RAIN MENU AT `GRAPEVINE’, HQ, VASCO: Check out the Puneri misal-pau and Khanda Bhajee! Then catch the Konkani film K Sera Sera running at the 1930 Vasco mall Cineplex audi one of these rain-filled days!
Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column
By Tara Narayan
IT’S not often that I go out to port city Vasco da Gama but when I do I want to catch up with a lot of things new and not-so-new! This time around I discovered at Grapevine (HQ’s lobby restaurant) that they’re the only folk imaginative enough to have a chat-pat Rain Menu for the monsoon months. You may moon moon and time-pass alone here or with friends, watching the rain fall outside while trucking into “Puneri misal-pau, spicy spicy, very spicy sprout stew” topped with crispies, chopped onion, green coriander and what do you know, it comes with two Amul-buttered pao with a bowl full of goda masala- spiked sauce!
For a while there since it was around tea-time I wondered if I should order the misal-pau for old times’ sake or the “Ragada pattice, potato patty topped with white pea stew, chutney and crispies,” or the most agreeable “Maratha kandha bajee, onion chickpea flour fritters with coconut chutney” and more. I ordered the misal-pao Puneri/Kolhapuri-style and lived to half regret it and half not regret it if you know what I mean.T’S not often that I go out to port city Vasco da Gama but when I do I want to catch up with a lot of things new and not-so-new! This time around I discovered at Grapevine (HQ’s lobby restaurant) that they’re the only folk imaginative enough to have a chat-pat Rain Menu for the monsoon months. You may moon moon and time-pass alone here or with friends, watching the rain fall outside while trucking into “Puneri misal-pau, spicy spicy, very spicy sprout stew” topped with crispies, chopped onion, green coriander and what do you know, it comes with two Amul-buttered pao with a bowl full of goda masala- spiked sauce!
Don’t ask me why I was in Vasco but usually at the end of every trip I end up at Grapevine to chat with Chef Raj here about this, that and the other, now there’s also Chef Clifford. I looked at their Rain Menu propped up at each table and got carried away by the Puneri Misal Pao and asked how spicy is it? Very spicy, Chef Raj replied, very, very spicy and that’s how it’s supposed to be! Okay then, I ordered, I’m not the spicy type but I remember Maharashtrian-styled misal from my Bombay days, especially the Shravan-month misal at Panshikar at Dadar (East) railway station….it comes steamingly fragrant with juicy boiled fresh groundnuts (in season monsoon time), moong sprouts, jeera-flecked austere potato bhaji, topped with a savory-sweet potato chivda mix/savoury gram flour crunchies…lemon wedges and curd is optional.
It was that memory from yesteryear Bombay that made me order the Puneri misal-pao at Grapevine. Chef Raj warned me that this Puneri misal-pao would be nothing like a fasting Shravan style timid misal-pao but I ordered it anyway. In my mind any misal-pao is to live for. I was quite amused and although I’d said make my misal as least spicy as you can to Chef Raj, it still came spicy enough for my eyes and nose to start leaking with mouth on fire! I quickly asked for a couple of lime halves to squeeze into the misal to cut the biting heat of the chili.
Lemon juice is something magical. The Puneri misal-pao was tamed enough to be agreeably edible (always remember that lemon juice/curd soften any spiced-up dish). As for the goda masala-enriched sauce and pristine Amul-buttered pao I played with the idea of returning it….but, but! I decided to eat it, tearing off chunks of buttered pao to dip in the sauce and savour in between scoops of misal….this is how Puneri misal is relished? Apparently so, the snack must have evolved over time with native and cosmopolitan flavours — I mean Puneri-Kolhapuri notes of chat-pat spiciness in between bland creamy English bread butter!
