In these turbulent times, can you imagine that you can taste authentic Goan Khatkhate, Sannas (Goan idlis), Bebinca, Fish Recheado, Prawns Xeque Xeque, Samarachi Kodi (dry prawn curry) that too in Sindh province in Pakistan?
The lingering taste of yummy Patolea (pronounced as pathayo), Goan Khatkhate and Sannas (Goan idlis) that I tried (I’m a vegetarian and there are not many vegetarian items in Goan cuisine) at a Goan restaurant at Larkana in 2010 will stay with me forever.
It was my academic visit to Pakistan to deliver lectures on Islamic Theology at five premier Pakistani varsities, viz, Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi (Sindh), Quetta and Peshawar. I was there for more than a month.
Being pretty au fait with the geography of Pakistan, I thought of visiting Mohan Jodaro, district Larkana in Sindh province. In spite of being a vegetarian, I have hardly faced any difficulty in finding veg food anywhere in the world, barring a few parts of South East Asia and North Africa.
Nowhere in Pakistan, one faces any difficulty in finding veg restaurants as, contrary to the general belief (in India), many Pakistani Muslims are vegetarians! The former President Asif Zardari was a vegetarian.
So were Mehdi Hasan and the legendary batsman Syed Zaheer Abbas Rizvi. I found South Indian outlets, run by Pakistani Tamil settlers, but I never dreamt of coming across a Goan restaurant in Pakistan’s Sindh region showing the name — Goan Flavours, written in Urdu and English.
It was a surprise of surprises for me. The restaurant appeared very clean and it had a unique aura. The moment I entered, I saw a gentleman reading an Urdu daily.
He was Lazaro de Cunha. A Goan reading Urdu newspaper was a rare sight! His great-grandfather Joaquim came to Sindh province along with other young Goan footballers, who were offered jobs by the British General Daniel MaCpherson.
Goans, like Bengalis, are natural soccer players and British cantonments in Sindh looked for good native footballers to compete with the British soldiers and officers.
That was in 1899 and Joaquim was a 23-year-old at that time. He fell in love with that region and despite having an option, he preferred to stay back in Pakistan after Partition but didn’t sever ties with his Goan roots and relatives, who were in India.
Joaquim bought the eatery from his friend Franklin Cutinho and shortened it to ‘Goan Flavours’ (earlier, Cutinho’s Goan Flavours) as one Muslim astrologer told him that the ‘Flavours’ was lucky for him. It indeed was! The moment De Cunha saw me, he got to know that I wasn’t from Pakistan.
In chaste Urdu, he inquired which part of India I hailed from. His language had no trace of Goan Hindi/ Konkani or Bombay lingo. Though his Urdu had a slight Sindhi influence, it was very fluent as he studied in an Urdu medium school!
He narrated that his great-grandfather had a knack for cooking and he got permission to open an eatery at the cantonment area for the British army.
Soon his Goan Fish Curry, Shark Ambot Tik, Sorak, Sorpotel etc. became famous among the locals and the officers. An English Colonel Sebastian Turner advised him to open a restaurant serving Goan delicacies. Joaquim had a kiosk in Shikarpur, Sindh.
Thus Larkana’s ‘Goan Flavours’ came into being in 1907. In the beginning, he used to get spices and ingredients from Goa but after partition, many Konkani Muslims migrated to Pakistan and they opened their eateries in almost all major cities of
Pakistan. I ordered Sorak and eggless Bebinca (a multilayered cake made of coconut milk). The taste was not just authentic, it was fabulous. By the way, this eatery served pork till 1977 as pork is integral to Goan cuisine and was one of only two restaurants in Pakistan serving pork.
The other one was now defunct ‘Rustom’s Inn’ at the heart of Karachi which was owned by The Dawn’s famous columnist, the late Ardeshir Irani. When Gen. Zia ul-Haq came into power, he ordered that pork wouldn’t be served anywhere in Pakistan.
Having travelled all over the world, I dare say, the Goan veg fare that I had in Larkana was on a par with the very best that’s served at authentic Goan restaurants in Panjim, Bombay and Poona. Lazaro told me that the locals loved Goan non veg items and were nuts about Goan prawn preparations.
It’s worthwhile to mention that one gets to relish the best prawns, lobsters and shrimps at Karachi and Brisbane ports. Karachi prawns are quite big and naturally pink.
I hasten to add that Portuguese introduced prawns to the subcontinental palate. The Portuguese word Camarao for prawn is still in use in Goa and Goan diaspora outside India.
I also observed that the restaurant was abuzz with customers and they were gorging on Goan delicacies. The Goan owner also told me that he and his family never had any problem with the government and local administration.
He visits Goa every alternate year and meets his folks who are scattered in Panjim, Madras (sorry, no Chennai for me), Bangalore, Calcutta and Poona.
When he came to know that I came from Poona, he was very happy and told me that he visited the city twice but never liked the Goan fare available at famous joints in Poona, patronised by the lovers of Goan food.
It was indeed a great meeting and a lovely treat from the genial Goan gentleman, who didn’t charge. But there’s still a twist left in the story. When I visited the place six months ago, the famous restaurant shut shop only to be poised to reopen in Karachi from January 1, 2020 with the famous name unchanged.