No, I am not trying to increase the eyeballs on the blog. Finally got hold of the Mumbai launch edition of the Food and Nightlife Magazine at a stall in front of Pot Pourri at Turner Road. Sorry, Lemon Grass.
I am a child of the seventies. Seeing one’s name on an eBook on a Kindle or an I Pad doesn’t compare with the thrill of seeing it in a good old glossy. The last time I was so excited to see a magazine was when a guy in school had got his collection of a magazine whose name we don’t mention in mixed company.
Food and Nightlife Magazine is an eight month old Delhi based magazine. They just launched their Mumbai edition in May. I was a bit flustered when they contacted me. I explained that I stepped out of ‘Nightlife’ when I entered the Marriage Registrar’s office earlier in the decade. An article on the hotspots on 1999 might be a bit out of place.
Well, that’s the genesis of ‘Mumbai Marinated’. My attempt to look at the cultural roots of Mumbai through its restaurants. A personal journey I must admit. Not to be taken as the Wiki Truth.
Can’t read it? Here’s the link to May e – magazine . Skip the picture of the skimpily clad lady and go to page 32. The article’s there. Or better still, I have pasted the text here. The magazine article reads marginally different after editing.
I have lived in Mumbai for more than a decade now. And I am still floored by the city. Where else would you find a city which is so welcoming? Which is such a mix of cultures and identities? So warm and lively? It is like a fantastic Indian curry made with a mix of unique spices which combine together into one heady experience.
The city’s food scene reflects this. You have Sushi Bars coming up. Lebanese Shwarmas have become a street corner favourite. International wi fi enabled coffee shops, such as the one I am writing this article from, are springing up all over.
But how did it all start? Was Mumbai always so ‘cosmopolitan’? A walk around Central and South Mumbai would give you a peek into the city’s origins. And there’s no better way to experience it than through its food. So let’s take a look at what fed the early settlers here.
You should start at Dadar or Central Mumbai to have a taste of Maharashtrian food. Maharashtians form the largest community in Mumbai. Dadar is dotted with Gomantak seafood joints serving the fiery, coconut based seafood dishes typical of coastal Mumbai.
The newly opened Purepur Kolhapur near Portuguese Church gives a whole new insight into Maharashtrian food. This offers food from the landlocked regions of the state. Very different from the usual coastal fare. Mutton and chicken form the core here. It is worth trying out for the interesting spice mixes in their dishes. Try the Dhangari chicken or mutton for a taste of rough, earthy tribal masalas. Or the mutton fry for a very delectable cut of meat. And if you find it too spicy then there is the chicken stock and coconut milk based Pandhara Rasa to cool down with.
Travel southwards from Dadar and you will come across the snaking J J flyover which transports you straight into the southern tip of the city. Skip the bridge and go underneath it to head to some of the original Muslim quarters of the city. One of the most famous restaurants here is Noor Mohammadi. Their shammi kebabs are legendary. As is their ‘Chicken Sanju Baba’ named after Munnabhai. You can combine this trip with a detour to Chor Bazar and pick up old film posters and other curios. Check out Suleman Mithaiwala for colourful, deep fried sweets. The malpuas, rabdis and aflatoons are custom made for hearty eaters with mighty hearts.
The areas under the JJ flyover, such as Mohammed Ali Road, really come alive during Ramzan. Kebab stalls on the road in between hawkers selling new clothes and shoes, teeming multitudes, mithai shops opposite biriyani counters … enough to make an intrepid food traveller lick his chops in anticipation. Sarvi near Nagapada Police Station offers melt-in-the-mouth beef kebabs which you can polish off with rotis and parathas through the year, well beyond Ramzan.
None of these options are for the faint hearted though. The restaurants here are not for those who prefer to stick to the safety of antiseptic American food chains when they travel. Most of the restaurants here are grimy, non air conditioned places with more colour and character than cleanliness.
If lots of meat and dust isn’t your scene then head to Girgaum in a direction parallel to Md Ali Road. This is a Gujarati dominant area. Walk into any of the Gujarati ‘Thali’ places here. These restaurants are clean, air conditioned, vegetarian, more expensive… everything that the restaurants of Mohammed Ali Road aren’t. The operation here is simple. You sit down. A smiling waiter dressed in a traditional attire clangs down a stainless steel plate on the table with tiny stainless bowls on them. They come to your table with Star Trooper like regularity filling your plate with farsan or salty snacks, rotis and puris, and bowls full of curries and daals which get replenished the moment you look up from your plate. The waiters would be by your side doling out rice and ghee, pulao or khichdi followed by a range of sweets before you could say ‘kemchho’ or ‘how are you’ in Gujarati . This barrage of food comes at a fixed price and requires an expandable waistline. A particular attraction in summer would be aamras. The delectable local dessert made with the pulp of Alphonso mango. As any Mumbaikar will tell you, there is no mango in the world which matches the Alphonso. Most would be hard pressed to choose if asked to compare their devotion for Alphonsonso with Tendelya or Sachin Tendulkar.
