|Mangalorean spread at Gokul|
You know you are growing old when you return to the watering hole of your youth, this time to eat and not drink. That's what happened to me recently.
A few months back I had written a nostalgic post about Gokul Bar in Mumbai's Colaba where we used to go for cheap drinks in my early days in Mumbai. K and I went there when we were dating too but not after we got married. Home then became the cheapest place to drink!
I had not been to Gokul for almost a decade and a half. Then passed by it while doing a nostalgic shoot on Colaba for my YouTube channel towards the end of 2015 and showed Gokul from outside in the video.
I came home and wrote this post on Gokul and thought that the story ended with that.
Read: My Gokul Memories
A couple of week back met a lady named Vineeta on some work. As we got talking, I found out that she is married into the family that owns Gokul!
I showed her the Colaba video and Vineeta said, ‘hey that’s my husband, Dinesh, coming out of the restaurant’.
My Colaba video on The Finely Chopped on YouTube
Vineeta and Dinesh Pujary are Mangaloreans. They largely eat Mangalorean food at home too in a kitchen supervised by her mother in law. Vineeta told me that Gokul offers some really good Mangalorean food. On days when they didn’t feel like cooking at home, they apparently call for food from the restaurant. She said that it is like home food for them.
This was news to me. When one thinks of Mangalorean (from Karnataka in South India) restaurants in Mumbai one thinks of Trishna, Apoorva, Mahesh, Bharat Excellensea and nowadays, Gajalee and Jai Hind and if you are a real food geek then Bharat and Modern Lunch Homes.
My Gokul History
I didn’t associate Gokul with any food (!), let alone Mangalorean, till I met Vineeta.
|The entrance to Gokul with chef Kaizad outside it|
He is coming up with a restaurant close by &
is a fan of the rolls at Goku's new outlet beside the bar
We used to have peanuts with our drinks (served in plastic packs like one got at corner shops) and prawn pakoras when we used to go to Gokul in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Then head to Bade Miya for chewy sheek kebabs and greasy bhuna gosht and roomali rotis before taking the last train back from Churchgate.
Vineeta told me that the prawn pakoras were her favourite too but they are no longer on the menu as the chef who made them has left. She strongly recommended the chicken sukkha at Gokul though.
Her enthusiasm for the food at Gokul was infectious and I decided to step into Gokul for lunch after our meeting. This was the first time I had gone there in the afternoon. The first time in a decade and half actually.
I first went to the air-conditioned section. In the good old days (1997 - 2000), that’s where agency folks used to hang out as that was the place which was considered appropriate for women to go to.
The History of Gokul
Dinesh Pujary, who has inherited his late father's restaurant, and runs Gokul now, told me over a phone call later that he has not changed much from his father’s legacy in terms of décor and food. He has tried to increase the security though and has placed bouncers in the weekends and said that there is a higher proportion of women coming here now compared to his dad's time when it was more a ‘men’s only’ place.
Dinesh's father, Jaya Pujary, had come to Mumbai from Mangalore half a decade back and used to sell cigarettes in Powai in the beginning and lived in Fort. The late Mr Pujari then met another young Mangalorean immigrant, who used to work in a canteen in Mumbai. Together they opened Gokul 43 years back. They cemented their ‘partnership’ when Mr Pujari married his friend’s sister. Dinesh and his brother were born in Mumbai out of this marriage. The two family’s divided their businesses a few years back after Dinesh's father passed away. Dinesh’s uncle’s side of the family got another bar, Amrapall, while Dinesh got Gokul. He has recently opened a roll shop outside Gokul.
|The dimly lit inner section of Gokul|
Eating at Gokul
I stepped into Gokul's AC section and was transported to the late 1990s when I was about 20 kilos lighter and had come to Mumbai in search of a new life.
