Mumbai foodies, this is a food festival not to be missed if you love Goan food. When the expert hands and minds of the Executive Chef Mukul Jha and his team work together to put forth this exclusive Goan buffet before you, they do ensure that every morsel of what you eat is authentic in its true sense. Chef Mukul has put his best step forward in perfecting each dish served in the ongoing Goan Food Festival 2013, which has started from the 14th of October and will be there till the 25th of October 2013 (7–11.30 pm) at the Four Points by Sheraton, Vashi. The buffet menu has been priced reasonably at INR 1000/-. For the same buffet with your choice of alcohol added, the price would be just INR 1300/-. To enhance the whole experience, the place has been decorated with paper crabs and artificial sea creatures, colourful hats, sunglasses and straw baskets. And of course there will be a live band, so that you feel like you are in one of those Goan dinner cruises. How cool is that!
To give you an example of the quality of food you will get, let me tell you that all the spice blends or masalas are procured from the best of the spice-blend-makers in Goa, as the Chef is very particular of the spices used for making these dishes. According to him, select spices are processed in a different way in Goa. Moreover, the Goan climate makes even the simplest of the spices to taste much better than what we get in Mumbai. To get the right texture and taste of the actual rustic Goan cuisine, the right blends of spices was important. Although he has used these procured spices for cooking up an array of mouth-watering dishes, what impressed me the most is that he has not gone overboard on spices either. He has moderated the spice usage to a comfortable level, unlike the actual Goanese food which is on the spicier side, so that even the expats and children enjoy the food to its epitome.
Some people go to Goa just to enjoy the seafood. As Goa is famous for its variety of fresh seafood, the chef has geared up with a number of seafood dishes in the menu, and wherever possible, he has used boneless fish for the guests’ convenience.
For those who want to know the details of the menu, here it is. They have four starters (two are vegetarian), nine main courses (four are vegetarian dishes), two kinds of rice (biryani and steamed rice), three main desserts and five or six additional desserts (coconut-based). What’s more exciting is that there are two Goan-style live stations which will cook Goan fare just in front of your eyes. In these live stations, there will be a variety of meats and selected veggies. There will also be 8–10 kinds of Goan gravies or sauces. It is upto you on how you want to mix and match your favourite Goanese gravy with your choice of meat or vegetables. Doesn’t that sound exciting?
I had the opportunity to taste some of the dishes of this scrumptious menu, with Mukul Jha himself (Executive Chef), Venkatesh Shanbhag (Director of Sales and Marketing), Sumit Kant (Vice President and General Manager) and Arbind Singh (Executive Director of Food and Beverages). I had Caldeen Veg Balls and Chicken Sukkem as starters. The Caldeen veg balls have a wonderful chemistry between Cafreal spices and cottage cheese (paneer), shaped into balls using bread. This is something really interesting to try out. Although, in general, I have never been quite fond of Cafreal dishes, I liked the veg balls so much that I popped in almost half a dozen of these!
The chef explained that chicken sukkem is chicken cooked and made sukkha or without gravy. The meat was perfectly tender and the very look of the dish made me hungry. The brownish colour of the chicken sukkem (owing to the addition of soy sauce) was so pleasing to the eyes and the flavours of garlic, coconut and chilli mingled well in this starter dish. The flavour does have a South-Indian connection, but yet it is different from a South-Indian chicken dish, as the spices are mild here and fresh coconut has been used instead of dry coconut, so as to make the dish slightly sweet. This sweetness is well-balanced with the soy sauce’s sourness, resulting into a “must-try” chicken sukkem!
I tried the Olambi Cashew Masala as the first dish in the main course. Flavoured with curry leaves, this is a dish which uses special spices to get the best out of a combination of cashewnuts, vegetables and mushrooms. The addition of vegetables is the chef’s personal touch to the dish and the outcome was satisfying to the tastebuds.
