Mariketty Grana looks at me in shock. “You are Goan and you have never been to Thalassa?” Such is the popularity of this Greek restaurant at Little Vagator that it is on every visitor’s ‘places to eat in Goa’ list. Grana promises to rectify my grievous error by treating me to her special dishes.
Grana has brought Thalassa as a pop-up restaurant to Olive, Mahalakshmi for six months. The decor has hints of Greece in the blue and white plates adorning the walls, bottles of olive oil at every table and foot-tapping Greek music. It takes a lot not to do a small jig, the zorba dance that Grana teaches her staff and willing guests.
“I love teaching guests but it’s quite a mess. Legs and hands end up everywhere,” she says. Not that it stops her from dancing — Grana can usually be found dancing, hands in air, with her staff. She also makes it a point to walk up to each table to talk to the customers and wave goodbye with a cheery ‘bye darling’ when she is done. It is all part of her ‘full Greek hospitality’.
“Everybody who comes in is a VIP. They want to spend their hard earned money so I have to please them with my food,” she says.
Grana’s Greek food, some of which is her native Corfu in Greece, certainly does please. It is light, fresh and leaves you marvelling at the softness of the feta she has imported from Greece, which finds its way into the tiro-kaf-teri (feta dip with pita bread) and her famous lamb and chicken wraps.
All her ingredients are imported from Greece, never mind that they are doubly dear now with the rupee's depreciation – the olive oil that lifts up the horiatiki (traditional Greek salad with tomatos, cucumbers, onions, green pepper, and feta topped with fresh oregano) and the tender lamb in the Greek pitta Souvlaki wraps that is offset by the cold, slightly salty mixture of yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and olive oil tzatziki.
The Corfu special dishes include the beef sofrito (beef steak in white wine gravy), the beef pastitsio (lasagna with bechamel and cheese) and chicken pastitsada (chicken cooked in tomato sauce, red wine and Greek herbs). She also has a few vegetarian kebabs much to the initial shock of her father, who was later so impressed that he added it to his own menu.
The mother of one, lived on feta cheese and bread during her pregnancy. Grana initially used to make her own feta, but didn't like the idea of making it from cow’s milk, instead of the usual goat. The only place she got her fill of feta was in Greece, where her sister would sit her down with half a kilo of feta to satisfy her craving.
Over plates of the popular prawn saganaki (fresh prawns cooked in a spicy, tomato based sauce with Greek herbs), Grana talks about her early days in Goa. Born into a family where her father and sister had restaurants of their own, Grana developed a passion for cooking. Then, India happened. During a vacation here, she took to the country like she belonged here.
Grana started out as the ‘kebab woman’, by roaming around with her grill on her Activa selling beef kebabs at the Saturday night market and clubs like Mambo and Tito’s. Soon, demand for her food grew and she began making vegetable skewers, her own feta, a spicy sauce and lamb kebabs. Years later, when she got the property at Little Vagator, she knew she could go big and Thalassa was born.
Today, Grana calls the restaurant her home and it shows.
She is looped into every single detail of running Thalassa and can often be found taking orders, washing dishes and, of course, dancing. “Running a restaurant is hard work. You have to be on top of everything. Some say they have a restaurant but are never found in it,” she says.
Interestingly, the doors of Thalassa remain open for dogs, who can find company in Buzz, a German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix who has a corner from where he watches the sunset. His ‘spot’ has now been taken over by a table for two, leaving Buzz to scramble under tables for his view.
“Once a customer came and spoke to my manager, ‘I’ve been told to give you a big kiss..you are Buzz right?’ I fell on the floor laughing,” she says.
Grana is now no longer the ‘kebab woman’ but has reached the point where people see her in a mall and scream “Thalassa”.