|Breakfast At Oliaji’s
Where the menu is Aleti-Paleti, Akuri and Kheema with Toddy. All served lovingly by Oliaji Dossabhai himself, the grand old man of Parsi bhonu in Devka. MARK MANUEL had breakfast with him.
|OLIAJI, of course, is that grand old man of Devka, Dossabhai Oliaji of the Duke Hotel, Bar & Restaurant.
The hotel is old, it was started in 1936 by Oliaji’s grandfather Nariman; the restaurant and bar are new, as new as 1999 and 2000, and they were started by Oliaji’s grandsons Nariman and Hormaz. It is well known in the area, although there are far better places you can stay at, like Hotel Miramar or Cidade de Daman which are both on the beach. But if you are anywhere in Daman or Devka, or even as far as Udvada, Gholvad and Dahanu, you will find that most Parsis and Iranis know the place simple as Oliaji’s. And when they say Oliaji, they mean Dossabhai Oliaji. “Breakfast at Oliaji’s,” one old man at Udvada told me, “is as popular as that old Hollywood film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You must experience it at least once.”I took his advice to heart, because I, too, had heard about the breakfast at Oliaji’s. And Dossabhai Oliaji was a friend of my former editor and mentor, Behram Contractor, better known in the eating and drinking circles simply as “Busybee”. I am told Behram used to go to Devka by the last train on Saturday just so that he might stay over and wake up Sunday morning to have breakfast at Oliaji’s. On a Saturday evening after I had explored Daman, I drove down the beach road to Devka and located Duke Hotel, Bar & Restaurant. It is on the main road and you cannot miss it. The rooms of the hotel, 18 small cottages, stand in a large courtyard that leads onto the beach. On one side is the bar and restaurant. Old man Oliaji lives in a rambling old Parsi mansion directly across the road. I found him there, dozing on a large swing.
Introductions were quickly made. And Oliaji seemed genuinely delighted to meet me. He called out to his daughter-in-law Freny, and together, we sat down and sketched out a menu for the next morning’s breakfast. There was to be Aleti Paleti with chicken liver and gizzard, the Parsi Kheema, Bheja Na Cutlets, crisply-fried boi, batter-fried Bombay Ducks, the Akuri, and Ravo. “We will make some ghau ni rotli to go with this,” Freny said. And I thought, breakfast at Oliaji’s, finally I was going to be doing it. As I left, Dossabhai Oliaji called out after me, “Come by 9.30, and come hungry, we will feed you well!” By we, I discovered next morning, he meant his family. There was Oliaji and wife Daulat, son Shapur and daughter-in-law Freny, and grandsons Nariman and Hormaz. The dining table had been laid out and from the kitchen at the back of the house, there came the sounds and smells of breakfast being cooked. I went behind to see what was happening.
Plenty was happening! It was an open kitchen and on tavas standing on stone choolahs fed by wood-fires, the Duke’s all-woman cooks were preparing our breakfast. The Bombay Ducks were being dipped in batter, rolled in rava and being fried by one woman, and two others were engaged in rolling out the rotlis and frying them as well. Daulat and Freny supervised the cooking. They also supervise the day to day cooking of all the meals for the Duke restaurant across the road. I watched the scene with fascination and a growing appetite for a while, then went back to the dining room. Oliaji Dossabhai sat waiting for me on the swing, one massive arm encircled around a matka, the other holding a glass of what appeared to be toddy. It was toddy! “Will you have some tari,” Oliaji asked unnecessarily. “It is from the trees in our compound. Very fresh. Very good for your health. You will like it. I, myself, don’t care too much for it now. I used to drink lots of tari at one time, but now I have asthma.”
I had tari, or toddy, two glasses full, Oliaji’s son Shapur organising my second glass. And I sat down happily to have breakfast at Oliaji’s with Dossabhai’s family. As we ate, we talked, and old family retainers kept coming out of the kitchen with more and more food. Oliaji is 78, he started working in the hotel in 1936 with his father after completing the fourth standard. “I did not study more. For 15 years, I did minor contracts on bungalows, you know, construction work, whitewashing. After that, I got involved with the family business.” And the family business has always been Duke, first the hotel, then the bar and restaurant. The tariff of the rooms in 1942 used to be only Rs. 2 for the stay. With meals and a sweet dish, it went up to Rs. 3. After World War II, they hiked up the tariff to Rs. 5. And all during the Portuguese rule in Daman, it was Rs. 10. “After liberation in 1961, it was just increase, increase, increase!” said Oliaji. “Now we charge Rs. 400. But the food has remained the same all these years.”
They give a lot of importance to food at Duke Hotel, Bar & Restaurant, I was told. Oliaji knows that people will come again only if the food is good. His son, Shapur, does what is known as the bazaar. He goes to Daman port early every morning and picks up the catch of the day fresh. The meat and vegetables are sourced locally. The toddy is from their own trees. “We use tari a lot in our cooking,” revealed Oliaji. “It is put in our Mutton Baffat instead of water. And when we make sweets like Bhakra, we ferment the dough in tari.”
The governors of Goa, Daman and Diu have always been fond of breakfast at Oliaji’s. “Many governors have come and gone. I remember Sattarwala, he used to say, ‘Oliaji, don’t change the place.’ And we have not. Our hotel is unique in Daman. There are many hotels here, new ones that came up ten years ago, three star and five star, but we have remained the same. Outside it is unchanged, but inside, small changes have been made. Formerly, we had candles and lanterns. And there was no fan and fridge. The climate was so good. That was real life.”
Dossabhai Oliaji wakes up at 5.30 o’clock every morning, has a bath, says his prayers, breakfasts, then gets involved with the business. Freny looks after the food and cooking of the hotel while Oliaji himself plans the daily menu. Shapur looks after the restaurant and the grandsons, Nariman and Hormaz, look after the bar. By evening, Oliaji retires for the day and comes back home to sit on the swing. He is fitted with a pacemaker but is still active. “His tastebuds are sound,” said daughter-in-law Freny. Though Oliaji’s meals are simple. “I eat dal-bhaat, dal-roti, I cannot have this rich Aleti Paleti and Bheja Na Cutlets every day,” he said.
“Time changes everything. One habit we have maintained. The whole family must get together for dinner every night,” he added.