Do try the Prawn Balchao for sure. Balchao, which is actually a Goanese sour pickle, can be made in advance and kept in jars. As I tasted the first spoon of the popular Goan balchao, I realized that this is the best balchao I ever had! The sourness is very comfortable in this richly coloured dish: the dilution is just magical!
Chicken Xacuti and Pomfret Caldeen followed next, and these were great with some steamed rice. The caldeen gravy was creamy and comforting, with the humble coconut milk into the gravy.
The Goan Prawn Biryani was just beyond the definition of deliciousness. If you are a seafood-lover and a foodie, you just can’t afford to skip this biryani, come what may! Unlike the Hyderabadi biryani, this biryani has mustard, curry leaves, coconut milk and even coconut oil. Also, the Goan prawn biryani doesn’t have any essence, like kewra and rose water. The biryani spices are Ground on a stone-grinder and then infused into the biryani at the right stage of cooking. I am a fan of this biryani now and would love to visit Four Points by Sheraton again and again for this. This biryani will not make you feel bloated. It is a perfect and very different kind of biryani: strongly recommended to try at The Goan Food Festival 2013!
Who knew that Goanese desserts have so much variety? The Bibinca is a tricky thing to try and it requires years of expertise for this. There are people in Goa who just make bibinca since many years and it remains a family secret in many Goanese households till today. This festival will let you taste the most original bibinca you have ever tasted, I bet! And why not? The bibinca has been procured from a famous authentic Goan shop in Mumbai and is undoubtedly one of the star desserts in this festival.
Goanese cuisine uses liquor in some of the dishes. But the chef didn’t use alcohol in any of the dishes so that strictly non-alcoholic people can enjoy the food too. For example, the dessert Sananas actually demands the use of Toddy in the recipe, but the chef decided to exclude it, so that the dish becomes generic. Now, sananas is actually eaten as breakfast in Goa and it is originally savoury. But the chef decided to make it sweet and I am glad that he did! It is almost like a mini idli, with rice and coconut as the ingredients. In order to make the dry sananas more interesting, Chef Mukul has served it drizzled generously with citrus juices.
I also tried Karwas, which is less sweet than the bibinca and sananas. My suggestion would be to go for karwas first and then the rest of the desserts. This will give full justice to the flavour of this dessert.
The actual menu in the Goan Food Festival has many more dishes. In the starters, they have a variety of Western European salads. There are three different sets of menu, and on the last day, there will be a blend of all the menus. In the soup section, do try the Canja de Gallina (a traditional chicken broth spiked up with green chillies, diced peppers and vegetables) and the Caldo Verde Soup (vegetarian).
Some of the starters which will be served here are Rawas Mandvi, Kaju Kothimbir Vade, Bombil Masala Fry, Corn Methi Tikki and Chicken Rechado Fry (a tamarind-based dish). In the main course, you will have the Xacutis, Balchaos, Caldeens and Rechados. Prawns, clams, pomfret, betki, surmai will be cooked in different authentic-style gravies. Beef and pork will also be there in the menu. Try the Goan Style Beef Steak with Saffron Cream and Pork Vindaloo, if you are okay with pork or beef. There are other interesting pork and beef dishes as well, so do experiment! The vegetarians would also have ample choices, with dishes like Vegetable Balsamii Biryani, Red Pumpkin and Raw Banana Rechado, Kadwe Walachi Usal and Cashewnut Sahalchi Bhaji.
In desserts, as I said earlier, bibinca is just divine! Try the old-style Goan Dates Kandulim Cake too, which is an authentic Goan sponge cake. The chef has made it more tempting to the eyes by garnishing it with dates and chocolate.
Apart from the ongoing Goan festival (upto 25th of October), do try out the amazing Sunday brunch at the Four Points by Sheraton. With a delectable spread, along with other features like free pool dips, caricature, magic show and tattoo, it can’t get any better. They also have weekend brunches on Saturday, with live band and great food! In addition, every Friday, there is a theme dinner (like Lebanese, Mexican or Italian), where there is live band (piano) to make your Friday dinners even more cheerful!
(For reservations, please call up at +91-22 27817777/6158777.)