Corfu in Greece may not exactly be similar to Goa but obviously for Mariketty Grana, it struck the right chord and welcomed her. Small wonder then she made it her home and started Thalassa, a Greek taverna in Vagator, a must-go-to place on every visitor’s list.
Always keen to give Mumbaikars a taste of authentic Greek food, which she felt “they were missing”, this matriarch of Greek food, and owner-cum-head chef, has finally opened her second outpost in India in Khar, off Carter Road, after having a presence in Goa for ten years. After having tested the waters in Mumbai with a successful pop-up at Olive Mahalaxmi racecourse, Mumbai for six months in 2013, Grana is “hopeful” people in this city are now ready for her food, as “the younger generation is well-travelled and experimental”.
Why the delay? “We knew it would be hard to find a view that matched the one at Thalassa, Goa. Mumbai being a city that is so busy and chaotic, I was keen to find a spot where people could get away from their busy lives, where time slowed down over good food and wine and just for a couple of hours you escape your hectic lifestyle. Finding a spot that embodied all this, was difficult to find but now when the timing was right, it all fell into place,” Grana explains.
When Grana set up Thalassa, one of her objectives was to show that there’s more to Greek cuisine than the done-to-death Greek salad. The Thalassa menu thus, boasts of an exhaustive variety of authentic Greek dishes, from saganaki to gyros, and lamb kebabs to moussakas, to cater to every palate. There’s lots of meat and sea food of course, but abundant choices for vegetarians too.
Whether it is taking orders during rush hours, or supervising the dish before it leaves the kitchen or smashing plates on the floor doing the traditional Greek dance, Grana is completely involved and enjoys every minute of being at her taverna. “It is my passion that keeps me going,” she avers.
Food is something she was attracted to ever since she can remember, as her father ran a restaurant in Corfu and later her sister. A trained chef, she has made use of her family’s recipes to serve gourmets, the best of Greek food. And she does not compromise on the ingredients used either. “I make my own feta or import it if I have to, but use only the real thing,” she declares.
She grew up eating a lot of fresh food, varieties of cheese and wine — all things that Corfu is synonymous with. And by introducing these elements in Thalassa, Grana ensures, you savour a bit of Greece in India.
Intuitive and ready to experiment, Grana actually decided to start Thalassa in Goa ten years ago, based on her gut feeling, after figuring out that her kebabs and wraps, which she sold at stalls at the night markets in North Goa, were immensely popular. “Greek food is comfort food that nourishes the soul and Greek cuisine like Indian, has its basis in flavoursome ingredients like garlic, tomatoes, onions, lemon and fresh herbs. How can you go wrong with that?” she points out.
Of course, the initial years were not easy. It was Grana’s determination and grit that kept her going. She recalls, “I was a single mother in a foreign country, there was a language barrier. But when your mind is made up and you are focused on your path nothing is a problem. Just a hurdle you have to get over and I did.”
Reminiscing about her coming to India she says, “I was in search for a new adventure. Circumstances at that point in life along with cosmic forces seemed to conspire to bring me here. I was backpacking around India and was drawn to sunny Goa and the energy of the place just kept me here. It was like love at first sight.”
Her energy belies her 54 years and Mariketty Grana can be on her feet all day without complaining. All because she enjoys her work and in fact does not view it as a job or chore. Every aspect of it is done straight from the heart and it shows. She knows most of her guests in Goa personally, remembers their preferences and for the new ones, is happy to guide them. But one thing she never does, even on request — Indianise her food. She prefers to keep it authentic. And after a few visits, guests get used to her food and enjoy it. “After all my food is made with love and olive oil,” she jokes.
She is happy to hire local talent and has trained them to be the best in their field. “There is talent everywhere. Anything can be taught if the person is willing to learn,” she says, adding, "I only like my waiting staff to be able to explain what a dish is to a guest who may be a first-timer.”
Having lived in Goa for over two decades, Grana loves Indian food. “Indian food is delicious and like Greek food can also be very comforting. I love the complexity of the spices and the depth of flavour that develops when cooked right. My favourite dishes are Kerala style curries and parathas,” she confesses.
Thalassa is clearly a product of her passion, love for food and a desire to live in Goa. “And yes, there is a spiritual connection too, with Goa,” Grana says, and heads off.
Mini Ribeiro is a food writer and critic. Follow her blog here.
Updated Date: Dec 18, 2016 08:53:48 IST