Carlton doesn’t need to sing for his supper, but sing he does, during very frequent visits to Goa, as he did at Saligao stories that night.
Almost at every space, there were friends or long time acquaintances, comfortable in a kind of space they are used to. And since this is right inside the “fox country” of Saligao, you could almost imagine a certain past next neighbour, who loved good food, company and conversations, the late wily old fox and politician, Dr Willy D Souza, sauntering in from his bungalow to Saligao Stories next door. This place is built for conversations. As all Goan homes were.
Post script: Heads up: The Christmas month is always the best time for the hunt for the best steaks of the season. It’s work in progress
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