Category Archives: Fort

>An afternoon with Xanthe Clay at my Fort

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With Xanthe Clay & Heathcliff on the streets of Mumbai

Warning: Long post ahead 

Xanthe Clay

Well, this is another Twitter story. Pamela Timms and I know each other through twitter. She tweets as @eatanddust. (I am, er, @finelychopped on twitter). Pmalea is an expat at Delhi who writes a food blog called Eat And Dust. She writes for publications too and you would never guess that she is not a local when you read her write ups.

Pamela wrote to me a few days back asking me if I could hook up with someone called Xanthe Clay who was coming to India to do a story on the local food. Now, I must confess that I had no idea who Xanthe was. More a testimony of the fact that I don’t read as much as I should than anything else.  Xanthe and I exchanged a few mails. She wanted me to show her my favourite eating places at Mumbai. The answer was obvious, take her to Fort.
We met at her hotel around lunch time on Friday. Xanthe told me that she met Camellia Panjabi, the Grand Dame of Indian food writing, the previous day. I felt like an amateur Karaoke singer about to perform after Lata Mangeshkar.
 Xanthe was the only person I know whose name starts with X. As I later found out, her parents had given her a Grecian name. A Google search on the phone the previous night and our chat during the day revealed that Xanthe was a big food writer in the UK. She’s written three books and now is onto her fourth. Her books, from what I gather, try to focus on demystifying and simplifying cooking. “I don’t write about difficult cooking”, she said. Well, that sounded like my sort of cooking. Xanthe tweets as @Xanthecooks She is also a food columnist for The Daily Telegraph in the UK.
Turned out that she personally knew Simon Majumdar, food blogger turned food author turned food reality show judge and someone I admire, for a while. According to Xanthe, Simon was someone who ‘calls a spade a spade’. That’s exactly what I’d like to be known as. That’s why Finely Chopped was born. And yet, Simon is the nicest, and only, celebrity I know and he sincerely answers any questions that I have.  
Well, that’s all about Xanthe professionally. The first thing that strikes you when you meet Xanthe the person is that she is one of the sweetest people you could meet. Extremely charming, gentle and with a very disarming smile. She is just the kind of person you would run to if you were stuck in a room full of bawling Kindergarten kids and didn’t know what to do. She was extremely non-fussed and walked the crowded streets of Fort without a tremor and sampled food and drinks from the street side stalls without flinching.

All of this is real, Xanthe dug in to everything without a second thought
Accompanying her was Heathcliff, the photographer. His work has taken him to all parts of the world. It was amazing to see how he drew similarities with what he saw at Syria when I showed him a Parsi Fire Temple here. Heathcliff too had no hang-ups while trying out the food and seemed to be as into the assignment as Xanthe. It was amazing to see Heathcliff walk around with three bazooka like cameras while I ended up with sore shoulders with my tiny little Sony cyber shot at the end of the day. 

The khao gulley or ‘Eat Street’ of Fort

I won’t get into the details of the street food because that’s what Xanthe’s article will be about. This is more about what happened that afternoon.
We started our Fort walk with a homage to history. Laxmi Building, and its plaque announcing its inauguration by Sjt Subhas Chandra Bose in 1938. And then ‘The Bombay Store’ which Xanthe found to be quite ‘posh’. I showed her the ‘Bombay Swadeshi Stores’ plaque and gave her a lecture on Bal Gangadhar Tilak and how he opened this store to take on the British who dumped their goods at India. More than a hundred years back. Thank god for Amar Chitra Katha history lessons. ”The British were the bad guys”, I looked pointedly at the fairy godmotherlike Xanthe, and Heathcliff who was quite an anti-imperialist himself.
We headed to one of the many Khao Gulleys of India that sustained its middle class worker bees. I had discovered this one at Fort on a rainy day on the way back from Puncham Puri. A few centuries back. 
We first bumped into people eating red rice with brown dumplings on plastic plates… I introduced our visitors to the concept of Schezwan…the Indian cousin of Sichuan. “Always red”.

