Chef Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar and Shalini Krishan’s Edible Archives in Anjuna is much more than a restaurant — it is culinary education in a meal.
Sitting with Chef Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar and Shalini Krishan in Edible Archives seems like a day in a handsome school with a splendid mid-day meal. Before the lessons, gape at the landscape. Tiffany-blue door frames, chaste white columns, slanted roof with white lace-like trims, a vine of Malabar spinach leaning on long leaves, brahmi grounded in the soil, fish mint sunning in a rectangular planter, and rosella with new-found roots adulting in a transparent glass bottle.
Well, the lessons run an entire curriculum. English: The grammar of food. Chemistry: The rice experiments in the kitchen. Catechism: Cuisine-agnosticism and ingredients as the Supreme Lord of the kitchen. Economics: The evil of waste. Horticulture: Grow your own food. Environment: Soil erosion, sustainability, carbon footprints. Throw all these lessons in a cauldron and what you get in Edible Archives is toothsome food served in a clay bowl. Garnish all this with the winsome, soft-spoken timbre of Anumitra and Shalini and their unalloyed existence.
The grammar is easy to attribute. Shalini has been a ‘publishing person’ for years and Chef Anumitra has a PhD in cognitive linguistics from Delhi University (part of her research was at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston, USA). Shalini does not hold a degree in horticulture, but she knows everything about plants and permaculture and manages the sprawling garden around the restaurant (I’ll walk you through the garden later). Chef Anumitra runs the kitchen without a formal culinary degree tied to her blue denim apron.
Alongside her academic career, Anumitra kept honing her culinary skills. She has worked in several restaurants, even apprenticing in a family-run tempura and udon specialist establishment in Japan. She picked up the nuances of Italian cooking at Ritu Dalmia’s Diva restaurant. In Delhi, she ran a pop-up food delivery service for Durga Puja called Bento Bong, and then opened her first restaurant called Big Bongg Theory.
“Experience. That is where I learnt it all. Bengali food is in my DNA but I picked up the intricacies of specific cuisines during my various stints in various kitchens. But the menu in Edible Archives is cuisine agnostic,”says Anumitra while quickly running her fingers through a basket full of fresh Goan root vegetables.
If the menu is cuisine agnostic, who is Supreme Lord of the kitchen? “Ingredient,” Anumitra and Shalini answer in unison. Thinking alike is an intuitive consequence of their four-year partnership that began a little before their much-talked-of presence in the 2018 Kochi Biennale.
“In Edible Archives, everything is ingredient driven. I look at an ingredient and decide what to do with it. A typical Goan sanna can be served with Bengali mustard-laden vegetables. Grilled brinjal can be brushed with miso sauce. Uddamethi, a Goan Saraswat vegetarian dish, pairs brilliantly with iddiyappam, a vegetable thoran,” says Anumitra.
“Fusion?” I wonder. “No. No,” Anumitra and Shalini chirp in unison. “It is not fusion. In our food grammar, it is ‘pairing’,” Shalini elaborates as Anumitra, borrowing from her linguistic background, explains the grammar of pairing in a subject-predicate worksheet.
“The slightly-sweet Goan sanna is traditionally eaten with a tangy sorpotel (literally, ‘mish-mash’ in Portuguese). I replaced the sorpotel with the Bengali mustard-laden vegetables. Or the pandi curry with sannas. Here, Coorg’s famous spicy pork curry gets its jamminess from kochampuli, a dark, syrupy vinegar that gives the dish its distinctive tang. See, the subject-predicate is still in harmony,” Anumitra explains with the dexterity of a favourite teacher.
The Edible Archives menu speaks that grammar fluently. For starters, there’s Crisp maize tofu (Rs 350), Spinach and cremini mushroom wontons: steamed/soupy (Rs 320), Madi cutlets made with Goan root vegetables (Rs 320), Bombil bora (fresh Bombay duck, Goa’s emblematic fish, served as fritters). For Mains, there’s Thalasseri beef with Goan bread (Kerala-style beef in a light gravy, served with toasted bread, Rs 480), Jiangyou chicken with rice (Rs 500), Mustard prawns with coconut rice (Rs 550), Congee with vegetarian/fish/pork/chicken/egg options (starts at Rs 400), while the Desserts are Serradura (Rs 300), Caramelized Moira banana with ice cream (Rs 350), Bolo di amor (Rs 300) and Affagato (Rs 320).
At the two-year-old restaurant, the menu changes with the season, because ingredients are the Supreme Lord of the kitchen and both Anumitra and Shalini believe in ‘eating what’s in the season’. Not surprisingly, the Edible Archives garden is at the centre of the food grammar and sustainability philosophy. As Anumitra headed to the kitchen to rustle up a vegetarian rice bowl for me and Tenga, the white-black dog, curled up in the grass, Shalini and I walked through the garden. Tapioca, tree marigolds, bananas standing tall; mustard from four states, onion and garlic raising their pretty green heads from the wet soil; beans tangled on a trellis; betel leaf snaking around a coconut trunk; purple orchids peeping like a pretty young thing… Shalini talks of plants like a proud mother does of babies. She nurtures them, too, like a doting mother.
When I returned to the verandah of the 40-cover restaurant, Anumitra had laid a pretty vegetarian meal in a clay bowl. And, like any good school, the lessons resumed after a splendid mid-day meal. This time it was about root vegetables and the experiments that Anumitra conducted with various rice varieties that are being forgotten in the overwhelming noise of a white Basmati. Shalini and Anumitra are documenting their culinary experiments for posterity; they teach food and writing online; and make a conscious effort to educate people about the evils of carbon footprint and the imminent need of preserving and conserving our culinary traditions and indigenous food heritage. Food is not about the dish, it is about the ingredients, the growers, the farmers, the fishermen. And seasonality and sustainability.
I had walked into Edible Archives with sprigs of fennel, basil, a twig of fresh bay leaves and seeds of aparajita from my garden for Anumitra and Shalini. I returned with a fish mint sapling, a basketful of food lessons and two new friends. Shalini, Anumitra and I are now BGFFs (Best Garden/Bird Friends Forever).
Good to know
Edible Archives, Anjuna-Mapusa Road, Anjuna, Goa, 403509, + 91-8308830750 (for delivery & reservations), email@example.com
Chef’s Table: If you book through Urbanaut, the 4-course (+ a wine/cooler) Chef’s Table costs Rs 1,890 per person. Otherwise, it is Rs 2,000 (no drink included) per person for a 5/6-course meal.
Timings: Tuesdays to Sundays: 12 noon – 3 pm; 7 pm – 10 pm. Mondays closed