Been to one of the oldest cafés in Panjim?

Come evening, and it would be next to impossible for anyone to resist the tempting aroma wafting from Café Central, one of the hottest spots for snacks in Panjim.
Café Central, in Panjim, is particularly popular for its piping hot snacks
Café Central, in Panjim, is particularly popular for its piping hot snacksGomantak Times

Tea houses first started in China during the Tang dynasty’s Kaiyuan era, followed by the Song dynasty, when the entertainment element of a tea house was introduced, with jugglers, poets, actors, opera singers and storytellers.

Tea houses varied in function according to the circumstances or country. The first tea room opened at the Strand, London, in the 1700s, and is known to be the oldest. The term ‘tea room’ is also often applied to cafes, a venue for social interaction over a cup of tea, accompanied by short eats. They became a symbol of comfort, offering quiet environments; and tea cafés began springing up around the world during the colonial rule, and developed in the late 19th century.

A POPULAR BAKERY

Going back in time, when Goa was under the Portuguese rule, the first café in Goa was Shivanachi Bharamini, which shut down long ago. Café Central (pronounced in Portuguese with a trilled ‘r’ and a long ‘a’) opened in 1932, in Panjim. It was located on the ground floor of Residencia Fatima, near Clube Vasco da Gama, near the Municipal Garden, in Panjim. The founder, Atamaram S Gaitonde, had no formal qualifications in baking or culinary arts.

Back then, Café Central was a bakery, making cakes and patties, and served bhaji puri, which was a signature item. Soon, it became reputed for biscuits, farsans, bread toast (fatias in Portuguese, and fatio in Konkani). It was a sit down café, frequented by Portuguese officials, elite Panjimites, doctors, lawyers, artists, poets, intellectuals, mining barons and working class people.

In 1971, the cafe relocated to its present location at Ishan Building, Dr Pissurlekar Road. Much to the angst of its customers, the demography also changed from a sit down café to a ‘takeaway’ outlet. Bhaji puri was eliminated, and they introduced the much sought-after egg and vegetable samosas.

The interior of Café Central
The interior of Café Central Gomantak Times

FRESH & FLAVOURFUL

Presently run by Ravindra S Gayatonde, the founder’s grand nephew, and his partner Kedar D Bandekar, I caught up with them about their day-to-day operations at the cafe.

“Work at Café Central starts at 6 am as we prepare fresh products such as breads, snacks, cakes, which are sold out by 6 pm; sometimes even earlier. Products such as biscuits and bread toast are also made during the day. Other savouries are made in-house. However, items like chaklis and farsans are sourced out from noted suppliers.”

Every business has its challenges, and it was no different for this cafe. “The challenges we face are a major lack of available labour, increasing prices of raw materials; and with the introduction of GST, taxes on many products are 18% which earlier, were 5% under VAT. Over the years, our UPS has been maintaining quality, taste and hygiene.”

Despite the increase in the price of commodities, the store has numerous customers at any given time of the day, buying melt-in-the-mouth eggless chocolate cake, crispy samosas with a delectable filling, a variety of biscuits, and their pao (Goan bread) is a slot above others in the market.

For a brief period, they advertised through social media, but no longer do so, and it’s by word of mouth that Café Central’s reputation for quality products has been retained.

LOCATION: Ishan building, Dr Pissurlekar Road

MUST-TRY: Mushroom Samosas (₹ 18), Garlic Bread (₹ 40), Pepper Banana Chips (₹ 50 for 200 gm), Eggless chocolate cake (₹ 160 for 500 gm)

CONTACT: +91 9873218224

Café Central, in Panjim, is particularly popular for its piping hot snacks
Whether dine-in or al fresco, relish Goan delicacies at this cozy, award-winning restaurant in Panjim

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