Florentine: The place for chicken cafreal

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Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ

Saligao is a village celebrated for its picturesque church, numerous eminent personalities and more. The restaurant is frequented by those who want to try out the chicken cafreal at Florentine and regulars who keep coming back for more.

In 1985, Antonio D’Costa returned from Bahrain after working as a chef. His wife used to sell local cashew feni which she would get from her maternal home. D’Costa wanted to keep busy, thus the simple idea of starting a local joint, more like a bar, became a reality.

“My grandfather applied for a license and began serving liquor and a few Goan dishes. Chicken cafreal and mussels rawa fry were the highlights back then,” says 27-year-old Hubert, the third-generation who is running Florentine.

Having studied hotel management and worked at the Grand Hyatt, Hubert decided that it was better to take the family-run business in the right direction. Hubert’s father Florence Caetano worked as a chef at Hotel Mandovi but quit his job within two years to help his father scale new heights once they witnessed the craze that ‘chicken cafreal’ attracted. Caetano who has let his son take over recalls how at that time he would go out to shop for raw materials on his Bajaj Chetak.

From ordering five whole chickens between 900 grams and 100 grams 34 years ago, to ordering 300 chickens today and more during the season, Hubert says that the popularity has grown only because of their consistency and quality, despite market dynamics and the quality of raw materials.

“Some people complain that the cafreal is spicy, but there’s nothing wrong with the masala and quantity we use, sometimes it has to do with the chillies available in the market,” he says, before adding that in order to cut the spice, which is virtually not possible after marinating the meat, they began serving rawa fried cafreal wherein the marinated chicken is coated with rawa and then fried.

On being asked if the chicken cafreal is cooked in lard, which is what many people say, he laughs and says: “No, it isn’t. Those are just rumours.”

What was initially a small place covered with palm leaves and resembling a shack now has two levels for people to dine, with a capacity of 140 covers. From beginning the day with chicken to ending it with chicken, Hubert tells us that even though he doesn’t want to, he makes it a point to check the servings to ensure everything tastes fine.

“The cafreal masala is unique and will never match up to the other recipes people follow. In fact, till date we do not allow the staff in the kitchen to prepare the masala. What used to be done by my father is now being done by me,” he says. Thus, Florentine has been shut for business when the family is on vacation.

Inacio D’Souza, Hubert’s maternal uncle is around making sure everything is in order as the restaurant is busy by 7 p.m. Having worked in the Gulf in the same line, he is supporting Hubert in his endeavour to scale new heights and bring about a positive change.

The homely atmosphere is such that three employees (more like family to the D’Costa’s) have worked at the restaurant for several years. Sebastian D’Souza who has completed close to three decades here tells us that he began working even before Hubert was born and though at that time it was a bar, today it’s a full-fledged restaurant. “Along with me Tony D’Souza has completed over 30 years, and Vincent Rodrigues 26 years, which only means that we love this environment. Since we watched the place grow from scratch and got so attached, we never considered leaving to work aboard a ship or anywhere else,” he says.

“We have now started serving cocktails and mocktails and take party orders too. Soon we will add mutton to the menu,” he says, while holding out a few feedback forms of people who’ve frequented the place for the last 30 years.

Restaurateur from Calangute, Anthony Lopes has been a regular here for about 30 years and says: “Florentine is very affordable for a middle class family of four, especially when taxes are over burdening us. I understand that there could be a variance in the taste of the food served, due to production personnel changing, but I love the cafreal there.”

It has been so popular that several politicians including the late chief minister Manohar Parrikar would be found dining here with his friends, and we are told that like other Goans who take parcels abroad and freeze it, Parrikar too would order cafreal to take back to New Delhi, during his stint as defence minister.

From local celebrities, to several TV and film personalities, many visit Florentine for its chicken cafreal and the several Goan fish delicacies.