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Restaurants that fill you up without emptying your pockets
Goa | Sartaj
Sartaj is not your conventional restaurant. It doesn't care about creating an elegant ambience, but its patrons swear by its food. Its interiors and noise levels are somewhat akin to an office pantry, but the service is so rapid, Usain Bolt would feel threatened. It started in 1979 as a snack bar, but was slowly upgraded to a full-fledged restaurant, except for one thing: You pay at the counter, old style.
Come rain or shine, Sartaj is packed at lunchtime. At 12. 30 pm, a handcart with large vessels of parceled chicken biryani (Rs 60) arrives. This is Sartaj's most popular dish, and the best biryani you'll find in Goa. In fact, many patrons argue that it can take on the best of Hyderabad, and it has much less oil. The biryani is also sold by the haandi;it's not uncommon to see people walking in and carrying a huge vessel out only to deposit it in the boot of a fancy car, owned by the kind of people who love this food but want to be seen only at A-list restaurants. During Id, you have to order your biryani two days in advance.
The breakfast menu is dominated by bhaji pao, a local Goan dish of gram mixed with chopped vegetables that's quite different from the similarly named Mumbai fast food. If the chicken biryani is the undisputed winner of Sartaj, the egg masala (Rs 30) and mutton kheema (Rs 45) are silver and bronze. Both lack the pungency associated with their names, but are delicious nonetheless. Strangely, we noticed a lot of customers eating snacks for lunch, especially egg samosas, which are unique to this place. It's a 30-year unwritten tradition that every meal eaten here has to be supplemented by the punchy limbu soda, a pre-bottled lemonsoda-ginger concoction that you get nowhere else. Sold for Rs 15, the drink is in great demand during the hot summer months and, surprisingly, even on a rainy August afternoon. Even though inflation has boosted Sartaj's prices over the last few years, the restaurant has managed to stay well ahead of the competition. Some of its customers have been eating here for three decades. Akhtar Ali, who has managed it for 31 years, is enormously confident of his food. When we told him the mutton kheema was delicious, he simply smiled and said, "Yes, I know."
Sartaj, opposite Don Bosco High School, St Inez, Panaji (0832-2227641 ). Mon-Sat 7 am-8 pm. Meal for two approx Rs 400
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