I’VE FINALLY DISCOVERED ‘SHER-E-PUNJAB’!

MUST VISIT: Iconic Sher-E-Punjab down 18 June Road for Punjabi food and more, is all set to celebrate its golden jubilee next year. If you haven’t eaten here, you haven’t lived!

BY TARA NARAYAN

FUNNY, I go up and down 18th June Road in Panaji at least once, if not twice a day, and have discovered several eating places from small Udipis to hole-in-the-wall bar-cum-eateries for xitt-kodi…and I go buy caju from my friend Sufal of AJ Fiesta here every so often. I’ve also seen the seriously white marbled façade of the old Sher-E-Punjab but never ventured inside, don’t ask me why!
All that changed a couple of weeks ago when the hubby who is an endless source of information about life and times in Panaji, in a reminiscent mood, asked, “You want to go and get me an alu paratha from the Sher-E-Punjab on 18 June Road? During my Herald days I used to go there regularly to eat alu or paneer paratha… they also had pudina paratha in the old days. If you see owner Mandeep Singh say hello for me, I knew his father Kuldeep Singh too.” His nostalgia trip sent me off to 18 June Road to look up the old Sher-E-Punjab (as opposed to the new one near Hindu Pharmacy).
Hell’s bells, I wondered, why haven’t I discovered this Punjabi food eatery-cum-restaurant in all my 17 years of living upmarket and down market in Panaji? It really upset me! Anyway, it was a Tuesday when I first stepped into Sher-E-Punjab and the special menu tablet at each table announced it was Rajma-Chaval day (also prawn cutlet), the entire week’s special item number menu is there at a glance. If it’s Monday check out the Dhai Kadi Pakode, if it’s Wednesday you may like Bhindi Kurkure…Friday’s for Murg Masala Fry, and so on. I made a note to come around on Thursday for the Rani Palak!
But the first Tuesday I ordered rajma-chaval and told the boy serving me — a Suren Sharma, nice manners — to pack up an alu paratha to take home for the hubby, and please also give me some of the “sirkawallah pyaz” (pinkish vinegary onion chunks). Sher-E-Punjab reminds me somewhat of the celebrated Moti Mahal in old Delhi. Sher-E-Punjab down 18 June Road is a cosy made-over kind of a place which still whispers of what not stories from the old days (the restaurant celebrates its golden jubilee next year). It’s what I call a retreat of a restaurant, comfy seating arrangement, narrow but opening out to an al fresco courtyard at the far end with a pocket full of green trees. Nice, very nice.
They have a more luxuriously designed air-conditioned section, ideal for meeting up with friends for a quiet talk. As you enter don’t miss the glass counter displaying an array of rabdi, kulfi-rabdi, kulfi-falooda, gulab jamun, caramel custard and other sweets which I don’t care a fig about…they do such brisk business out here and there’s a special window opening out to the pavement space from where folk may order food takeaways. A menu leaflet is freely available.
My arrived with a portion of jeera alu and the usual salty mango pickle, green chilly-pudina chutney, and I asked for a makki-di-roti (ghee laced) seeing it on the menu. Lots of tandoori roti here, garlic roti, methi roti, stuffed veg/alu paratha, kulcha, missi roti. In the days which followed, missi roti and makki-di-roti became my favourite buys! Roti is more or less `50 but add `10 more if you want them ghee laced….if you don’t tell them you don’t want any ghee atop your roti they take it for granted that you want it! So be specific when ordering.
I suppose one may time pass at Sher-E-Punjab peacefully eating roti after roti! I dare say the curd dishes must be pretty good at Sher-E-Punjab and one evening I found myself ordering “dahibalen” (or dahiwada) and thought the dahi or curd was made of toned milk (never buy double/tripled toned dairy milks for the high temperatures of processing makes the subsequent curd slimy)…I guess I’ve eaten better dahiwada.
In Goa it’s hard to find good dahiwada. I like my dahi made of skimmed pasteurized milk and lightly spiced with sweet tamarind chutney, garnished with fine chopped green coriander/mint leaves — the real secret to an agreeable dahiwada lies in the fresh quality of the deep fried urid dal wade or fritters. If these are too hollow or taste like burnt sawdust it makes for a pretty mediocre dahiwada. No amount of sweet sour tamarind chutney-laced curd can then rescue it from perdition! But forget that for now.
I’VE decided that one must go in company to lunch or dine or snack at Sher-E-Punjab. Portions are generous as the pricing is on the higher side. Over years of eating out I’ve learned that to understand a place one must frequent it a couple of times …it’s the only way to learn the art of what to order where, when doing it alone or with friends.
Oh they do have a comprehensive veg menu and even more comprehensive non-veg menu. Let me give you an idea of pricing: My rajma-chaval billed up to `250 (CGS/SGST added on), the roti are `50 or so, the paratha/naan double the price. Evening snacks like papdi chaat or aloo tikki, chole bhatura, samosa chole, etc, add up to `209.52 or so. Restaurant billing these days is a crazy, incomprehensible affair to read in its meticulous detailing.
NEVERTHELESS, one of these days, you must discover the joys of eating out at this upgraded yet vintage-time Sher-E-Punjab holding court down 18 June Road. Some interesting folk saunter in and out here. If you like people watching like I do, you may snuggle in the air-conditioned section nursing a fresh pineapple juice (`120) for an hour or more… become a regular like I think I’m becoming lately! Sher-E-Punjab has become my other favourite place vis-a-vis the Fidalgo enclave of restaurants down 18 June Road.
Never mind who wishes he hadn’t opened his mouth to educate me about the old Sher-E-Punjab down 18 June Road in Panaji town!

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