It’s a lazy afternoon and I’m in the mood for some seafood. For a change, the partner-in-dine is also home on a Saturday and, more importantly, she’s awake at lunch time.
The question, as always, is where? We’ve pretty much exhausted all the Konkani restaurants around Fort; Konkan Cafe would be nice, but it’s a tad too expensive.
‘How about the Gomantak we keep saying we should try out when we pass it on the way to Thaker in Kalbadevi?’ suggests the partner-in-dine. I quickly check Zomato for the timings, menu and reviews. The first two are promising – lunch service continues till 3:30 pm and there’s plenty of fish on the menu. The latter, not so much; but hey, it’s Zomato. When did their ratings ever matter?
Half an hour later we find ourselves in, Chira Bazaar, inside a simple, smallish restaurant filled entirely with men who are briefly surprised to see a woman and a long-haired man invade their bastion. As is the case with most restaurants serving budget meals there’s nothing by way of decor. The pale beige walls seem freshly painted and brighten up the room, the laminate-topped tables are basic and spacious enough to accommodate four strangers.
Ordering from the dusty, laminated menu doesn’t take long: mori (shark) thali and bangda fry for the partner-in-dine. Bombil thali with vajri (intestine) masala for me. As you can see from the accompanying photograph, there’s not much choice. You either order a thali, or just the seafood and meat.
Mohan Borkar, who runs the eatery with two of his brothers, tells us that Gomantak was opened by his father in 1947. The Gomantak in Dadar next to Plaza (another favourite of mine) is run by his cousins and, according to him, these were the first original Gomantak eateries in the city. I’m not entirely convinced of the accuracy of his claim but it does make sense since the city grew from south to north. The Gomantak and Malvani eateries catered almost exclusively to clerical staff, shopkeepers and their employees. The highest concentration of these restaurants was naturally around the Fort and Ballard Estate area where most of the offices were located.
Borkar explained that the eatery has two sets of clientele. In the afternoon, it’s mostly from banks and modern commercial establishments that have come up in the area. This possibly explains the addition of the North Indian chana masala and alu mattar on the menu. In the evening, its staff from the neighbouring shops: most of the Goan jewellery shops which cater to Catholics and Hindus are in Chira Bazaar, which is walking distance from the Catholic enclave of Dhobi Talao. Many of them continue to be the family jewellers of rich Goan Hindus and Catholics who don’t, or never lived, in the vicinity.
The food is quite simple, but tasty. Both fried fish are coated with semolina and pan-fried, crisp on the outside, fleshy and soft on the inside. This is the first time I’m eating vajri and I quite enjoy the chewy, rubbery texture; it reminds me of shredded over-cooked mushrooms. The thick coconut masala is spicy with a sweet finish. The mori is a typical coconut milk and chilli gravy; mildly spicy and a tad sour. But the end of the meal we can feel the heat of the spices coat the inside of our mouths and lips.
We order sol kadi too, sour, not pungent, with just a faint hint of freshly crushed ginger and stalks and leaves of fresh coriander.
I imagine Gomantak is what many of the Konkani restaurants were like in the sixties and seventies, before the cuisine was ‘discovered’ and it became fashionable to eat at these budget seafood places. It’s not fancy, but it’s affordably priced honest food. Our meal, with a portion of chicken masala, came to under Rs 300.
481 JSS Road