Bhel puri stall next, except sev puri photographed better according to our visitors. The bhel was consigned to a corner as we munched on sev puri and ragra pudi and dahi puri. In any case I prefer sev puris or ‘Indian canapes’ as I described them. The unhealthier and more deep fried the better for me.  I gave a free Hindi lesson here. Sukha is dry. Bheega is wet. Khatta is sour. Meetha is sweet. Kam Teekha is less hot. There is a new Vinod Dua in town.

Vada pao shoot followed and then my lecture on the difference between kandapakora (‘tomato tomato’). We headed to the Pao bhaji stall to see the making of ‘tava pulao. “Not ‘pilaf’. That’s Persian”. And then a chai stall where Xanthe enthusiastically sipped a glass of cutting chai and learnt about the concept of ‘cutting’. “Half a cup so that you can drink many through the day. Rs 4 versus Rs 8 for a glass”.
Mewad ice cream followed which both Xanthe and I liked. Reminded me of the lunches at Nariman Point when I used to work there. The photographer in Heatchliff made him choose falooda for its kaleidoscopic balance of textures and colours. We then crossed over to the Apoorva gulley. Lunch time was over. Saw the remains in the vessels of a Maharashtrian Moushi’s cart run by the Amres. Two carts down was Swamy who came to Mumbai from Coimbatore fifty years back.  He served more than 38 types of rice at this spot for twenty years now. Heathcliff clicked away at sheera (sweet semolina), upma (salt), idli, curd rice or tair sadam, tamarind rice, lemon rice and sambar rice. And then we set off for cut fruits.
Our street food walk brought us across the various faces of Mumbaikars. Enthusiastic bystanders who joined in the conversation with explanations and suggestions. Street fruit vendors who kindly let us click away without even knowing that we were actually going to pay for what we ate (this was not a PR shoot or a press junket). The odd strain of post Headley suspicion in a vendor and a lawyer who didn’t want to be photographed. The fruit seller who was fine with us photographing as long as we didn’t disturb his work. This was business hour for him in the city’s former commercial centre. And the proud Maharashtrian food vendor who asked me to take our visitors to ‘good healths’ rather than showing the ‘cheap street stuff’. Mumbai is a world city after all.

The bystanders joined in with their suggestions. They were Maharashtrians & told me that Ragda puri is apparently a Gujarati invention…loved by all

‘Ragda’ or chickpeas

The faluda won Heathcliff’s heart

My take on faluda…would love to see Heathcliff’s pics

Memories of mewad ice cream

“Rapidex’ Hindi lessons

Cutting chai

Swami and his rice cart

With my family at Fort

I was touched by the way I was welcome back by all ‘my people’ at Fort. I had just been there for four months after all. It started right with the parking lot guys. Dipu the sandwich wallah, the last person I said goodbye to when I left Fort a fortnight back. Then the welcoming smell of Ustaad’s jalebis. The Vidya Dairy Farm refused to take money for the jalebis and samosas that they served us. The Prodigal Son had returned. Ustaad who was taking a post lunch break gamely came out and started making jalebis for Heathcliff to photograph. Man, does the old man love the camera or what? Never realised that our Pehelwan was so short. 
We didn’t go to Apoorva or Swaghath as Xanthe and Heathcliff were interested in street food. I took them to Ideal Corner though and I packed dhansaks for dinner. It was good to meet Walter and the manager again. Parvez had just left. The waiters smiled and giggled when I asked them if they’d give me a job. Will there ever be a proverbial ‘rich uncle’ in my life?
Our tour continued and a trip to the paan shop in front of Lalit where the security guards of an unknown ‘important person’ picked me up for taking photos on my second day at Fort. And then we went to the smiling juicewallah where I had a strawberry milk shake after ages. He didn’t approve of Heathcliff’s choice of beet, carrot and apple though.
Our next stop, Yazdani Bakery, where I introduced Xanthe to the Iranis and Parsis. “A bit like the way the Brits look at the French, idiosyncratic, quaint, love food”. We chatted with one of the owners, Mr Parvez Irani, whom I met for the first time. He told us about how a Japanese consul member came and told him that Yazdani stood where a Bank of Tokyo branch once stood in the hoary past. And of the German baker who came visiting in the 80s and said that Yazdani made the best bread in the world. Then Tirandaz Irani came to the shop and allowed me into the hallowed baking area for the third time. Xanthe was awestruck, as I was each time that I went in, by the deeeeeeep oven. On the way out she joined the bakers in rolling dough, synchronised as if it was a West End musical.

