Memories of Nostalgia
(Business Standard) Nilanjana S Roy
Nostalgia is over the hill where Loutolim’s lone leopard occasionally prowls, across the highway from Mr Rebello’s blue-and-yellow house (do not jump the wall without permission) and past the Raia Church. These directions are perfect for locating this shrine to one man’s passion for Goan cuisine.
Chef Fernando passed away at the age of 57, in 2010, and his wife Margarida now holds fort, her splendidly hospitable presence sweeping between the tables and the long, clean narrow kitchen at the back of the restaurant. But tucked away in the office behind the cheerfully kitschy bar are the recipes that he had gathered over the years. It’s the collective memory of the households and kitchens of Goa, the humblest pickles and everyday Konkan vegetarian dishes holding their own beside prawn meat-cakes and complex pork dishes.
From the clean simplicity of food at the shacks to the gorgeously inventive food at places like La Plage, Bomra’s and Thalassa, the excellence of the average Goan home kitchen guarantees high standards elsewhere. Nostalgia, though, is special; in this large, comfortable restaurant in Salcette far away from the beaches, Fernando was preserving the old Goan classics, without frills, without reinvention.
The menu is a poem. Alongside the usual trinity — pork sorpotel, shark ambotik, chicken cafreal — Nostalgia also offers caldo verde, a delicate Portuguese soup, veggie classics like toratchi uditmethi and ambadechem khoromb, and unusual village-style dishes like pork solantulem, cooked with dried mango and kokum. The golden-red prawn curry sings of fresh-ground spices, the fresh green bhindi in perfect counterpart to prawns cooked to tender perfection. One taste, and despite the disappointing rissoles we’d ordered as our first course, I know that all is well with Nostalgia.
Over the next few days, we climb the hill again and again, drawn back to Fernando’s legacy. What he was trying to capture is increasingly elusive; the old recipes are being forgotten; many restaurants do not offer pork or beef any longer in deference to tourist tastes. Pancakes and tandoori chicken are drowning out the classic, simple menus of the shacks, and overfishing has taken its toll, too.
One night, a Goan family comes over to Nostalgia to celebrate someone’s birthday, and we eat our beef xacuti and kingfish fry to the sound of a jazzman playing How High The Moon and Baila, as local dancers break out their best moves on the floor. Margarida stops by to tell us we can’t walk back home, it’s too late, so one of her boys will give us a ride on his bike. As I walk past Fernando’s collection of antique cooking pots and glass-stoppered soda bottles, an old gentleman grabs me and twirls me around the floor once, and someone else from the family pops a light-as-air fish fofo in my mouth.
Nostalgia attracts tourists, but this is what it really is — the place where the locals come to let their hair down, and to eat the way their grandparents once did. Across Goa, about one-and-a-half hours from Ambora, we have a date with a man who’s doing it exactly the opposite way, taking familiar home-style dishes and transforming them in dazzling, utterly original ways; but Baumra Jap’s story will keep for another column. Tonight, as the saxophonist breaks into Desafinado, and we tackle a perfect pomfret, Nostalgia is the only place I want to be.
Nilanjana S Roy is a Delhi-based writer