HONESTLY, I still can’t make up my mind in memory whether I liked the Puneri misal-pau or not! Next Chef Raj insisted I try their Khanda Bhajee and I can tell you straightaway these khanda bhajee on Grapevine’s Monsoon Menu are irresistible, very special. They come softly hot and are most flavourful. Quite the best I’ve tasted in a long while, one could go on eating them to live or to die. Usually Goan onion bhajee (fried fritters) can be spiky hard and I shun them, but Chef Raj educated me, “We decided to just sliver the onions and dip them in chunks in besan batter before deep frying, “I don’t add rice flour to the batter.” Rice flour tends to crisp things up…(sigh)…wish I lived closer to Vasco to make the most of these khanda bhajee.
The other fare on the menu: Gole Bajee, Maska Pao with Mushroom Curry, Cutting Chai (served in stainless steel kettle, how eco-friendly and one may share several rounds), Filter Kapi.
I had filter kapi to wind up and since it was Chef Raj I could request him to sweeten my filter kapi with a hint of jaggery instead of chemical sugar. The fresh decoction coffee is served in cute stainless steel dhaba-vati, that is in two stainless steel containers, so that one may cool the coffee by pouring it from container to container. Coffee this good always put me in a good mood and I thanked Chef Raj.
He said they’re also serving a Shravan veg thali these days through Ganesh Chovoth season but it’s not your pure Saraswat Brahmin thali, “because most desi tourists coming in don’t much care for authentic Goan and will still ask for something in paneer (cottage cheese)!” Say it’s an intelligently selective veg thali, if you feel like catching up with it in Vasco one of these days, regardless of whether you’re doing any Shravan fasting or not.
Which reminds me I’ve not eaten a single one of the Shravan thali meals being offered at some places currently. Anyway, this is also to say the HQ has a new general manager and he is Rajesh Ranjan. It’s always good to know folk while eating out in restaurants, so make a note of it. He tells me apart from their Monsoon Menu they’re also doing a special oriental momo’s menu at their upstairs Ori Pan Asian cuisine but that open at 7pm, “Come back later…” No, thank-you, after the Puneri misal-pau and kandha bhajee I’d had my dinner for the day!
BESIDES I wanted to have a dekho of the brand new mall intriguingly called 1930 Vasco. that opened recently right across the road from HQ. From the sound of it Vascoites have taken to enjoying a film or two at the cineplex located here. There are also shopping stores but not enough of them yet although Fab India is here and some special item numbers like copper bowls, and some smart jewellery. A Carasid outlet is also here. I dare say the mall will fill up soon with other retail shopping.
Why “1930 Vasco”? Well, it belongs to the sentimental industrialist Narayan Bandekar or Nana bab whose old family home had to be demolished to make way for the new modern mall. He probably remembers life and times in his old home though and nostalgically named the mall 1930 Vasco! He is one of Vasco da Goa’s very old-timers. Don’t know why someone doesn’t come out with a true blue guide to Vasco.
Vasco da Gama has some fascinating stories waiting to be told and someone should really get down to writing them up. To get these stories you’ll have to talk to some of the mining barons who’ve made Vasco their home of course. It’s Goa’s only city with a population of more than a lakh (100,000 is 2011 census figure) and I couldn’t help noticing the broken up pavement tiling around the HQ/mall area courtesy the recent Shree Damodar temple saptah. It’s the shopping festival which comes along with the saptah for seven days which sees such annoying destruction of public spaces! And afterwards it takes forever for repairs to be done, perhaps after some senior citizen trips, breaks an ankle and has the courage to lodge a complaint. I don’t see why any vendor should be permitted to drill up pavement spaces to put up sundry stalls for an annual fair?
IN case you don’t know, fitness-conscious Vasco has a vintage time St Andrews Church, Naval Aviation Museum, Bogmalo Beach (ideal for swimming), a mall with a cinema auditorium attached (Vasco 1930), a Japanese garden and lots of interesting eating out places. Hey, it’s history goes back to 1543 when Portuguese adventurer Vasco da Gama arrived at the mouth of the Zuari river and established the early port town. If you’re asking me I think Vasco da Gama should be capital city of Goa. Leave Panaji alone to be a heritage town!