Ustaad loves the camera. I really miss him

10 kilo maida, 250 g besan, chini, colour…sounds so simple

Took a while before the juice wala gave in to Heathcliff’s request of beet, carrot AND apple

The right way to drink Brun Maska

Xanthe Charms Mr Rashid Irani…not the easiest of tasks

The Fire Temple for those who love to bake

‘My Fair lady’, now playing at Yazdani Bakery

Tirandaz Irani in the corner… this is the third time that he let me into the bakery. Third time that I asked him to
A last walk down the street that led to Fort House. Suresh’s vada pao shops where the vada pao maker remembered me. He got bashful when bystanders told him that his photos would come out at London. The bearded guy at the counter of Fountain Plaza waved out at me as he always did. 
A final sev puri stop. Xanthe said that she had a ‘feeling’ about it. She was right. We had a remarkable sev puri and did a little video clip where I nodded away like a cheer leader while Xanthe described the making of sev puri.


The gentleman in blue most sportingly let us photograph his lunch

Shoo you evil eye

Puris…who could not love them

‘Sev’ comes to the party

Getting ready for the shoot

 At the Queen’s Necklace

Off to Marine Drive where Heathcliff wanted to shoot the sunset. I took a few photos too as I had never been here with a digital camera. Xanthe and I chatted for a while as I got to know about her work. I had done most of the talking so far. “Indian food is about existence and not indulgence. That’s why we don’t focus on plating” and that sort of stuff had made up our day.
Xanthe told me about her belief in blogging as a way to get noticed as a writer. And about how she felt that content was more important than worrying too much about Google searches. An interesting perspective for Heathcliff too who was trying to figure out how to balance a blog with socio political views with a more ‘effective’ photographer’s portfolio blog. 
It was soon time to part but not before I answered Xanthe’s questions on etiquette. “Do a Namaste only to doormen, chauffeurs, etc. If you are meeting someone from the English speaking urban ‘elite’ then a simple handshake would do. A folded hands Namaste would seem facetious”.
  

The Queen’s Necklace

Warming up to India

‘In conversation with Xanthe Clay’ as K Jo would say


Xanthe wanted to know what my favourite from the street food of Mumbai was. After a bit of thinking I said that it would be the ‘Mumbai sandwich’. It was unique and had a sense of buttery indulgence. As I explained, we were extremely loyal to the street food of our little corners of India. As a former Calcuttan my love for phuckas and rolls would never let me get impressed by vada pao, sev or bhel puri. The Mumbai sandwich was suitably neutral and Western and didn’t compete directly with my favourites.

Mumbai Sandwich
And thus ended an afternoon where I got to do what I love the most. Introduce the world to a Mumbai which lies somewhere in between the depths of Slumdog Millionaire and the excesses of Mukesh Ambani’s Antilla. To the real India. A tiny part of it.

The afternoon opened a number of doors in my mind. Left me with deep thoughts. Largely to do with whether any British paper would send Nigella to do a food piece at Mumbai.

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Filed under Food musings, Fort, Mumbai highs, People, South Mumbai, Street stars, Vintage Bombay

>Of being ‘Fort Enchanted’

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Ustaad with his rangeen photos

 
I would often cross the sweet shop on my way to lunch. The smell of fresh jalebis inviting me from way ahead. I would always stop to wish ‘Ustaad’. He would extend his elbow to me to shake. Hands covered in jalebi mix. And then, from behind the swarthy moustache, the squeaky voice would say “aap mujhe rangeen photo dena”.

I had given him a black and white print out of the post I had written about him. But ‘pehelwan’ (or wrestler), as some called him, wanted coloured prints. Something we had forgotten in the age of Picassa and Flickr.

Today, on my last day at Fort, I fulfilled my promise.

