“There are no cooks we can hire!” exclaimed Vishal Potnis, the proprietor of Highway Gomantak, a popular award-winning Goan restaurant in Bandra upon being asked what was stopping him from expanding his lucrative business. ‘People from Goa have a laidback attitude towards life”, he said claiming that it was mostly migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that worked the kitchens in Panaji hotels. “If they can’t work in their own state you cannot expect them to work in Mumbai”, he said.
“There are only 6-7 establishments that serve Goan food in Mumbai. Malvani food on the other hand is quite popular”, said George Colasso, the manager of Goa Portuguesa, an upscale restaurant that offers the Goa experience to upwardly mobile Mumbaikars including the lilting music, the chilled beer and the seafood preparation that is unique to Goa.
Goan food is often confused with Malvani food, the dominant Konkani food in Mumbai. Potnis says that some customers arrive expecting the typical spicy flavour of Malvan and end up being disappointed.
Mr. Kishor, a career chef who manages the government run Goa Bhavan canteen talked about the differences between various kinds of Konkani food. “Goan food uses coconut as its base either as oil or seasoning. Malvani food is traditionally spicy. Udupi food uses tomato as its base”, said Kishor.
However, business is good for these joints which have carved a niche for themselves in the crowded food market. Potnis reported a footfall of 600 everyday, 70 percent of whom are regular customers. But the awareness of these restaurants is restricted to a limited clientele leaving room for the formal hotel sector to step in. Colasso said he had to turn to the informal sector for recruiting chefs since Goan chefs trained in the formal sector were difficult to come by.