Mumbai: Beautician who makes a mean Surmai fry at Revdanda
A beautician from Chembur, who opened an Agri eatery near Revdanda Fort in Raigad after falling on hard times, is hoping that the luck that Madhuri Dixit brought her, helps resurrect her fortunes
Finding good seafood that smells of the coast, and tastes like home, needs a stroke of serendipity. We feel this now, more than ever, after having returned from a short weekend stay at Alibaug—a trip we took with trepidation in the pandemic. We had arrived there not knowing that our search for the most scrumptious fish thali would finally end.
The menu includes specialities of the Agri community. While the vegetarian thali is priced at Rs 200, the fish thali costs R350 and the chicken thali, Rs 250
We came across the rather, unimaginatively named Gharguti Khaanalay—simply meaning home-food eatery—by accident. After a bumpy drive from Alibaug to Revdanda Fort, we were famished; secretly, hoping that our last meal on the trip would also be the best one. The erratic network near Revdanda meant that we'd have to wait till we reached the highway to Google "the best places to eat fish". Just as we were heading for the car, a local, Sujata Patil, sensing our predicament, reached out. "I make home-food," she said in Marathi, pointing to her shack. If there was some hesitation, it was because we couldn't be hundred per cent sure about the hygiene standards. But, this eatery, which had four tables spread out in an open-air seating area looked spotless. It was a risk worth taking.
Sujata and her autorickshaw driver husband, Rohit Patil, started the eatery in February, after the family fell on hard times. Until five years ago, Sujata lived in Chembur with her mother. "I worked at beauty parlours, but cooking was my first love. I began helping aai in the kitchen when I was just 12, after my elder sister got married. I often shared my experiments with friends at the parlour, and they'd eat it with great relish," recalls the former beautician. When the couple moved to Alibaug five years ago, launching a cooking business was on her mind. But it was when her husband's earnings took a hit, she decided to take refuge in her kitchen. She pooled in her jewellery to start the shack fronted by two rooms to rent. But right after, the lockdown was announced, leaving the family of four living hand-to-mouth. "When we finally got the green signal to open again, we didn't even have money to buy fish or vegetables from the market. Somehow, we managed," she says.
Gharguti Khaanalay, simply meaning home-food eatery, opened in February right before the lockdown. The Patils resumed operations in October
The thali menu is a basic one, and includes specialities of the Agri community. The vegetarian thali, priced at Rs 200, comprises varan bhaat, two vegetables (of your choice), papad, roti and sheera. The non-vegetarian menu includes a fish thali (Rs 350) and chicken/mutton thali (Rs 250). Since a fresh catch of Bombay Duck wasn't available that day, our group of four went for the surmai (king mackerel) and paplet (pomfret) thalis. A day before we tried this, we had enjoyed a hearty fish thali at Kasturi Mahila Udyog Restaurant (see box), a popular local eatery in Alibaug. Compared to that, this one, had a simpler offering of rice, coastal prawn curry, tandlachi bhakri (rice roti), rava-fried surmai/paplet, and solkadhi. We also ordered a prawn masala fry to go with this. The crispy surmai fry and prawn masala were favourites. The fresh catch was marinaded with the masalas so perfectly, that the flavours burst in the mouth. Both the curry and the masala fry had a generous amount of amboshi (dry mango), balancing the pungent flavours, and adding a kick of tang. "This is how most of the Agri dishes are cooked," says Sujata, who prepared our order from scratch, in 30 minutes, with the help of her 12-year-old son and husband. "We only use coconut oil, also made at home. We dry the coconut, and grind it to extract the oil. The masalas, made using coriander, jeera, red chilli, and other hot spices, are also ground by hand."
Since they opened, Sujata says she has been getting at least five guests at the restaurant daily. "And for that I should thank Madhuri Dixit," she says. "Nobody knew much about Revdanda Fort [a trading point of the Portuguese] until her Marathi film, The Bucket List (2018), was shot here. After the movie released, many have started visiting the fort; they then make a stop at the restaurant. "Uske pair hamare liye acchhe the," she says. "Now, only if people like our food, maybe, our fortune will turn."
The next time you are in Alibaug, call Sujata on 9272666706
The women's co-operative restaurant thali
Another eatery in the Raigad district, where we enjoyed a delectable fish thali was Kasturi Mahila Udyog Restaurant. Situated in the market area, it was established in January 2006, to help provide employment opportunities to underprivileged women. The restaurant is entirely run and managed by women. The menu has vegetarian and non-veg dishes, as well as biryani. Fish thalis are, however, their speciality. We ordered bangda, surmai and paplet thalis, and they all came with a fish fry, a curry with the same fish, rice, tandlachi bhakri, a tangy saar, chopped white onions, kachumber and solkadhi. We also ordered a plate full of bombil fry—the reason we were here in the first place—and prawn fry. Considering how generous the helpings were, we think we may have over-ordered. But we were there to eat, and that's what we did. The curry was on the spicier side, but for those who enjoy tikhat Maharashtrian food, it's perfect. We ended the meal with hot modaks. The entire meal cost us R1,800.
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