I don’t know know what made me fall in love with Fort the way I did. Was it the approach to Fort? The poetry of Muslim architecture by the J J Flyover. The Victorian Majesty of VT, the BMC and Times of India buildings. The chutzpah of the art deco buildings by my office. An office building which was inaugurated by a certain Sjt Subhas Chandra Bose in 1938. Opposite a shop opened by Bal Gangadhar Tilak when he raised his cry of Swadeshi (self rule) against the British. The same British who had helped plan a charmed business district with enough trees or shade for the weary traveller to rest by. Was it the winding walks with each lane opening into a new wonder? Stumbling into a Garden of Eden one day. Also known as Horniman Circle? Or the parking lot guys who would park my car when chubby, my driver, was bunking. They were all from the same gaon or village apparently.

The friends I would meet, old and new? Amba, Kaniska, Gia, Mama, Ranjit, Viraj, Ashish, Berges, Andrea, Shaheen. Drawn to Fort like bees to a honeycomb. Or was it the many afternoons of getting lost? Of  ‘hearing one’s inner voice’ as Tony Bourdain once put it.

VT or CST

Bohri Masjid

Tilak’s Bombay Stores & the art deco buildings
Horniman Circle

An Irani cafe in Japanese building


Laxmi Building

Was it all the fresh, wholesome, honest food with prices from another century? Dhansak at Ideal Corner. Ironically my first and last lunch at Fort. Their atheli chicken pateta and gun powder pork. Ulundu and Mysore Sada Dosa, kick in the butt filter coffee at Swagath. The breads of Yazdani Bakery. Apple pies and Christmas Cake too. Apoorva’s stews, appams and Gassis. Banana leaf vegetarian meals at Deluxe with delectable Surmai  fries. Beef and paratha at Rahmaniya. Deepu’s sandwiches. Madhukar’s Lassis. Muzzafar’s palak bhajiyas. Puris at Puncham Puri and Mathura Sweets.

Ustaad’s jalebis

Suresh’s Palak Bhajiyas

Chicken stew at Apoorva

Chicken fry and parota at Garden Plaza

Those jalebis again

Banana leaf meal at Deluxe

Moti Lassi with malai

I had most of my lunches here

Ideal Corner’s dhansak my first and last lunch at Fort

Evenings at Swagath…Mysore sada dose

Yazadani’s breads

Puncham and his Puris

Bombay Sandwiches

Kick in the butt filter coffee at Swagath

Or did the spell of Fort lie in its people? Parvez Irani and Tirandaaz Irani of Cafe Ideal Corner and Yazdani Bakery who broke the myth of grumpy owners of Irani Cafes. Krishna, the owner of Apoorva who would often sit down at my table to chat with me. And hand out a ten per cent discount. Dipu the big hearted sandwichwallah who would wave at me every day. The last person I said goodbye to today at Fort as I handed him a printout of the post I wrote on him. The scion of Mathura Sweets, unshaven with an ear stud, wishing me in perfect English. Muzzafar and his colleagues at Suresh’s Batata Vada shop, smiling at me when I would go by. As would the bearded man at the counter of Fountain Plaza opposite. Or Madhukar the Maharashtrian lassiwallah at the Punjabi Moti Halwai, who posed for me one day.

My regular waiter with curly hair at Swagath Udipi. Patiently explaining to me the difference between set and ulundu dosa. As we got to know each other he would wrap my coffee glass with a tissue paper, the way I liked it, when I sipped on a hot filter coffee on the road. His colleagues at Swagath, all excited to see the blog post on them on their ‘Idea Mobile’ (no not a plug). The three waiters at Cafe Ideal who would always serve me with care. The waiter from Udipi at Aoorva who would take my order with a bashful smile, embarrassed when I shook his hand after new year. The waiter in the AC section at Deluxe who would meticulously explain each item in the Keralite banana leaf thali. Getting me steaming glasses of rassam on the house on days when I wouldn’t go for the full meal. “Have it. It is fresh”. The waiter at Puncham Puri who told us about the fact that the venerable Mr Puncham had set up his puri shop way before CST station existed. A rare breed in a city of restaurants with inept untrained staff.

