CHECK OUT THE VEG BIRYANI AT ‘CAFÉ ET CETERA’

AT GINGER GOA, PATTO: Glimpses of innovative makeover…extensive menu with my favorite veggie biryani-raita combo, top left is manager Ashish Kumar Singh, boy from Benaras (oldest city in world) and glimpse of real grass lawn with palm trees fringing it. An oasis out in the business district of Patto, Ginger Goa is the coolest place rest and recreate!

BY TARA NARAYAN

Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

FUNNY, with me it’s become I won’t eat rice, I won’t eat rice, I won’t eat rice — and then I found myself ordering for a vegetarian biryani while at Ginger Hotel’s cutely named Café Et Cetera at Patto (Panaji’s business district) last week — and although it was a late lunch to catch up with and the biryani came lukewarm it was total value for money (250 something) and surprisingly flavourful, generous portion of veggie in it and served with a bowl of the most scrumptious raita I’ve eaten in recent times. The raita was perfectly creamily balanced with curd, mercifully not sweetened and with fine cut salad veggies in it…cool. A wee bit too salty for me but I relished it. I always say one may add more salt to anything but one may not take it out. Anyway I was at Ginger Goa after a long time and noticed they’ve been re-inventing themselves. The IHCL brand of 3-star hotels are worth discovering and value for money if you don’t like going too upmarket to 5-stars and 7-stars… and they’re becoming very popular with frequent business travelers too (the chain has some 45 plus sister hotels across India). IHCL caters majorly to well-to-do yuppie generation I imagine… young and upwardly mobile generation keen to make enough money to retire happily ever after before they cross 50 years! Or so a friend who is a fan of the Ginger hotels confides in me, “Their food is great and they offer day rooms too for business meets…” Anyway, there I was at the re-imagined youthfully Café Et Cetera noting the woodsy look alike furniture décor with interest (plastics with a timber finish, German touch I’m told) but there were these pair of lovely swings to sway on gently while …er…maybe relishing the special ice-creams on a hot afternoon. The friends ordered various things, chicken biryani, fruit salad (a sizeable portion topped with ice-cream), some more ice-creams…all of it came on cocktail black tupperware and yes, my vegetarian biryani was sizeable enough a portion for two to share and it had fresh cottage cheese cubes in to lend a mild creamy sweetness to the gentle aromatic flavour of biryani. Really, a good vegetarian biryani is hard to find, so I was charmed, here was a biryani for me…delicately balanced, non-greasy vegetarian biryani. I will take the liberty of recommending this Café Et Cetera’s vegetarian biryani as best in Goa if you like for lunch a light-hearted biryani with a finely done raita! From all accounts the chicken biryani too was a succulent affair as testified by the friend who ordered it. Found myself asking their young manager Ashish Kumar Singh, a Benaras born and bred boy, to tell me about Beneras. Is it all that it is cut up to be courtesy being Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tender lovingly cared for constituency? He smiled, illegal encroachments have been removed and they now have broader 15 ft wide roads, but Ganga water is still nothing to write home about! But if you don’t like the showpiece brightly lit Ganga ghat sides while in Benaras there are over a 100 other riverside ghat points, so go find one which offers more privacy and no bright lights glaring down at you. It can be enervating for women pilgrims who like to go take a dip in the holy Ganga for their ritual dip! To stay with the present in Goa, Ashish Kumar Singh tells me that soon they will be having an evening lawn bar going and the lawns outside are real grass, not synthetic green turf! A couple of trees blooming away here too make for a pretty picture for a tacky business district. But when I’m at Patto district I guess I’ll go looking for my favourite vegetarian biryani at Ginger Hotel’s cafeteria. THESE extra hot days of May I find drinking anything artificially sweet makes me more thirsty and feeling sick, so I avoid the plethora of aerated soft sugary drinks of the marketplace — have you noticed how the market place is suddenly flooded with sparkling kokum and jeera sodas? Desi pet bottled drinks competing with Coca-Cola and from the looks of it they’ve become bestsellers (never mind the cloying dense salty sweet taste of almost all the drinks, they do not quench thirst, okay, but I see young folk gulping them down for kicks or so to speak). Give me the humble pure kokum water of fresh kokum fruit made at home! But then we’ve become such a lazy people we like to buy, buy, buy…even I tend to get carried away and buy what I don’t want to buy! My favourite buy is Xotik Frujus’ “Jeeru Jeera Masala” (30) from Daman but it is hard to find. New in the market is some Team24 Food & Beverages’ NatureDay’s “Kokum” sparkling fruit drink, it also promises “power herbs” like ashwagandha, aloe vera and liquorice extracts extract. It’s priced at `20 and there have other fruit drinks too. Frankly, I prefer homemade kokum tival out of concentrate or fresh fruit.
The wiser lot also invest in Amul’s buttermilk or lassi. It’s so easy to make one’s own natural curd at home and make one’s own buttermilk at home, thin and flavourful with pinches of rock salt, roasted jeera powder and hing stirred in…served on the rocks of course. Squeeze in the juice of a lemon for an extra zing to live for! Rich sweet lassi I avoid although some folk I know like to add a dash of that old-world Rooafza syrup if you can find it to sweeten the lassi up…try a teaspoon of Rooafza in buttermilk, nice, very nice. Lemonade with a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger juice mixed it superlicious (coining a new word?) on the rocks.
WELL, this is all to say don’t kill yourselves drinking too many of these commercial sugary fruit drinks, sodas… They do take a toll of body beautiful and what’s in it, mainly your kidneys; stop the kids from getting hooked on them too. Please take the trouble to make your own thirst quenching and nourishing coolers at home, look at the bounty of summer fruit we have in Goa! A colleague brought in a packet of some of Goa’s wild berries — the ravishingly pale ivory pink “chunnam” which are most prized as are the blackish blue “kantam” which are most delicious and to live for. You’ll find these local Konkan wild berries at the early morning pavement Panaji market, they’re less expensive than kokum fruit!
Best of all go to some wild places to do some berry-picking, how come nobody offers such a pièce de résistance experience in Goa? Is anyone cultivating any of the slew of wild berries which grow colourfully fat in the bush come summer time? Berries need to be better respected as vital enzyme-rich fruit, also loads of vits and mins. Enjoy summertime’s fruit and find some happiness these hot, humid, irksome days of May.

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