The first installment outlined the city’s café culture and covered the iconic Café Central. We survey now the pioneering houses of the genre that are still active and thriving.
The menu at all these cafés has much in common. They distinguish themselves by their house specialties and through variations on familiar dishes. Panjimites are deadly serious about their cafés and brand loyalty is fierce, with affiliations carrying seamlessly over generations within families.
A few of the older cafés have now adopted a two-tier seating (and pricing) arrangement by adding an air-conditioned annexe. The comfort it provides in the summer months is welcome, but to those of us weaned on the originals, the new upgrades have diminished some of the spirit and character of an earlier era.
As mentioned in the earlier post, Café Central no longer supports a sit-down setting. Café Tato is today the top dog, located only a few steps away from the old Café Central site. It was founded in 1913 by Keshav Govind Dhuri from the village of Nerul, and is the oldest of the surviving cafés. It began as Hindu Upahar Griha, which was later dropped in favour of “Tato,” the founder’s cognomen. Today the enterprise is run by the grandson, Pradip Govind Dhuri.
Café Tato is internationally known for its bhaji-puri. See this and drool. (Note: the t’s in Tato are soft, the ‘a’ is long, and the second syllable ‘to’ is phonetically similar to the Engish ‘raw’.)
Café Aram – earlier known as Café Remanso – came online c. 1945. It is the birthplace of the world’s greatest batata-vada. I’m sorry to say that, all the hoopla notwithstanding, the vada-pão from Bombay is a thundering flop. The ability to tell a good batata-vada from a great batata-vada is what separates the men from the boys. The key to the batata-vada is encrypted not in the filling (as is commonly and mistakenly imagined) but in its shell. The herbs & spices, thickness, consistency, coefficient of porosity, and the overall softness of the coat taken together are vital to the success of a batata-vada. My research has shown that only Café Aram meets the highest parametric standards in this regard. The Bombay batata-vada with its thin, wimpy shell stands no chance against the genuine Goan article.
Café Prakash was founded in 1955 by Vasudev B. Sakhalkar, and named after his son Prakash who is now in charge. This is the watering hole of Goan journalists (known locally as patracars) who divide their time between the café and work (95% café, 5% work).
Café Bhonsle was established in 1920 by Rama Bhonsle. The family legacy is today handled by his grandsons. Specialties here include mix-bhaji with chapati, and the piquant mirsang (batter fried hot chili pepper).
The final pick is Café Real (the Portuguese ‘Real,’ meaning royal), founded in 1946 by Gajanan Shirodkar, and celebrated for its exceptional bhaji-puri.