It was cool inside the AC section even though the sun was blazing outside. It was clean and not smelly unlike how acircon sections of bars can sometimes be. It was dark. The tables and chairs, basic and functional. You could barely see anything around you. There was a haze of smoke. You can still smoke inside here it seems! The section seemed a bit larger than I remembered and Dinesh later told me that he has made the AC section larger. It was a weekday afternoon and yet packed inside. There were groups of men, young couples and a significant presence of foreigners. I don’t remember seeing foreigners when we used to come here earlier. There were foreigners sitting in the outside non-airconditioned section too including some couples with kids. Things had changed except the fact that Gokul remains one of the cheapest places to get a drink in posh South Mumbai.
The loos in the general section stink though and need some work. Colaba regulars would of course know of other clean loos (ahem) close by but you can't keep stepping out between a beer binge can you?
|The non-AC section at Gokul|
There's also a AC quarter bar upstairs
I asked the waiters and the managers for Mangalorean food options and they looked at me with blank faces. One even referred to the Mangalorean classic, ‘gassi’, as a Punjabi dish! Obviously not a place too many people come to looking for food. Reminded me of a cynical phrase I had heard of in my ad agency account planning days which was used to describe account planners, ‘pianist in a whorehouse’. A rather colourful way of describing someone who comes to Gokul to eat too I guess!
The Chinese and tandoori items do the best here, Dinesh told me later. And if you go by Mihir Bijur on Twitter, you HAVE to try the green chutney with chakli.
|The busy open kitchen at Gokul|
I took matters in my hand and ordered myself instead of depending on the wait staff. Our first order was a surmai or kingfish fry. A massive slice at about Rs 220 or so. Coated in, what I assume are ‘Mangalorean’ masalas. Looked red in colour but the wasn’t fiery in its chilli kick. The fish was quite flavourful and pleasant to eat. I was really impressed by the juiciness of the fish.
|Surmai fry at Gokul|
As was I smitten by the juiciness of the prawns in the gassi that I ordered. They were not overcooked at all. The curry was delectable and slightly thinner than in the gassi that I had at Jai Hind a few weeks back. The sauce was slightly tangy from the tamarind used in it and had a mild chilli kick. The sort you sipped by itself just to enjoy the taste of the curry. We were sitting outside so that I could photograph the food. Yet, the food didn’t make me perspire.
You should see me sweat if the food I am eating is too high on the chilli quotient. I have to mop my head up then even if in an airconditioned room. No such problems in Gokul.
|Prawn gassi at Gokul|
I later asked Dinesh Pujari about the secret behind the excellent quality of fish at Gokul. Turns out that he has invested in a fishing boat and that 25% of the daily catch from the boat comes to his restaurant straight from the seas around Mumbai! How's that for farm to table?
You don’t get neer dosas, which one traditionally pairs with Mangalorean food, at Gokul so we tried the refined-flour based tandoori rotis and parathas which tasted pretty good.
The last dish that I tried was the chicken sukkha that Vineeta had recommended. Once again, juicy pieces of chicken cooked in a heady, robust ground coconut, chillies and curry leaf dryish spice base which was so delectable that you kept spooning (no double-entendre please) one mouthful after another with a dreamy look on your face. I could imagine why the Poojaris called for this at home too. When they are not getting food home from Ling’s that is!
|Chicken sukha at Gokul|
Seeing the pics I posted, my octogenarian Uncle J, went to Gokul for the first time in his life a couple of days back. He is spunkily battling cancer. He has not lost his zest for life though the illness has dulled his sense of taste. He texted me after his meal at Gokul:
“Superb food. Far better than monotonous lunch at my club. V V cheap too. AC section was too dark. Food made up for these small inconveniences. Fresh and well balanced”.
This was the first time that I heard him praise food anywhere in a long, long time
So, here’s my take. If you are in Colaba and want to drink then head to Gokul without worrying about being taken to the cleaners. But do take a look at the food too. You will be pleasantly surprised. Go for the Mangalorean fare. You will feel like you are eating in someone's home.
|My lunch mate Swapnil at the outside section|
A Maharashtrian who quite enjoyed the Mangalorean food at Gokul
Note: Our order of three dishes and 4 rotis would have come to around Rs 1,000 but the Poojaris insisted on treating us to the meal. Gokul is located opposite the Bade Miya stall and behind the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Colaba
Catch the iphone video we shot at Gokul