Mumbai chef tells a tale of Goa and Portugal cuisines with his new outing

Updated: Feb 04, 2018, 16:51 IST | Anju Maskeri

Chef Gracian de Souza's earliest childhood memories go back to the summers he spent frolicking at the quaint Portuguese villa owned by his grandparents at Thivim, a village in Bardez, North Goa

Chef Gracian de Souza
Chef Gracian de Souza

Chef Gracian de Souza's earliest childhood memories go back to the summers he spent frolicking at the quaint Portuguese villa owned by his grandparents at Thivim, a village in Bardez, North Goa. "On Sundays, after morning mass, my family would gather around the dining table, sipping feni, listening to Jim Reeves. After that, a huge feast would be laid out, complete with soft and spongy bread called poie, tangy pork sorpotel and, my favourite, vindalho," he recalls. The large windows, a wide verandah and trademark yellow walls that defined his Goa home now find space at Porto & Poie, de Souza's first solo outing and an ode to his roots.

Prawn balchao is a fiery pickle-like sauce served with poie
Prawn balchao is a fiery pickle-like sauce served with poie

Sun, sand and sorpotel
On a windy weekday afternoon, when we step into the restaurant, nestled on the first floor of Royal Garden Hotel, we're tricked into thinking it's Goa. The sea plays peek-a-boo behind the thoroughfare that dots Juhu Tara Road and the cozy balcony area lends an aura of a Goan-Portuguese villa. "For four years, I had secretly harboured the desire to work independently but didn't know which cuisine to tap into. Having worked as a chef in London, I was familiar with a variety of European cuisines, but somehow I didn't feel motivated enough to put it into action," he says.

Vasco's Spirit comprising whiskey, amaretto and peppercorn. Pics/Nimesh Dave
Vasco's Spirit comprising whiskey, amaretto and peppercorn. Pics/Nimesh Dave

It was one evening when he was sitting at his parents' home in Orlem, Malad, eating pork vindalho that he had an epiphany. "I realised that the kind of vindalho I was eating at home was not easy to get in Mumbai. So, how about doing a Goan restaurant in a modern setting where you could get traditional flavours of Goa, but with my touch," he says. And though it was a cuisine he grew up with, the 39-year-old knew that the idea would require homework. Not one to Google recipes, he set off on a journey that would take him from hamlets like Curtorim and Riah in South Goa to Fatima and Porta in Lisbon.

Portuguese custard tart served with coffee
Portuguese custard tart served with coffee

"A lot of what we know of Goa is a product of Portuguese influence. Even the famed susegad state of mind (relaxed, laid-back attitude) that's signature to Goa is something you'll find in Portugal too. Nobody works there between 2 pm to 5 pm. The siesta is sacred," he laughs. At Sintra, he stumbled upon the Ginjinha, a Portuguese liqueur made by infusing ginja berries (sour morello cherries) in alcohol. The drink is served as a shot with a piece of the fruit at the bottom of the cup.

Semolina rolled tenderloin
Semolina rolled tenderloin

It's only when you down it that you realise why de Souza spent a week sourcing the recipe from bars in Portugal. It's potent, and almost addictive (we had three in the three hours that we spent at the restaurant). "It takes a month to prepare, so I'll serve it only on Sundays. If I have to serve it every day I'll have to fold up the business," he laughs.

Coriander and roasted peanut cake with green chilli ros
Coriander and roasted peanut cake with green chilli ros

Each cocktail served has an interesting backstory. Ode To Fado - reminiscent of the melancholic Fado music that originated in Portugal in the 1800s - is a concoction of white rum, cherry brandy, mint leaves, cranberry tea, coconut bitters and cinnamon. Drawing inspiration from the genius ill-fated Goan poet is Dom Moraes, a vodka-based cocktail. From pre-independence days is the Lisbon To Loutolim, a dark rum cocktail shaken with cherry brandy, sugarcane juice, ginger ale, orange and fig.

The menu has more than 55 dishes, and each is de Souza's "culinary narrations" of his favourite Goan and Portuguese dishes. "There's no such thing as an authentic Goan dish. For example, I have 15 different recipes of the vindaloo, considering that different families add their own signature touch. In any rich culture, the same dish evolves over time," he says.

Not without the vegetarians
In addition to the seafood and meat dishes, we also find a generous section of vegetarian Saraswat Brahmin dishes like khatkhatem (a gravy made with seasonal vegetables like pumpkin, jackfruits, plantain, drumsticks), mushroom xacuti and jackfruit stew. "I felt that bringing Saraswat cuisine into the picture would introduce a new dimension to Goan fare. Moreover, many people in Mumbai are adopting a vegetarian diet out of choice. It's no longer about religion," he says.

The recipes have been sourced from his Goan Saraswat friends, and include underrated vegetables like cabbage, tendli (ivy gourd) and pumpkin. The most pronounced difference between Goan Catholic and Saraswat cuisine is the use of certain ingredients like vinegar. While the former use it extensively in their food, the latter leave it out completely. "For Saraswats, the key ingredients are mustard, kokum and curry leaves," says de Souza who once Djed at popular clubs in Mumbai. But here, there's no EDM race. Instead, he promises to bring in bands that will belt out jazz and music from the '80s. Good food, strong alcohol and slow music. How else do you spell Goa?

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