Have you tasted Goa's best-kept secret?
Sarita Ajit Chavan is not new to Chennai. In fact, the 56-year-old home chef from Goa has often come to the city to curate varied cuisines including Goan, Maharashtrian and Rajasthani. However, for the first time, she is bringing to town a Goan Saraswat food festival, starting today at The Park Chennai. “Saraswat cuisine is not as well-known as Goan Christian food or the signature Portugal offerings from our region,” explains Sarita.
Wanting to showcase the subtle flavours of the Saraswat style, she found the perfect collaborator in The Park’s Executive Chef, Ashutosh Nerlekar, a fellow Maharashtrian who understood the nuances of spices like the teppal (a Konkani equivalent of the Sichuan pepper) and uddamethi (Urad dal and methi seeds). “The food is gentle on the palate and has delicate flavours unlike the robust and strong expressions of a vindaloo, for instance,” says Sarita, who runs an all-women kitchen in Goa and is particularly supportive towards women who have been widowed. Besides the teppal, kokum and uddamethi, Sarita admits that she has also brought some special asafoetida, the shankar chap hing, in her bag from Goa! Meanwhile, Chef Ashutosh assures us that the poee bread, for the festival, will be specially flown down from Goa too.
Hearty & homely
We dropped in at Six-O-One earlier this week to try a degustation menu of the festival and we were pleasantly surprised with the unique offerings of a Saraswat spread. To begin with, their idea of street food — the Ross omelette — is a meal in itself. A fluffy omelette doused in chicken curry has to be mopped up with warm pav bread. We understood why it is Sarita’s favourite and once we tried the mutton chops, it was clear that subtle, homely flavours are the charm here. The meat was tender and juicy, and remarkably low on grease and hot spices.
For the first time
The low-on-grease factor extends to the cabbage cutlets and the other fried items like the delicious semolina and rice flour-crusted Visvan Fry (kingfish), the crispy batate (potato) and the vange (eggplant) kappa that are part of main course, the heaped thali. The star of the plated meal is the crab curry, which shines with the flavour of fennel and hints of tamarind and coconut. The khatkhate is a lighter version of a Kerala avial with squashes and colacasia in the mix and coconut milk with delicate spices. However, it was the sol kadhi (a Konkani household staple) that took our taste buds into unchartered territory — redolent with kokum flavour, the thin curry is a staple Konkani dish that is usually mixed with rice and is the last course of a meal, Chef Ashutosh tells us.
The dessert is dudhi kheer (pumpkin payasam), where to the uninformed the soft strands of pumpkin could very well be the common semiya. We finally walk away conceding that as promised the traditional Saraswat cuisine definitely delivered some delightful new flavours, textures and uncommon spices from its Goan origin.
On till September 29, veg Thali at Rs 795 and non-veg Thali at Rs 895 + taxes (a la carte meal for two at about Rs 1,500 + taxes)