Mariketty Grana, a Greek woman born into a family of restaurateurs, says she felt like she belonged in India ever since she first visited the country as a tourist about 30 years ago.
“I kept telling myself that I have to go back to my country. I’m from Corfu, a beautiful island [in Greece], where the sun shines all the time. It is home to a lot of lovely people. But there was this energy [in India] that kept saying, ‘We want you here. We want you here’,” says Grana.
Had she not stayed back, her popular Greek restaurant in Goa, Thalassa — frequented by people from across the world for its food and breathtaking view — would not have existed. However, Grana says her journey to establishing a popular restaurant wasn’t all hunky-dory. She apparently started off as a humble kebab seller in Goa. “I had to gauge people’s liking for Greek food. So, I put two pegs and a tissue paper together and wrote, ‘Beef kebabs and chicken kebabs for sale’ and went around selling them on a motorcycle. I sold 50 on the first day,” she says. After getting great feedback on her cooking, Grana began scouting for a location for a restaurant in Goa, and years later, Thalassa was born.
Ten years later, we chat with Grana at her newly launched outlet in Khar (W). The interiors make you feel like you’re sitting in a cosy place off a quaint street somewhere in Greece, with its cobbled floors, whitewashed walls and blue upholstery, lending an air of authenticity. “The [original] place wasn’t close to how it looks now. The difference is like night and day,” she says. The restaurateur apparently found the location after shuttling to and fro between Goa and Mumbai for three years. “I have always wanted to open a restaurant here (Mumbai). I believe a lot of restaurateurs have tried to bring Greek food to the city, but haven’t succeeded. I don’t intend to sound too smart, but since I am from Greece, I will know what is missing,” she says.
But the only thing that is missing from the Mumbai outlet is the sea, Grana says. “I tried to find a location by the sea, but you either couldn’t cook there or couldn’t serve alcohol. I was promised a lot of places, but none of them worked out,” she says.
Thalassa is not just about the view, though, she says. “It is about the food, the entertainment and the vibe. We will recreate all of it here. I hope that is enough.”
It’s all Greek
In her pursuit of providing authentic Greek food, Grana initially tried to make her own feta cheese in Goa, like she used to in Greece, but that didn’t work out. “Somehow, I couldn’t manage to make good feta cheese in Goa. The milk was so thin. The oregano is like grass there. When you open a bag of oregano in Greece, it has a special aroma,” she says. The restaurateur still recollects the day when she first bought chicken in Goa.
“I was given a bird that had no meat on it. Two chickens would make one dish,” she says, laughing.
So, she now imports a lot of the produce used at the restaurant from Greece, including the wine, the olive oil and the feta cheese. “People often ask me, ‘Where did you get those tomatoes from?’ and I am like, ‘It is not the tomatoes, but the olive oil (sourced from the city of Kalamata, which produces some of the best olives in Greece) that gives the dish its unique taste.’ It may be more expensive, but at least it tastes like Greek food,” Grana says.
It’s not about the money
Grana maintains that, for her, the restaurant business is not about the money. “I just want to make people smile. People work hard to earn money. If they are taking the trouble to visit my place, I should return the respect three times over. Food should be cooked from the heart. I keep asking myself, ‘Is this how you would like to be served?’ You have to give to receive. I have received so much love from India; I only want to give back now,” she says.