The adventures of Vasco da Gama inspire the new menu of a well-known capital restaurant named after the legendary explorer
Given that Vasco’s, the popular beachside restaurant at Hilton Abu Dhabi, is named after Vasco da Gama, it’s perfectly apt that the venue pays homage to the famed Portuguese’s explorations.
Taking inspiration from da Gama’s journeys, the restaurant’s revamped menu is a rich amalgam of cuisines influenced by flavours from Africa, India
To dig deeper, we chat with head chef Manikandan Mahalingam to find out more about the theme and what it takes to execute the concept built around a historical figure.
How did you translate the travel expeditions of Vasco da Gama into the food?
I have read many tales of Vasco da Gama’s travels. As an Indian, I am well versed with the food of Calicut, a city in South India where he had returned on trade visits.
For designing the new menu at Vasco’s, I had to do some research on the dishes and ingredients that you get in each of these regions and then check the availability of the produce.
Having an understanding of the different cuisines he sampled on his journeys has helped me put together an interesting mix of dishes, ensuring there is something for everyone. The diverse flavours make sure that we cater to all palates. From the succulent lamb chops flavoured in Indian spices to a taste of being at sea with the seafood cataplana, each dish offers a glimpse of Vasco’s travels.
Did you visit anywhere in Portugal for research?
I have had the advantage of working with a Portuguese chef in the kitchen right here at Vasco’s. While I was familiar with the cuisine, I learnt the finer nuances of the dishes in our time together in the kitchen.
Indian food, of course, comes easily to me. For African and European dishes, I tapped into my lessons from my culinary school days and it helped that I have honed my skills in these cuisines over the years.
What makes this new menu stand out from the rest of the competition?
I would say the range of dishes and the cuisine variety. There’s something for everyone, whether it’s good cut of meats or a seafood delicacy. Even the desserts are inspired by different cuisines and they’re all given a modern twist.
On the taste trail
Born in 1460, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama is renowned for being the first person to travel directly from Europe to India by sailing around Africa.
Da Gama’s historic and epic voyage was to establish Portugal’s reputation as a maritime and colonial powerhouse, and build a strong trading relationship with India by getting their hands on the country’s rich spices.
Given that sustenance on the voyage was basic – bread, fish, salted meat and fresh livestock – it was likely exhilarating for da Gama to taste corn porridge and cassava in Mozambique and steamed potatoes paired with goat meat and chicken in Mombasa and Malindi.
But the real delights must have been the fresh legumes, lentils and kingfish or the mackerel smothered with spicy sauce that greeted him in Calicut and Goa in India.
To da Gama’s credit, his arrival in these locations also led to the introduction of Portuguese food to the locals, creating a lasting culinary influence, rich in flavours.
WORDS Ferdinand Godinez