Herald: FIGURING OUT ‘DELHI-WALLAS’ FROM THE COZIEST FISH CURRY & RICE BUNKERS OF SOUTH GOA

FIGURING OUT ‘DELHI-WALLAS’ FROM THE COZIEST FISH CURRY & RICE BUNKERS OF SOUTH GOA

17 Mar 2019 06:18am IST
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17 Mar 2019 06:18am IST

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ife’s speedometer plummets several notches in the village roads of South Goa. And the southerners get it. The world outside South Goa, is a different planet, nay universe, whose pace, complexities and importantly speed, is irrelevant to the southerners. And mind you, their common bête noire is not their brother or sister Goan who lives in North Goa. The bone of contention is indeed this ubiquitous species, called the ‘Delhi wallah’. And the way a southerner sees a Delhi-wallah is like one of the blind men who were feeling up an elephant.

To some he’s a builder, to others he’s a restorer of old Goan homes picking them up at a fraction and selling them at massive amounts, to others he is a restauranteur bringing in world cuisine and class and with it a while new profile of people, who have changed the “character” of Goan villages.

The “Delhi walla” is not quite an “outsider”. He is not even a prototype of any a community, caste or even a specific geographical region. He is, to a true blue South Goan, an institution which has scooped out the essence of Goa and filled with their own essence. And to South Goans, this Delhi walla institution exists in the confines of North Goa where everything is non Goan including the houses, the food and the new culture.

Phew!!! Quite obviously, not all of this is totally true but you get the drift. Exaggeration is only an amplification, but it is never without basis.

And one of the big leaves in this long tree of lament of South Goans, at the Delhi walla influx, is the loss of another institution- fish curry and rice and everything else that’s goes onto a typical Goan lunch plate. The shrinking number of such places, which earlier used to be every home, shop, restaurant, is a cause of immense worry and concern. And while we are sure there will be stiff resistance from the northerners at being dismissed from being protectors of the fish curry and rice legacy of Goa, South Goa does pride itself of being the current protectors of the legacy.

In the lanes of Colva and Seraulim this wanderer realised why the fish curry and rice and everything nice on a Goan thali can be trademarked in South Goa. From the Margao- Colva road, a right turn moves into the idyllic village of Seraulim, which around 3500 people call home. One of Seraulim’s boys, after an almost customary sojourn on the seas, returned to his roots to start cooking and serving what he missed the most on his days in the ocean- mom’s Goan cooking. He and his partner Vivek started a small place overlooking the verdant fields of Seraulim and interestingly called it “Fish on Fire”

It’s a typical restaurant by day, tavern by night. Jovino of course brings his impeccable sailor manners which delightfully contrast with his short stocky cool “don’t mess with me” look. He still calls genteel lady customers “maam” with the highest standards of courtesy and chivalry. And it doesn’t harm at all that he makes one of the best rawa fried prawn and modso, in these parts. Jovino has a theory about serving his prawns. He has about eight medium pieces per plate. But if the size of the prawns goes down, he increases the number of pieces so that the vagaries of the size of the fish catch don’t mess with your hunger. The modso fillet is big and spicy while the shark ambotik invades your senses in a pincer movement with the spices and flavor rebooting the sleepy areas of your brain and soul and kick-staring you inspite of the presence of sleep inducing boiled rice.

Meanwhile there’s another “institution” almost touching 50 which does just this- fish curry rice, vegetable, pickle and fried fish. It’s called Ambika Café on the Colva church road, very near the church. Opened by Gurudas, Ambika is now run by his son Rajesh. For fifty years this is all they have served for lunch and the quantity available depends entirely on the fish catch. So if there’s fresh fish ( mainly mackerel) for just 15, they serve only 15 people for lunch. They are open from breakfast to dusk and serve their assortment of bhajis like chapatti bhaji, chapatti masala and sukhi bhaji. Some folks have been coming here for 40 years at a stretch, almost every day eating the bhaji with many of them returning for their fish curry and rice. If this isn’t a trademark than what is?

Both Fish on Fire and Ambika teach us the story of a true Goan institution. JovinoVaz came back from the high seas because he missed the food that sustained him and made it into his business, while Rajesh followed his father’s footsteps and never moved out of his world, nurturing the leitmotif of Goan existence- the cafe and the fish curry and rice place, providing both under this roof.

No Dilli-walla can ever take over this institution or even pretend to. At least in South Goa. Balle balle to that, should we say?

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