With the Yazdani Bakery Gang. Photo: Shaheen P

The folks at Swagath read the post on them

Muzaffar at Suresh’s

Our man from Udipi at Apoorva

Intense discussion with Krishna of Apoorva on Thai food

Madhukar at Moti’s lassis

Tirandaz Irani of Yazdani enacts the Rin ad shot here

Third generation scion of Mathura Sweets

Dipu the sandwichwallah with the heart of gold

The every smiling Parvez Irani of Ideal Corner with his merry band

 
Or were it the bakers from UP at Yazadan Bakery? Posing for me not once, but twice when I came in for shoots.The earnest father and daughter who ran the humble Pradeep Gomantak? The cart owners at Khao Gulley who posed for me one day as I took photographs. Or the trips to Colaba? To Ling’s and Johnny and bacon pot rice and pork belly. To Olympia and its super fantastic kachhi biriyani and mutton masala fry. Or to Samovar and its parathas.

Biriyani at Olympia

The super sweet Johny at Ling’s Pavilion

 
Would it be the strangers I shared tables and conversations with at Rahmaniya, Garden Plaza, Deluxe, Yazadani, Ideal Corner, Swagath and Apoorva? Strangers who became lunch mates for a few magical moments.

Or was it just all about Ustaad and his fresh, hot jalebis?

Ustaad. AKA Pehelwan

Gosh, I must have done something really good to have deserved this. Maybe there is an angel looking after bloggers.

I bid my goodbyes at Fort today. To Ustaad. To the dhansak at Ideal Corner. To the folks at Swagath.

As Jim Morrison said,“When the music’s over … Turn out the lights”

When the music’s over

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Filed under Fort, From the hip, Mumbai highs, People, South Mumbai, Street stars, Vintage Bombay

>Painting Fort Purple… Coffee Point, Yazdani Bakery with Purple Foodie

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With the star bakers of Yazdani. Pic: Shaheen Peerbhai

Shaheen, the Size Zero Baker of the Belgian chocolate cake fame, who writes on The Purple Foodie, DM’ed me on Twitter yesterday. She was at Bombay Store for a shoot.

We met up for lunch. I introduced her to my Fort. A place where banana leaf meals are a fact of life and not just the name of a restaurant. Our little baker wanted to eat light and ordered a Keralite fish curry and rice. She changed her rice order when she saw my banana leaf sadiya (vegetarian Keralite meal). Spoon in hand she soon dug in and clicked away too. And for those who believe in what K and my in laws do, the surmai fry at Deluxe had just a masala coating. No frigging batter.

We stepped out and I offered to take her to Yazdani Bakery. Then got waylaid as I stumbled upon a coffee shop which looked exactly like a chai ka dukan (streetside tea shop). Never saw something like that before. Even after about four months at Fort. My Fort never stops surprising me.

Of course I had to stop. Had a filter coffee. The owner looked a bit worried as we took photos but got into the spirit of things once assured that we wouldn’t report him to the authorities. He took over from his assistant and made the coffee himself. Gets the coffee from his gaon (village) at Karnataka apparently.

Shaheen clicked away with her fancy camera with detachable lenses. I looked in awe as she showed a camera function where things automatically looked blurred in the background. Made me felt like the Indian football team which made it to the World Cup in the 50s but couldn’t go as they didn’t have shoes.

The coffee was milky. Really strong and potent.

I then took our Size Zero Baker to Yazdani where Tirandaz Irani immediately allowed us into the baking zone. I felt honoured and at home at the same time. It felt great to see little Shaheen’s eyes light up when she saw the wood fire oven. She was mumbling something about getting a pizza and tossing it in. Kids of today. She marvelled at the speed at which the bakers were packing the dough for the bread. I was in a spell as I saw the Christmas cakes going into the oven. My favourite raisins kept in a pile. Little did I know that I would actually have one of those cakes, fresh from the oven, at our office lunch on the 24th. Soft, fresh, full of raisins doused with rum which made me feel wary about driving back.

The two of us created quite a storm apparently. The bakers thought we were from the media, ‘mediawalleh hain’ and started posing for us. Everyone wanted to get photographed by young Shaheen who obviously added a touch of purple to the monochromatic settings.

On the way out we chatted with Tirandaz who enacted out the ad film shot at Yazdani involving Boman Irani and a fat woman. Tirandaz caught hold of one one of his bakers and made him play Boman while he sportingly played the fat wife. This was a film Kainaz had worked on and I texted her.

