By Derek Almeida
The middle-aged woman who entered the restaurant looked hungry. A fresh-lime soda with a lot of sugar would have done her good, but it was not on the menu.
Why? This was a traditional restaurant which did not serve fresh lime soda unless it was referred to as ‘nimboo pani’. The woman did not know that.
The owner of the restaurant, which went by the name of ‘The Goan’, was a generously proportioned fellow know as Chef Vishnu. He also doubled as the cook. On weekends he was a poet and on off days a writer.
The woman, who was wearing a skirt and pink blouse, signalled to the waiter who ambled to the table with a menu card. Of the eight tables only two were occupied. It was lunch time. Without looking at the menu the woman asked, “What can I get quickly?”
The waiter replied, “We have Marathi fish fry, Marathi channa masala, Marathi chicken chopsuey, Konkani dal makhani, Konkani chilly fry, Konkani fish curry, Marathi idli fry and Konkani dosa.”
The speed with which the waiter rattled out the names stunned the woman. She uttered a word that sounded like ‘huh?’ The waiter also heard it as ‘huh?’ So he rattled out the names a second time. This time the woman caught a few. “What is this Konkani chilly fry?” she asked.
“It’s quite an explosive mixture, very potent,” the waiter said, “not everybody likes it, thought they all talk about it.”
“I also noticed you have only Marathi and Konkani dishes,” the woman stated. “Are they prepared by the same cook?”
“No madam,” the waiter replied. “The Marathi dishes are prepared by a cook who did his primary education in Marathi and the Konkani dishes by a cook who did his primary education in Konkani.”
“Do you have English lamb chops with English fried potatoes?” the woman asked.
“Don’t say it loudly,” the waiter warned, “if Chef Vishnu hears you he will throw a fit.”
Chef Vishnu had apparently heard the woman because he marched out of the kitchen with the look of an assassin who had found his target. “We do not serve English lamb chops or English fried potatoes,” he thundered. “We are a traditional restaurant. We want to preserve the traditional way of life with traditional cuisine.”
“There are a lot of restaurants which serve English lamb chops and English fired potatoes,” the lady said, “Why are you being so rigid?”
“Because this is an aided restaurant,” growled chef Vishnu. “If you want your English cuisine go to an unaided restaurant.”
“Why can’t you change the menu?” the woman asked.
“Because if we move away from our traditional path we will forget who we are?” chef Vishnu shouted.
“Who are you?” the woman shouted back.
Chef Vishnu was taken aback, but the waiter was quick on his feet. “Madam, are you addressing that question to Vishnu the poet, Vishnu the writer or Vishnu the chef?”
The woman stalled. “Isn’t that one and the same person?”
“Yes, he is the same person,” the waiter said, “but he has many avatars.”
“How would I know which avatar to address?” the woman asked.
“That would depend on the weather, phases of the moon and his digestion,” the waiter shot back.
Chef Vishnu nodded in agreement. “Sometimes the poet in me fights with the writer and at times the poet and the writer fight with the chef. At times I forget who I am.”
“That is why he changes restaurants,” the waiter added.
The woman was shocked. She had never come across a chef with an identity problem. But she did not want to force the issue. “Alright, then I think I will have the Konkani chilly fry,” she said.
“Good decision madam,” said the waiter, “would you like it with Romi or Devnagiri sauce?”