Eating like they do in Pilerne

Updated: 29 December, 2019 09:00 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

Inspired by the heirloom recipes of a North Goa family, a new takeout service that runs out of a Vile Parle bungalow is serving up authentic Goan fish thaalis the way they make them in Bardez.

A traditional fish thali comprises a fish curry, bhaji, fish fry, neer dosa, traditional Goan bread or poe, rice, sol kadhi, pickle and kismoor.
A traditional fish thali comprises a fish curry, bhaji, fish fry, neer dosa, traditional Goan bread or poe, rice, sol kadhi, pickle and kismoor.

Standing outside his refurbished Vile Parle home, doling out potting tips to the gardener, Peter Paul Souza, who sports a sequinned bandana to hold back his salt and pepper crop, doesn't look like he is made for the kitchen. "Don't let my looks deceive you," the hairstylist says, with a laugh. "I am a great cook. But, the kitchen is meant to be a place where you go unseen. When I was younger, I was tempted by the glamour of hairstyling [to give the kitchen a miss]."

Peter may have dropped the idea of a culinary career, but he continued to experiment with food, especially what he learned from his mother at their Pilerne home in North Goa. You can take the Goan out of Goa, but not his affinity for local food, says Peter, as he introduces us to his son, Adam's new enterprise, The Souza's.

Perpetual Souza introduced chef Vansh Khanna to the magic of triphala
Perpetual Souza introduced chef Vansh Khanna to the magic of triphala

The two-month-old cloud restaurant, which runs out of the ground floor of their two-storey home, brings together family favourites in a menu that is inspired from Peter and his wife Perpetual's time in Goa. Prized family recipes—some that the couple know by rote, and others, hand-written—are given a modern twist by Chef Vansh Khanna, 27, an alumnus of Le Cordon Bleu, Sydney.

We tasted a melt-in-the-mouth mackerel cutlet, tangy baby shark ambot tik, and the rasedar prawn and surmai curries. Khanna joined hands with Adam, 29, after he learned of his interest in starting a takeout service. "This is the first time that I have immersed myself in Goan cuisine," says Khanna, who has experience of having worked at the JW Marriott and Haute in Bengaluru. "I have cooked Goan curries before, but that was different from what I learned from Adam's parents," he admits.

In the Souza home, pickled carrots  are an everyday addition to meals. Khanna made a chutney inspired by this pickle, which is packed with every takeout
In the Souza home, pickled carrots are an everyday addition to meals. Khanna made a chutney inspired by this pickle, which is packed with every takeout

Where Khanna relied heavily on the use of curry leaves and rye for coastal curries, Perpetual introduced him to the magic of triphala, a spice that he realised is a splendid substitute for pepper and chillies. It's from her that he learned why the stone grinder, and not a regular pulveriser or mixer, works best to grind masalas. "In a normal pulveriser, the fibres of the coconut and chillies hit your palate, but the stone blends the fibres into a nice paste," he says. When you make curries from this, the masalas seem less harsh. The grinder is now a permanent fixture in the kitchen at The Souza's, and masalas are made here daily.

The takeout service opens for orders at 11.30 am and delivery begins half-an-hour later. While they serve only Goan thalis and fried fish for lunch, an à la carte menu opens for dinner post 8 pm. A traditional fish thali (R280-R340) includes a fish curry (Bombay duck, surmai, prawn or pomfret), bhaji, a fish fry (bombil or mandeli), neer dosa, traditional Goan bread or poe, rice (red bullet or fat), sol kadhi, pickel (carrot/bombil) and kismoor (dried baby prawn).

Chef Vansh Khanna lays out a fish thali for delivery. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Chef Vansh Khanna lays out a fish thali for delivery. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

The thaali can be customised to your liking. They use only fresh catch, so sometimes, your choice of fish may not be available. You also get to choose between the green and orange curries; the latter gets its colour from the red chillies, while the former has ground coriander and green chillies as its base. The mutton and chicken thaalis come with similar accompaniments.

The à la carte menu, again mostly inspired from heirloom recipes, is equally inviting. We had a bite of the flavourful prawn rawa fry. Khanna shares a secret, "Before adding the marinade, slather the prawn with lemon juice, and leave it for half hour to help release the impure water from the fish. "Its natural flavour will stand out."

Peter Paul Souza and Adam, outside their Vile Parle home, where their cloud restaurant, The Souza's, operates
Peter Paul Souza and Adam, outside their Vile Parle home, where their cloud restaurant, The Souza's, operates

Another dish that Khanna directly lifted from the Souzas is the mackerel (bangda) cutlet. Bangda is known to have a strong, distinct, fishy smell. This one keeps it intact. "Aunty [Perpetual] prefers to boil the mackerel with the spices. But when boiled, the fish loses its taste and smell. So, I cured the fish with oil, lemon, sea salt, cumin, coriander and chilli." Curing is a technique of pickling or smoking meats before they are eaten. "When fish is cured in its own juices, it helps retain its umami flavour," thinks Khanna.

In the Souza home, pickled carrots and bombils are an everyday addition to meals. "Khanna suggested that we make a chutney inspired by our pickles. It is now served with a hand-written note from mum, with every dish that goes out from here," says Adam, who plans to open a restaurant in Bandra so that he can add pork to the menu. "In Vile Parle and Andheri, where we currently cater, pork is not a favourite, so have left it out." For those, who want to skip the Goan fare, the duo has for them a modern Indian and Pan-Asian menu, that includes everything from lasooni tikka, rogan josh and dal tadka, to stir fried chicken, chili garlic cottage cheese and hakka noodles.

Peter says his trips to Goa now hold special value because he picks dry masalas from there. "What is special about Pilerne," he says about his village in Bardez, "is that it is home to a spring, which we call the zor. Water from the zor flows into the village through the year, which is why the place is always green. And so, everything is in abundance, whether vegetables or rare spices." It's also why Pilerne locals love cooking. "In fact, the men are better cooks." With Adam's takeout venture, Peter says, he is now living the dream that was born back home, the one he abandoned—to spread the joy of feeding.

To Order 9136763818
Follow on Instagram @the_souzas_kitchen Delivery available in Andheri, Vile Parle and Santa Cruz

Top tip

Before adding the marinade, slather the prawn with lemon juice, and leave it for half hour to help release the impure water from the fish. "Its natural flavour will stand out," says Chef Vansh Khanna.

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First Published: 29 December, 2019 08:39 IST

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