Sujay GuptaHe sits there at the corner of his universe with a smile that lights up his ageing face. From that corner he has a hawk eyed view of food coming out of the kitchen and literally loaded on the tables of hungry lunch goers. The orders do not stop and when one group finishes eating there is another waiting. Without quite intending to, Gopal Ondu Gawas, has over 35 years, made his nondescript shack or dhaba or restaurant, at the iconic Bambolim cross, the pièce de résistance of Goan food with flavours and recipes that only his family can come up with.
At Sharda, the food talks. And he didn’t need social media of today or fancy promotions to get there. He honestly didn’t even want to. A family of traders from Siridao, who incidentally started cooking to feed more folks, because Gopal’s mom had a golden hand when it came to grinding masalas and conjuring her own recipes, Gawas had limited ambitions-decent enough earnings out of great quality food. Initially set up on top of the Bambolim slope, they had to move “in national interest’, when the army needed that area for their base and moved the business of Gopal Gawas to the bottom of the slope next to the Bambolim cross. Quite clearly, this business would only grow in that location, and the rapidly spreading good words from satiated diners did more ‘viral’ work than any media ever could. This was Goa after all.While Gopal is ensconced on his chair and looks around, the man in charge of operations is his trusted loyalist Samir who runs the culinary orchestra in the kitchen. And its sheer music because the food has the same effect as what great soul stirring music does to your senses. Sample this: Sango Sungtam (Drumsticks with coconut and prawn), bhendem sungtam ( prawn with lady fingers), sangtanchi ambotik ( catfish in ambotik), bodkanchi kodi ( the head and bones from of the fish in a coconut based gravy). If all this wasn’t enough wait till you’ve had their bangdo recheado (stuffed mackerel). This is smoked with red chilly paste and some other assorted spices and wrapped in a banana leaf which too is smoked. The fish falls off the bone, fresh and smoky.For those who want to dive deeper and try different nuances ask for dobdobit. It’s simply curry made with more chillies and a paste which is denser. Simply put, it steps on the flavours.Most of the family is in it together. Two of his sons, one of whom is an engineer, help with the running of Sharda. The third son, Vasu, an electronics engineer too, was headed to the USA to study was asked by his dad to stay back and be in the land of his birth. And he is now engaged in a profession which is critical to Goa. He ensures that coconuts that grow on the lands of so many Goan families is bought and traded, often ensuring that they are plucked, itself a tough ask, with a dying breed of coconut pluckers. Of course the secret ingredient of the success of the Gawas family is Gopal’s mother who made the masalas and has left a legacy which is nurtured by Gopal and his sons. “We have workers, but it’s her magic which works everyday”, says Gopal. Undeniably so. The magic of the basic curries and spices that are woven into the culinary creations that are often made in traditional grinders at home, is served twice daily at lunch and dinner. They now have a few mechanical grinders though, since the work load is huge. In our spirit of devoting this column to Goan families who run places like this with wholesome help from families who do their basic cooking at home, let yours truly take you to Sandeep Ros Omelette in Panjim, right next to the BJP state party office in Atmaram Borkar road. Sandeep Bhosle’s dad used to be trader in grams and peanuts till they opened their ros omelette cart near the main Panjim Church in 1998. It quickly became an iconic go to place because the combination of a sea of xacuti curry with freshly made omelettes floating in them was unique in taste and innovation. It could be a meal, or an evening snack or even breakfast or a quick lunch on the go. You get the freshness of an egg with the taste of xacuti. And armed with hot pao or poi which would soak in the gravy, for you to consume, this is comfort food like no other.Sandeep then moved to the more independent shop in the heart of Panjim and added innovative twists to his menu like an half fried egg with the “sunny side” bobbing in xacuti, or full fry egg with xacuti or even boiled eggs if you please, are absolute favorities.At Sharda and at Sandeep’s, people have been coming there for years. These are great levelers, where everyone is an aam aadmi coming here for khas (special) food . From MLAs to Chief Ministers and ministers to writers, poets, film makers, architects, journalists and businessmen, they are all here for the jevon for the soul. And that is what keeps people like Gopal and Sandeep going- that heart touching remark from their customers - ‘jevon- borem’ ( great food). Even after years, those words do hit a sweet spot.