A couple of good bets for thalis would be Golden Star Thali and Rajdhani near Charni Road Station.
Gujaratis are one of the largest communities in Mumbai after the Maharashtrians. Then you have the Parsis. This fast diminishing community makes up in sheer presence what it lacks in numbers. Parsis were one of the leading ‘native’ communities during the British rule of India and played a big role in making Mumbai the commercial hotspot that it is. South Mumbai is full of statues of Parsi entrepreneurs and philanthropists, Parsi Fire Temples and lots of old Parsi buildings with Parsi names.
Old Mumbai was famous for its ‘Irani’ Cafes. The Iranis, like the Parsis are Zoroastrians, who had come to India from Iran. They were quite active in the restaurant business. Irani cafes were known for their distinctive round tables, chequered table cloths, iconic dishes such as brun maska and chai, their surly no nonsense owners and their cats. Most of the Irani Cafes have closed down now. But you can still go to one of them, Cafe Britannia, at Ballard estate. This two-storied restaurant is run by the amicable octogenarian Mr Boman Kohinoor and his family. Don’t be lulled by the walls with peeling paint and the lack of air conditioning. It is a reasonably expensive place. They don’t accept cards. It is an extremely popular restaurant and tables are at a premium during the lunch hour. Landmark dishes here include mutton sali boti, beri pulao, mutton cutlets and patrani machhi. Try to convince Mr Kohinoor to part with his stock of raspberry, the red aerated drink core to Parsi wedding feasts. It’s worth it. Chilled caramel custard would be a nice way to end the meal.
Britannia is only open during lunch and shut on Sundays.
You could also head to Cafe Mocambo near Bombay Stores at Fort for Parsi food. Unlike Britannia this is air conditioned and has a bar too if you need a beer to beat the heat. They serve fairly tasty Parsi dishes here. Cheaper than Britannia. The dhansak and brain cutlets here are pretty good. There are two catches though. First, the Parsi dishes are only available during lunch hour. Second, the Parsi menu is often hidden behind the more expensive continental menu.
A trip to Colaba Causeway would of course take you to Leopold made famous by Shantaram. Well, technically it is an ‘Irani’ restaurant. But it is more popular for enormous pitchers of beer and the buzz of tourists from all over the globe, than for its Parsi food. The food here is indifferent. Though, its beef chilly fry still has many devotees.
A walk further up Colaba will lead you to Martins near the old Strand Cinema. It is one of the few really good Goan restaurants in Mumbai. Surprising, given the number of Goans in Mumbai and given Goa’s proximity to Mumbai. Martins is a hole in the wall, non air conditioned place, with a beef steak fry with onions to die for. Try out the Goan sausage fry here. Goan sausages are a pungent, pickled delight which stands out from its pale, pink cousins from the Western world of sausages. They serve a fairly good pork vindaloo too. Don’t be put off by its austere looks, five Spartan tables and simple seating. The food here is the sort which people keep coming back to.
It would be wrong to say that Mumbai was built just by Maharashtrians, Gujaratis, Parsis, Goans or Muslims and other locals. It was once a Biritsh city after all. So head back to Colaba Causeway and step into Cafe Churchill for fish and chips from good Old Blighty. This is a small but extremely popular continental restaurant run by the same Parsi couple, Dolly and Polly Mistry, who run Mocambo. The prawn Newberg pasta and Sausage in Firecracker Sauce are our favourites here. Their dessert counter and its cheesecakes are legendary. I am a slave to their gooey chocolate cake.
Theobroma, run by the new generation of Parsis, is situated opposite Churchill. They serve some of the best brownies in the world. Pastries, sandwiches, cookies, cupcakes and chocolates; the shop is straight out of Hansel and Gretel. But if I were you, I would focus my energy on their vast range of brownies.
Or you can skip the allures of the Raj and continue on your ethnic trail. Go to the Sindhi restaurant Kailash Parbat in the alley beside Theobroma. Eat some hot jalebis, gajar halwa and gulab jamuns to have a nice sweet Indian ending to your journey. While you are there you could try to get hold of some ghee filled Sindhi sins such as dal pakhwan, ragda pattice, kadhi pakora and chana bhature. You only live once after all.
And this is just the beginning of what Mumbai has to offer. South Mumbai is a good place to begin your discovery of Mumbai as you follow the evolution of the city. Believe me, there is enough here to keep you well fed during your discovery of Mumbai.
So that’s Mumbai. My adopted home. The capital of Maharashtra. A city which welcomes folks from neighbouring states. And from the rest of India. Home to Parsis and Sindhis who left their countries in search of home. And to expats who fly across today’s migratory world. A city where all blend in leaving behind their food trail. Rich and well flavoured. Relished by all.