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Greek cuisine has never taken off in Mumbai. Can Goa’s Thalassa break the jinx?

Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai
Nov 24, 2016 06:30 PM IST

Flavourful, light, and recommended by nutritionists the world over. So, why has Greek been the jinxed cuisine at Mumbai’s restaurants?

You’ve probably heard of tzatziki and pita, and even ordered mezze favourites during long drinking sessions at the pubs. After all, these are popular options in the appetiser section of every new restaurant that opens in the city.

But have you heard of spetsofal (sausages cooked in tomato gravy) or saganaki (fried cheese appetiser) or even dolmadakia (stuffed vine leaves)? One can find these dishes on the menu of Thalassa in Khar. A popular pit-stop for tourists heading to Goa, Thalassa is known for its chilled-out vibe and glorious sunsets on Vagator beach. And, it is also known for its extensive Greek menu, curated by its Greek chef and owner Mariketty Grana, 54, who moved to India with a backpack and a copy of Lonely Planet, 30 years ago.

Watermelon and feta salad
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Failure to launch

But will Thalassa manage to recreate its success in Mumbai? Especially since almost every new Greek-inspired restaurant, and even those serving Mediterranean cuisine (which includes all the Levantine regions), have either shut down or moved on to offering a variety of cuisines. Including Chinese.

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Case in point: Kipos (in Bandra), which opened in 2014 with Greece-inspired décor, of blue and white walls, and a menu to go with it. The restaurant shut down within a year. Then there was Byblos (in Lower Parel), which opened in the same year, and saw a similar fate. Yellow All Day Bar and Café (in Khar), by ex-Mezzo Mezzo chef, Davide Cananzi, started off with a hearty Mediterranean menu but has since been replaced by Thalassa. Aqaba (in Lower Parel), which is still serving a part-Greek and part-Mediterranean menu, was forced to Indianise dishes to suit the local palate.

Mezze platter at Aqaba

“When we first opened, we had an Egyptian chef who could do a lot of Greek dishes. A large part of the mains were non-veg and it didn’t work in Mumbai as majority of our clientele is vegetarian,” says Aditya Parikh, owner, Aqaba. At the same time, Indian palates don’t take well to muted flavours of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, he adds. So, the gyros (a Greek wrap) had to be served with extra harissa and garlic mayo and the souvlaki (grilled meat) had to be made spicy.

Lack of representation

When Grana opened Thalassa a decade ago, most of her clients were Israelis, neighbours to Greeks. It took a couple of years of trial and error before it became one of the most visited restaurants in Goa. And now in Mumbai, the real test for Grana will begin once the initial buzz dies down. And contrary to the trend, she looks at the authenticity of her food as the biggest advantage.

Mini chicken souvlaki at Thalassa

“In India, all I see is a Greek salad, which is disappointing. A lot of them use cabbage in a Greek salad or use local replacements, like paneer for feta,” she says. When Grana couldn’t find authentic feta, she started making it in-house. And she refuses to Indianise her food. Following a successful pop-up at Olive (Mahalaxmi) three years ago, Grana is positive that Mumbai’s foodies will be kind to her version of Greek food. “The younger, well-travelled audience are open to experimentation and new tastes,” she says.

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