I asked Tirandaz about the story food journalist Vikram Doctor told me. Apparently  Yazdani was the only bakery open this side of town during the riots of ’92. Vikram and a group of Samaritans used to collect pao (local bread) from Yazdani every morning and take it to people stuck in the riot affected area. Triandaz confirmed and then said “luckily those days are long gone.”

We spoke to Mr Rashid Irani, Tirandaz’s uncle who introduced himself as ‘Haroon Al Rashid’ to Shaheen after the Arabian Knights. Shaheen had obviously won many hearts specially when I introduced her as a baker. Mr Irani had some advice for our Purple Foodie. “Women shouldn’t be bakers, they should only bake babies”. (!)

The icing on the cake was when the gentleman sitting beside Mr Rashid, Mr Mehernoush from Canada, asked Shaheen for the name of her blog. He exclaimed in recognition when he heard ‘Purple Foodie’. Turned out that he loves to cook and that he reads Saheen’s blog. Now what are the chances of that?

And this is what Shaheen Tweeted about our afternoon at Fort.

@PurpleFoodie Shaheen

@ After a fabulous afternoon eating Keralite food and peeking into the Yazdani Bakery kitchen with @Finelychopped, I am truly #FortEnchanted

A coffee shop which looks like a chai ka dookan. Fort continues to surprise me
The coffee comes all the way from Karnataka
Show me a cappuccino machine which can beat this
The boss takes over after we brandish our camera
Filter Coffee
Now, does she look scary like a Municipal Ma’am?
The Christmas cakes go into the oven at Yazdani

I am a raisin fanatic…no wonder yazdani works for me

“Butter to my bread”
Christmas Cake straight out of the oven
Had the Yazdani Christmas Cake at the office Christmas lunch. Am still heady (BB pic)
I am sure she would have like to pack the oven and take it home
Baker meets bakers “they are so fast”
Tirandaz Irani plays the role of the fat wife as he re-enacts “the washing soap” ad shot at Yazdani with Boman Irani. K had worked on the film
Mr Rashid Irani  

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Filed under coffee shops, Fort, Mumbai highs, People, South Mumbai, Vintage Bombay

>A walk in the clouds… Ankur, Moti Lassi, Fort.

>Note: I wrote this post last evening when I though that Friday was our last day at Fort. Just got to know that we have got an extension till the first week of Jan. Thanks Santa 🙂 (lots of photos so keep scrolling)

It was lunch time on Monday. The first day of the week. I got an SMS from K.

“Last week at Fort. Choose where you eat wisely”

I didn’t have a plan when I went down for lunch. I thought I had eaten at most places at Fort. Should I repeat one of my favourites?

That’s when I remembered Ankur. The Mangalorean restaurant that they showed on NDTV’s Secret Kitchen the previous night. A rare food programmewhich went beyond Gajalee when it showed seafood joints at Mumbai . A little asking around on Twitter and Puja Dhingra of Le 15 Pattiserie told me that Ankur was at Fort and that it was one of her favourite restaurants.

I thought of heading towards Ankur.  I embarked on a hunt reminiscent of my early days at Fort. All I had to go by was that ‘it was close to Apoorva’.

Well, it wasn’t. Some people I asked said it was towards the Stock Market. That seemed far. But the weather was perfect to check this out. I asked the folks at Yazdani. They knew of Apoorva, Mahesh. But not Ankur. In desperation I tweeted and immediately got directions. I headed down directed by tweets and by a pakorawallah and suddenly stumbled upon Ankur. Did I say I love twitter?

For those interested, take a right from the Bombay Store Building at Fort. Cross Mahesh, not Apoorva, head past Yazadani, cross the Akberally road and the Church over the and then take a natural right. You’ll find Ankur.

Go Down the Mahesh Road



Past Yazdani



Head towards the Stock exchange
Love the architecture

Past the pakora wallah – who asked me to taste and not just shoot… he was the one who directed me to Ankur
The Ankur Lane

My friend and guide at Fort , Mumbai Central (on twitter), summed up Ankur as an ‘expensive Apoorva’ when I tweeted. Well it was grander than Mahesh and Apoorva. A tad frostier and marginally more expensive than both. A tour guide had got some foreign tourists over. It was that sort of place.

