In a rare treat, Kunal Vijayakar makes a meal of signs and symbols
The food at Ishara is good. But the true delight is the warmth and brightness that greet you at this unusually inclusive restaurant staffed by the speech- and hearing-impaired.Updated: Jan 31, 2020 21:26 IST
Why is it that when we interact with people who are very different from us, we do so with an immense sense of the jitters — either slightly awkward and uneasy, or full of overstated congeniality?
If you’ve been to Ishara at the Palladium mall, and been served by their speech- and hearing-impaired staff, you will know that it is actually us who are sometimes at a complete loss for words. Is it because we are bowled over by their service, their smiles and their hospitality or is it because we are in awe of their courage? Whatever it may be, I’ve always found the serving staff first at Mirchi and Mime and then at Ishara, a happy breath of fresh air.
I first met Prashant Issar when he was doing food trials at Mirchi and Mime, his first inclusive establishment that employed differently abled staff. Now he and Anuj Shah have got together with Riyaaz Amlani and recreated that culture of inclusivity at Ishara.
I generally don’t like restaurants in malls. Maybe the idea of finding parking in lots many levels above the ground and trooping up and down corridors past shops selling things that will never fit me, is what makes malls unappealing to me. But Nicole Mody, foodie, writer and salsa dancer, decided on a lunch date and she planned it at Ishara.
The place is quite large, bright and cheerful and there is a sense of comfort as you walk in, and it’s not only the welcoming atmosphere, it is the people that immediately uplift you. Ishara means gesture, and it’s in gestures that the rest of the afternoon is spent, so much so that I even wondered at what volume I should chat while there.
The menu is eclectic and familiar at the same time, and alongside each dish is a number and hand gesture to be used when ordering it.
If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s samosas of any kind and I spotted mutton kheema samosas right on top of the menu. We decided to skip the main course and order a splattering of meaty starters — mutton samosas, duck seekh kababs, kheema ghotala pav, mushroom galauti, Kochi calamari and bhutte ka khees. The style was street food, stylishly handcrafted and all ordered with hand gestures.
Patti samosas with mutton kheema are very difficult to find in Mumbai nowadays. I know the samosas at The Bohri Kitchen are famous; the larger, crisper ones from Kayani Bakery and Jaffer Bhai are temperamental because they are never available when you want some. Lucky Biryani at Bandra make humongous ones stuffed with kheema, which are a bit spicy for me. The ones Willingdon Club makes are just spectacular and just the right size.
These samosas at Ishara were really good as well. Crisp golden outer patti, with a well-spiced kheema filling. We walloped down the whole lot in a jiffy. Then came the kheema ghotala. For the uninitiated, this is actually eggs scrambled with kheema. Here, it is a spicy portion of mutton mince with a fluffy omelette on top, served with homemade little pavs. Quite gratifying, I say.
The mushroom galauti was next. I’ve never understood why people who abhor the taste of meat, fancy eating mushrooms disguised as flesh. To each their own, I guess, but these galautis were delicious and artfully deceptive.
The calamari was tender and fresh, all tossed in a scarlet masala flavoured with red chillies and curry leaves. And finally the bhutte ka khees, one of the most iconic dishes from Indore’s legendary night food market. Along with the unlikely combinations of poha-jalebi and garadu (or fried spiced yam) and khopra patties (potato patties stuffed with coconut), bhutte ka khees is an Indori specialty. It is grated corn, boiled then fried and spiced with hing, jeera, dhaniya and other spices. Ishara serves it garnished with pomegranate.
We ended the meal with a lemon and pistachio tart (pistachio cream and mild lemon curd in a pistachio sponge tart shell). While I have to say the food was great, what won us over was that taste of kindness, the spice of exuberance, the warmth and brightness of the smiles. I have no words to describe that.