Mumbai Food: Say hello to the first East Indian restaurant in the city
first in mid-day >> A conduit between the uninitiated and the community's culture, Mumbai's first East Indian restaurant offers food that harks back to a simpler time and flavours
The year was 1946. At the time, suburban Mumbai was sprawling and verdant. Mud tracks served as roads and watermelons grew on the patch of land that has now been transformed into a smooth, concrete runway from which planes take off into unseen and unknown worlds.
"The watermelons that grew on our land were talked about a lot because they were so big you could eat it from side-to-side," recalls Valencia Misquita, while flattening a crease on her salmon pink tunic as she sits across us on a curvy teak chair at a table adorned with a lacey vintage tablecloth inside Mumbai's first standalone East Indian restaurant.
Fruit coconut pancake
Hospitality isn't new to the Misquita family. They have been in the industry for 36 years. But catering to the city's diners isn't so much at the crux of this venture's motives, as fostering a hub for the community's representatives is. For people who once owned vast expanses of land - including 180 acres that the then Government of India took over at a return rate of Rs 1 per square-yard paid to the family for redevelopment and which is today part of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport - and has been grappling with encroachment since Independence, the East Indians remained understandably relegated to the background.
Potato chops. Pics/Sameer Markande
But an awakening is taking place, as Trevor, one of the brothers, points out. "We have been very complacent, but with pressure from different quarters, we are beginning to assert ourselves," he shares. And the pressure he refers to continues to manifest itself in the form of the insidious takeover of isolated hamlets (colloquially known as gaothans) spread across Vile Parle, Bandra and other locales of the city, which the community is trying to counter with initiatives like the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat, an association the Misquita family is a part of.
And so, it comes as no surprise that an effort to familiarise Mumbaikars with the community's history and struggles through food has at its forefront, chef Michael Swamy, a fervent voice for the clique. And the fact that this restaurant is at its heart an endeavour harking back to, as the tagline for it suggests, "forgotten flavours" (possibly an indication towards societal amnesia about an entire people) comes through most significantly in the decision to hand the baton to their truest representatives.
Michael Swamy; Brenda D'souza
Which in this case is head chef Brenda D'souza. Essentially a home-cook who has been working in the Misquita kitchen for a decade, D'souza says she will continue working for the other three households she has committed to through the day. That and the income her husband gets home from working as an auto-rickshaw driver should hopefully suffice. "I have a teenage boy and a girl and I want to educate them," she shares, after whisking up fluffy fugeas (Rs 100), light and piquant moile (Rs 450), succulent fruit pancakes (Rs 200) ensconcing a dry coconut and jaggery filling, mince-stuffed pan rolls (Rs 250) and luscious potato chops (Rs 250) that evoke the sense of comfort characteristic only to a home-cooked meal.
(From left) Valencia Misquita and Trevor Misquita
But is cooking for a rolling set of guests and working in a professional set-up overwhelming for D'souza? "No, it's much the same," she tells us shyly. "We will be roping in three more home cooks because they actually know our food the best, so why go anywhere else?" Swamy explains, which is when our attention turns towards a wall sporting a laminated banner depicting a picturesque sunset.
It forces us to dwell on the restaurant's name, Eastern Sunset. But call it what you will, what does an eatery serving as a conduit between the unaware and the East Indians, a culinary haven for regional food and medium to uplift the downtrodden from the community, say? That the sun, hereon, can only rise in the east.
OPENS: Today, 7 pm to 11.30 pm
AT: Avion Hotel, Vile Parle East.
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