After much consultation with a senior waiter and his trainee I opted for Prawn Karavalli. Their other suggestions were fried fish (a speciality apparently) and gassi (which I earlier had at Apoorva).

I am glad that I ordered the Karavalli. The curry smelt divine the moment they placed it on the table. It tasted tangy and sharp. Exactly as it smelt. The sourness gave into a lightly woody bite ending with an unusually pleasant bitter note of fried curry leaves. Went very well with neer dosas.

I am not much of a curry person but I lapped up the entire bowl of Karavalli curry. That’s how good it was. And this is very rare. On asking, the senior waiter told me that unlike gassi, karavalli didn’t have coconut in it. It was made with tamarind, coriander, black pepper, chillies and curry leaves. He insisted that there were NO mustard seeds in it. When I pointed out black specks, he said that they were specks of dried tamarind.

He told me that Ankur was a fifty year old restaurant. That it started as a vegetarian restaurant. Was owned by the same gentleman who started Apoorva apparently. Better sense finally prevailed and it became a fish place fifteen years back.

How were the prawns? Overcooked. Possibly not too fresh. And overpowered by the curry. The crime which most Mangalorean and Gomantak places commit.

But the Karavalli curry? One of the unforgettables of Fort.

Tweet Feed on Ankur

Kalyan Karmakar

SOS where is Ankur restaurant at Fort @ @

 

AD

@ @ in the lane next to our store

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Mumbai Central

 
@ it’s the same lane as Military Cafe, if you know where that is. It’s a more expensive version of apoorva.

Rajesh

 
@ Ankur – Tel: 02222654194, 02222630393

Rajesh

 
@ we’ve been to most restaurants at fort, I have only one Ankur in my database… 😉

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Rajesh

@ i hope thats the same ANKUR rest your looking for !!

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Mumbai Central

 
@ near stock exchange.
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Seafood Mumbai

 
@ Ankur, MP Shetty Marg. go on MG road take left after kandeel restaurant
pooja dhingra

 
@ it’s in fort! Hidden in a little street…the best uppam and butter garlic crab…pepper chicken…damn now I’m hungry!

pooja dhingra

 
@ ankur is one of my favourite restaurants in the city! U must try it!!!
The twitter world is abuzz with discussion on the cost of onions. I didn’t touch any
Over cooked prawns in celestial Karavalli curry

I stopped at Moti Halwai on the way back. The sweets at counter looked tired. Meals inside seemed to be vegetarian thalis. What caught my eyes were the lassis outside.

I was in two minds about the lassi. I had a sore throat. The cold sour curd based drink didn’t seem to be a good idea. Then I said what the hell and picked up one.

Madhukar, the Maharashtrian lassi maker, in this 56 year old Punjabi restaurant poured out a lassi for me. Each sip was Ambrosial in the truest sense. Rich. Sweet. Warm. Soothing. Nourishing. A granny of a drink. A hefty chunk of malai or butter bobbing on the surface, added in at the end. Most were fishing it out with a spoon and happily munching on it. I took a few tentative bites. It had a slight salty taste which countered the taste of the lassi.

Madhukar, who posed for me, explained that the difference between the 18 Rs (1/2 USD) plain and 30 Rs (3/4 USD) Special lassi was that the latter didn’t have any water in it. And had some nuts on top.

A 56 year old restaurant which I discovered during my expedition
Madhukar the Maharashtrian lassi maker
Adding malai for the lassi
Lassi mastered
Sweet lassi…a loving granny of a drink
Check out the malai at the rim
I am proud of this photo
Special Lassi. no water
The Punjabi owner of this 56 year old restaurant

And so I ambled back past Fort House and its magical gate, HSBC, the Church, Yazdani, past Mahesh…to Laxmi Building. A lesson in architecture, some great food, friendly faces, a walk, all packed in in less than an hour as I counted my last few hours at this enchanted world of Fort.

