You know that feeling when something is not quite right and you cannot throw a dart at what it is? I have had that feeling for a few days now, ironically just as things are finally settling in with my food tour start-up. It’s a feeling that hits you like an invisible but sinister spice, making you sweat and twitch anxiously, masking itself behind other more obviously visible ingredients on the plate, driving you over the edge. One antagonizingly minuscule bite at a time.
There might even be tears. Tears that flow without singular reason, but rather, a murky muffled wail of reasons that you dare not disentangle.
I was wiping my eyes with the back of my hand like a kindergartener who had tumbled off of the school slide and was embarrassed, in pain and in desperate need of a blanket to cover herself up from rude pointing fingers and sniggering faces. One of the Goan dishes at Treat in Karama had dealt me a lethally spiced hand. But I didn’t know which one. It was a deliberate torturous play that went first for my tongue, then my facial taps, then my throat, and finally my upper abdomen. But in my brash attempt to taste everything that was on the table, all of it cooked with true Goan-style love and care, I continued gambling through the dishes until there was nothing left to lose—except the faint hope of consuming anything other than yoghurt and bananas for dinner.
But how I wept! I wept into the crunchy Chicken Potato Chop dusted with crackly semolina. The impossibly crisp fritter hatched into a bundle of squishy potatoes and chicken coated with fresh coriander paste and masalas—peppery masalas that might have been guilty of turning my flood taps on?
I wept over the Pomfret Racheido that appeared looking like a bloody crime scene.
The skin was smeared with a pasty Racheido masala that had the deadly hue of Tabasco but turned out to be as meek as ketchup. Soft mild flakes of Pomfret soaked up the different layers of Racheido flavour—the sour astringency of vinegar, the sweetness of sugar, and the bitterness of Kashmiri chillis whose ferocious red appearance often barks louder than it bites. The harmless dish was all flavour but no heat worthy of tears. It tasted of innocence.
I wept as I reached out for the Prawn Caldin, repeatedly seeking refuge in the sweet, coconut-infused curry and its resident pink prawns. Soaked up with triangles of blistered tandoori roti (though fluffy buns on the neighbouring table might have served as more absorbent dipping companions), this curry was my favourite of the lot. It was sweet, creamy and delicate with the fleshy bite of prawns curled around their papery tails. S.O.S. Caldin.
The glistening red Kingfish Curry stared back at my glistening red face. I had pushed it away after a bite or two, the kingfish somewhat too fishy for my taste. But I resented those two bites of the violently-coloured dish—they might not have been my cup of curry, but had they maliciously buried flecks of red pepper somewhere in my mouth? Somewhere where they weren’t being washed away? Somewhere where they could unleash an uncontrollable stream of facial fluids into a swathe of unappetizing tissue papers across the table?
It was all really quite inconvenient. I love Goan flavours with its medley of Portuguese and Indian influences, and Treat had this simple home-style take on the dishes that I’d like to have savoured without feeling like I was self-combusting internally through the meal. This inconvenience was no reflection on the food but on my spice threshold—a threshold that is humiliatingly low.
The Chicken Cafreal looked venomously green right from first glance at the tiny menu thumbnail.
Fat bone-in cuts of chicken and caramelized potato slices were caked with the same herby coriander paste resident in the Chicken Potato Chop. There was heat in that green masala. It was heat that could definitely raise the ambient temperature in my chest by a few notches, but I doubt it could be held responsible for the repercussions of global warming across the entirety of my facial glands.
Who dun it?
I irrationally continued consuming the food and being consumed by it. Life does that to you more often than you'd like to believe. It gives you the impression that you love doing what you do so much that you turn a blind eye to everything else, health, reason, family, common sense—only to wake up one morning realizing that you’ve overdone it all to such a wild stupid extent that you can’t bear the sight of anything more adventurous than a bowl of yoghurt and bananas.
Being a young hot-blooded woman of passion, I’ve spent many a morning with yoghurt and bananas.
I looked over at comparatively calm and spice-resilient Varshik and urged him to swap out the red curry he had rained down over his plate of rice with the milky Prawn Caldin. His dislike for coconut milk had repulsed him from the one dish that had played the white knight to my sniffling state of affairs. He reluctantly dipped his spoon into the curry for a quick cursory taste, barely sipped, and then quickly put his spoon down with apathetic disregard. As I reached back out to snatch the dish back into more grateful and deserving territory, his eyes widened: That dish—the aftertaste---that’s SPICY!
Bullocks. The mild sweet white looking thing couldn’t hurt a fly.
I peered into the Caldin as Varshik vehemently declared the angelic curry guilty. It was then, through foggy eyes, that I saw them. Specks of red scattered all across the glistening surface. Specks of red washed up along the rim where the curry line had receded. Specks of red everywhere. It suddenly made total sense. The initial taste was 'sweet, creamy and delicate'—and then just as you went for a bite of something else like the now-acquitted red curry or the coriander chicken or the innocent pomfret, the aftertaste surged back in a covert pincer-like operation and sliced through your mouth with red chilli flames.
The Caldin, the one dish I’d used to extinguish the fire, was nothing short of highly flammable starter fuel.
Even though lunch was over, my stomach charred, and a tree had been sacrificed to wipe my tears away, I’m relieved that the Goan spice mystery was resolved. As for the ‘other’ niggling feeling in my life, I don’t know. It might take more than peering deep into a curry bowl to suss out the cause. But one thing is for sure, I’ve stocked up on enough yoghurt and bananas until I figure it all out.
Directions: Check out my approximate bubble on Google maps, which admittedly, isn't going to be great since I lost my way to the restaurant and went to Timbuktu and back before I found it (with Varshik having to jump in the car and guide my lost soul in the right direction.)