BY KUHELI BHATTACHARYA RANE
When we started the column ‘Goa on my plate’, I had wished to cover this little known eatery named ‘Oriental-Royal Thai’. Here’s why: the place is extremely popular with the European tourists living around Calangute, it is a standalone restaurant run by an unassuming couple who concentrate on the cuisine rather than advertising, they rank highly on trip advisor, serve some of the best Thai food in the state and are almost unheard of by the local Goan foodie.
This place is notoriously difficult to find. Take the left from Redonda hotel at Calangute circle, look for Hotel Mira on the right and the oriental restaurant is literally wedged into the courtyard of this hotel. It may look dicey from the outside but I urge you forward.
By day, Oriental may look like any other shack-like joint on this ever popular tourist stretch, but by night, the glowing lanterns, candle lights and even the floating lamp in the pool help transform the place. There is even a lovely tortoise fountain by way of a water body. The staff is courteous and well informed, adding to the warmth. Oriental has enjoyed 15 seasons in Goa, but has changed its location seven times in so many years. This is the third year in this location. Yarmi, who manages the place with his wife, has been working here for seven seasons and affectionately recalls the ‘Indian guests’ they have received in Oriental. Yes, it’s true that most of their regular patrons are Brits, but the service is welcoming to all.
We began with the ever popular crowd favourites, chicken satay, green papaya salad, and tum kha soup. They are perhaps the most well known Thai flavours that we Indians know and love, it also helps in judging each of the Thai restaurants in the state against similar flavours. The papaya salad is a study in textures, the crisp papaya, crunchy peanuts all brought together by the tangy sweet tamarind and fish sauce. The satay was nice but the peanut sauce accompanying it missed some elements. The tum kha was exceptionally well balanced, the galangal and kafir lime leaves present in abundance amongst the lemongrass flavoured coconut milk.
But what really impressed us was a starter of mussels called hoi malang phi. The plating is beautiful since the mussels are served in their individual shells. Topped with fried onions, cashews and a sweet and sour sauce, these mussels were a flavour bomb, exploding with all the tantalising tastes that Thai cuisine is famous for.
Thai cuisine is notoriously easy to overdo; one missed step can throw off the delicate balance between sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter. But by using ingredients which have a natural salty sweet combination like cashew nuts or caramalised onions (which are sweet but the burnt edges carry a hint of bitterness) proves that these guys really know what they are doing.
For the mains, we opted for what Yarmi said is a favourite of a lot of their well known Goan patrons, the kaprow – a dish of steamed rice served with a spicy yet light boneless chicken curry and topped with a fried egg. The fried egg was ingenious, but I failed to see why it should be such a crowd pleaser. True it was tasty, but I like the Orientals, Thai green curry and steamed rice better.
If you are looking for something unique and truly Thai, try the steamed fish terrine. It’s a fish mousse and therefore like most mousses, lacked any texture other than smooth and almost gelatinous, but the delicate infusion of flavours and aroma of this extremely technical dish is brilliant. It takes 25 minutes to make this as it is steamed with lemon grass and kafir lime leaves in a banana leaf encasing. It was such a fine dish, I wish I had some toasted bread to ladle out this lemongrass infused fish paste onto.
For the vegetarians, they have crispy aubergines which even for a non eggplant lover was a fairly palatable and quite tasty dish. However, the stir fried tofu can be given a miss.
For desserts, we had calypso cake made by Yarmi’s wife, and it was beyond delicious. A warm crumbly pie kind of consistency, filled with succulent sweet pineapple chunks and a crunchy topping of desiccated coconut. This is the perfect tropical dessert served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and we were in food heaven.
The chocolate mousse looked dangerously decadent but turned out to be delightfully light and the tangy orange infusion married beautifully with the dark chocolate overtones.
As mentioned earlier, over 60 percent of the clientele here is foreigners, who love their steaks. Oriental is very famous amongst their patrons for the steaks, mentioned Yarmi, and we saw a number of families enjoying it. You may want to check them out for yourself.
Just like seasonal fruits and vegetables, best enjoyed in the season they are available, Oriental is open only till March this year. They reopen mid November.