This post is a part of the What’s On My Plate series
Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva
One of the most recommended dishes at Mustard is the delectable 'Smoked Fish'
There’s something about the village of Sangolda that one can’t quite put one’s finger on. It’s charming as always, but no longer the sleepy hamlet it used to be. Set along the popular CHOGM Road that leads to the busiest part of Goa – the cluttered Calangute-Baga strip, this village is now rather buzzing; however, in an other-worldly manner. Here, little (and not so little) houses come alive; each one with an establishment ensconced within its walls, all with a story to tell. It is one of these interesting places that we discuss today.
There’s a quaint restaurant in Sangolda, called Mustard, which is the brainchild of Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh, who after successful careers in retail and hospitality spanning over decades, decided to give shape to their shared passion for food and providing unique experiences by creating their perfect restaurant. The Bengali menu at the restaurant has been curated by Pritha Sen, a renowned chef and food historian. Meeting Pritha, for me, was an almost deja-vu-esque experience. Growing up, I attended what was (then) classified as Goa’s finest hallowed hall of learning, ‘Manovikas Engish Medium High School’. The Hindi teacher at the school, the legendary Shantibhala Ghosh, was not a lady to be trifled with; although one could tell that she had all the potential to be mushy, beneath that firm exterior. Pritha is most reminiscent of that, in terms of both demeanour and appearance. Another thing that they both share is a passion for what they do, and in Pritha’s case, this is amply evident from the food on display at Mustard.
There is also a French section of the menu, curated by French chef Gregory Bazire, who is no stranger to Goa; and who has brought forth his expertise to offer the comfort of old favourites, while also innovating to delight diners with his creations. All the dishes on the restaurant’s menu are bound together by the unique zing that comes from mustard – whether as an ingredient, a flavour, or even a garnish. However, it was the Bengali bit of things that most intrigued me, and it is indeed to Bengal that I defer all reverence with regard to this given meal.
One of Pritha’s most recommended dishes at restaurant is the 'Smoked Fish'. This dish is replete with history, having been born aboard a historic steamer that used to ply on the Padma river in what was once ‘Undivided Bengal’, it is marinated in mild flavours with just a hint of mustard powder and mustard oil; and smoked in the traditional way with puffed rice, jaggery and husk. Personally, I absolutely love it, with its perfect blend of aromatics and flavours, and a smokiness that was just on point.
Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva
A series of tasting portions of a main course that included my beloved Chingri Maachher Malaikari
Another starter that similarly aims to impress, is the 'Shammi Kebab', which is considered an intrinsic part of Bengali cuisine today thanks to deeply entrenched Muslim influences on its food. This kebab literally melts in your mouth, and is made from finely minced mutton ground to a paste along with fragrant spices...the mint dip that it is served with is perfect, in terms of accompaniment.
Let us talk about my tryst with romance with a prawn…a story that should simply be titled – 'Chingri Maachher Malaikari'. Okay, at the end of the day, my roots lie in Goa, and I can spot a good curry if it were but a dot on the very distant horizon. This one was right in my face, wagging a beckoning finger and all. To sum it up in one word alone, I’d just leave it at ‘spectacular’. According to folklore, this king prawn curry of legend (in Bengal) travelled all the way from Malaysia to Bengal via the ancient maritime trading routes. Pritha has a massive repository of tales of the lost days of Bengal, and she has a moment to spare while she bustles about in the kitchen, working on dishing out that perfect meal, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask her for the back story on every single dish you’re sampling, so that you understand all that has happened over time, for that dish to arrive at your table.
For those of you who are as familiar with Parsi cuisine as I am, the Bengalis have a dish that is most dear to them, not unlike a 'Patrani Macchi'. The 'Maachher Paturi' is a testament to the usage of banana leaves since these leaves release a flavour that makes each dish unique. Where the two aforementioned dishes are different though, is the contrasting use of mustard paste which acts as the dominant flavour in the Bengali variant. Our fish was a Sea Betki, which is not commonly associated with Bengali cuisine, and to be fair, it was a distant second after following the ever-so-impeccable 'Chingri Maachher Malaikari'.
Pritha continued to ply us with fabulous fare that sang songs of her people, and the next dish that is also a Bengali staple, was the 'Kosha Mangsho', a rich and very thick mutton curry, which has many flavours that tease the palate, as each one vies for top billing on the flavour charts. Onion and cardamom are predominant flavours here, with (what is now a given) a hint of mustard (although this is more likely to be an oil, rather than a paste or seeds, outright. Quite literally translating to ‘slow-cooked in its own juices’, this is considered a marquee dish at any event it’s presented at. This one tied for second place, along with the Maachher Paturi, and I now realise that I need to join a support group called ‘Chingri Maachher Malaikari Anonymous’.
And then it was time for my favourite part of the meal…dessert. Two dishes were on the cards – the 'Guava Cheesecake' and the 'Pantua'. The former was self-explanatory, really; and if you love guava and cheesecake, you’ll be thoroughly enchanted by this well-crafted final course offering. However, as much as I love cheesecake, I’m not a big guava fan. With the buzz surrounding this dessert, I simply had to try it, and I wasn’t converted to the guava camp. My fellow diners, however, were besotted and that made me happy, since it meant that I had the other dessert to myself, which I was in love with. 'Pantua' is quite simply a frankfurter shaped, Bengali version of a 'Gulab Jamun'. The primary difference between the two is the greater use of cottage cheese in 'Pantua', making it melt in one’s mouth much faster.
I’m completely sold on Bengali food, courtesy a solitary meal at the hands of the good people at Mustard. If you take my word for it, mosey on down, and you will too. And if, nay when, you do, I’d like to use a little of my newfound Bengali linguistic skills to wish you the finest of meals; with a khabarţi upobhog korun.
I ate much more than I could go into detail about, but these dishes were the stars and heroes of my meal.
There are some fabulous cocktails and mocktails on the Mustard menu, that also have great Bengali leanings.
The average cost of a meal for two, minus the libations, is ₹2,000 (at the time of publishing this review).
How to get there
House Number 78, Mae De Deus Vaddo, CHOGM Road, Sangolda, Goa 403511
Food is a huge part of any culture and for me, chancing upon a good meal is synonymous with having a great day. The What’s On My Plate series of posts is where I discuss food, great places to eat, and anything gastronomically moving. This could be anything from a great place to eat, to an obscure kind of food, to an origin story. After all, there is no love like the love of eating.