As the CHOG-M road added glimmer to the church in Saligao in 1983 – two years later – just a few 100 metres behind it, Florence Caetano started a restaurant called Florentine serving chicken cafreal.
Four decades down the line, the church and the cafreal, are an integral part of the village that draws hordes of tourist down the CHOG-M road to enjoy the architecture and a piquant culinary vestige of Portugal. The two Cs – church and cafreal – lure tourists who would otherwise fleet past the village, to slow down and stop.
Started in 1985 as a small coconut leaf shack that was first frequented by taxi drivers, as is the case with most good restaurants, Florentine today has people from all sections of society coming to taste the cafreal prepared by Caetano, who after studying in the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM) in Porvorim worked in Hotel Mandovi before starting his own restaurant.
Cafreal is a dish with origins amongst the hunters from Portugal who used to leave their dwelling in search of food and fodder in the forest with salt, lime, pepper and matchsticks. A fowl was caught, skinned and kept to marinate with the ingredients till close to lunch when it was cooked on a woodfire and the cafreal – simple and tasty – was ready to eat.
The cafreal at Florentine is a version many Goans learnt from the Portuguese and the one served by Caetano was one of the closest to the dish served in Portugal though, through time, it has seen transformation through many culinary experiments.
From a shack to a structure that tries to keep traits of its architecture past and present, Florentine has not just managed to keep taste buds intact but has an increasing list of repeat customers with staff that has been loyal since 1988.
Tony D’Souza, oldest staff member
“I joined in 1988 and this has been part of my family since. It is not just the owners but the guests too who keep coming and we share a similar joy on seeing each other,” admits Tony D’Souza, the oldest staff member.
From chicken cafreal, the next step was king prawns cafreal and as the clientele grew, fish curry rice was drowned by an array of Indian dishes to satisfy the customers from across the border.
Ten years ago Caetano’s son Hubert quit his job with the Grand Hyatt to help his ailing father and along with his mother maintain the standards. “My father passed away two years ago but we maintain the standards he set,” discloses Hubert.
Agrees Sarafino, who is a regular customer at the restuarant. “I do not believe there is a single customer who has gone away without trying the cafreal served here,” muses Serafino as he and his family treat themselves to a meal on Sunday. “This is a nice place to dine during the weekend,” he adds.
If the CHOG-M road gave direction to the church and cafreal, tourists are now also served by around 23 temporary carts that dot the area during the evenings. Cutlet pao, noodles, soft drinks, ice cream… the list is long and that explains the line of cars parked alongside.
“I bring the family along for dinner for a change or when too tired. The kids like the food available and the surroundings are safe for all,” admits Stanley as he and his family, along with a canine pet, get ready to leave after a happy meal.
As the tourists make merry – many of them opting for noodles – a local lady expresses her unhappiness to the manner in which the Saligao Panchayat grants licenses to ‘outsiders’.
“It is shocking that we locals are questioned and harassed and the outsiders are allowed to do what they want without being questioned. They sell what they want and we are permitted only three,” she laments.
As the clock strikes 22 hours and the flow of traffic reduces, most cart owners begin to close shop and find their way home leaving the church to brightly manifest itself through the night.