MATCH ON MENU: A group of Spanish customers at Taberna Vasca, on Sudder Street, on Tuesday. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
A quaint Sudder Street café offering Spaniards a taste of home away from home has become the go-to place for the Villa-Xavi faithful in town awaiting the big battle with Germany.
Rajendra Prasad Pal’s Taberna Vasca, a.k.a Raj’s Spanish Café, has risen to the La Marcha Real and worn the Spanish stripes on its sleeve each time Vicente Del Bosque’s boys have taken the field in South Africa. But Wednesday midnight is set to be the topping on the tortilla de patatas that the café serves.
So animated were the 50-odd Spaniards who had gathered there to watch Saturday night’s Spanish victory over Paraguay on a projection screen that even the rival Germans now want to be part of the fun.
“I have just reached Calcutta and found my way into this Spanish café. I intend watching the semis here; it would be more fun watching the match with our rivals,” smiles German kindergarten teacher Milan Gehler, 23.
Milan’s presence on Tuesday afternoon bears out owner Rajendra, alias Raj, who insists that his is more of a continental café with a Spanish name and a Basque spread among gastronomic delights ranging from Gazpacho soup to spaghetti.
“You will find people from all over here, very multi-cultural,” agrees Jai Brown, a South Korean with an Indian first name and an English surname.
According to 36-year-old Raj, his customer profile reflects the way he has been doing business. “I have been here for 18 years. I started with a phone booth, then opened an Internet parlour, an accessories and garments shop, and finally this café. I chose this stretch because of the foreigners. I have always wanted to travel, and even if I couldn’t fulfil my wanderlust, I have enjoyed interacting with people from different countries,” he explains.
But doesn’t he have a soft corner for Spain?
“Although I host customers from all over the world, I have had more Spanish people coming to me than any other nationality. Few Spaniards speak English, so I started learning their language from them so that I could interact with them. Now my customers say that my accent is as good as theirs,” he chuckles.
Raj got his café’s name from a Spanish friend who would keep telling him that the Vascan province of Spain was famous for its cuisine. “So when I opened the café, I called it Taberna Vasca. Then my customers started asking why just Vasca. So it became Raj’s Spanish Café.”
For those familiar with the orange-and-cream interiors of the café, and the inviting smell of oven-fresh bread, pastries and strong coffee, Raj’s personal attention to each customer is an added attraction.
“I would ask customers what they wanted to eat. They would tell me and give me a list of ingredients. I would even ask them to make the dish so that we could learn. Sometimes my brother would pick up recipes from the Net, and we would ask how we could improve,” he explains.
This World Cup, Raj’s Spanish Café has scored with its mix of food and football. “We have been showing every match, not just the ones Spain has played. But Spain’s last match was the biggest draw with no place left to sit,” says the proud owner.
Javier Turull, 18, intends booking his seat well before the semis starts. “Tomorrow is the real final,” he declares.
German Milan Gehler could discover that sitting among the Spaniards — miles away from the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban — during a do-or-die encounter isn’t all that fun, after all.