And then I got lucky 🙂

The view from opposite my office

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>The simple pleasures of life… the Bombay Sandwich

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Dipu Bharadwaj, sandwichwallah

I still remember the first time I had a ‘Bombay Sandwich’. It was outside Eros Cinema at Churchgate. ’96-’97. One of my first trips to Mumbai. A man grilling a sandwich with the same type of toaster that my grandmom used. Except that his sandwich seemed like a whopper. Enough to fill the stomach of a hungry young man. Swirling inside your mouth. Simple yet seductive. My first encounter with the Bombay sandwich.

Then there was the sandwichwallah outside Nirmal at Nariman Point. I often used to pick a cheese chili grilled toast on my work. Uncle’s sandwichwallah at Carter Road. Mute and deaf. Uncle would have sandwiches ready for K and me as we ran up like little children to him. We went and had a sandwich there on the first anniversary of Uncle’s death.

And now the sandwichwallah outside Laxmi Building at Fort. I stop there for a snack before the long drive home on days when I don’t go to Swagath. I got talking to the him the other day. His name is Dipu Bharadwaj. He is from Moradabad at UP. He has been making sandwiches for the officewallahs of Fort for around fifteen years.

“How old are you?” I asked.

You could have knocked me down with a feather when he said “thirty nine”. I thought that this thin wiry man would be in his late twenties.

He deftly assembled our sandwiches. Vegetable without cucumbers for me. Grilled cucumbers don’t work for me. So tomatoes, boiled potatoes, beetroot, onions, green chutney, loads of butter. There was a lady beside me placing her order. She wanted a ‘cheese’ veg grilled sandwich. Soon Dipoo fountained out streams of cheese through his grater.

He was intrigued about the photos that I was taking with my Blackberry. He remembered me as the man from Laxmi Building even though I had come to him only twice before. I told him that I wrote about people at Fort including Swagath, the vada pao guy and the jalebiwallah. He wanted to know how his sandwich compared with the jalebis and vada paos. Which was the best? I said that one couldn’t compare them but that his sandwiches where better than the ones made by the guys at Bandra. He smiled. The smile became larger when the lady standing beside me said that Dipu’s sandwiches were better than those made by the guy who stood by her office.

There was a certain calm and maturity in Dipu’s voice when he spoke. He told me that he was missing yesterday as the Police Vans had come to remove the hawkers. No anguish or anger, he said this in a matter of fact manner. He suddenly looked at his apprentice who was fanning the coal stove on which the sandwich grilled. “Do not open the grill so often. The steam will go away. Wait for a few minutes and then open and turn it around. Then keep it closed for a while”. Life’s lessons sagely shared with the next generation.

My sandwich was ready. He put it on a plate. Cut it expertly into cubes. Asked me and then added a layer of butter, red sauce (ketchup allegedly) and green chutney on it. On asking he told me that the green chutney is a mix of coriander and mint leaves, green chillies, copra (grated coconut).

I took a bite. The initial sensation was of searing heat. You smiled happily as your mouth burnt. It looked too tempting to be patient. And then the juicy ecstatic ride of puritanical boiled potatoes, tangy tomatoes, caramelised sweet onions, the salt and spice of the green chutney and luscious sinful butter rolling in tandem with  the sweet red sauce…a taste experience which is unparalleled by the modern electronic grill sandwich makers or even expensive sandwiches with international meats and cheeses. At Rs 14, (0.75 USD) the Bombay Sandwich is a rare treat in today’s inflationary world. A delight in its absolute sense.

As I ate, Dipu looked at a woman standing by us. A dark, thin woman in a sari with a little kid. “What will you have?”

“I want money”.

She was a beggar. Yes, we hate Slumdog Millionaire, but the begging menace and using children for the same is a stark reality of the city.

“Sorry. No money.” Said Dipu. He started making another sandwich. He didn’t toast this. Stuffed it with vegetables. A plain or ‘sada’ sandwich. Wrapped it properly. Turned to the woman with the baby. Gave her the sandwich.

“I want money”.

“Sorry. No money”

The young, fairly fit woman walked of sullenly with the sandwich. She looked angry. Big hearted Dipu had disappointed her with his generosity.

May his tribe never .diminish

Make your own sandwich, choose your own combination
Cheese sandwich…beats gruyere
Packing a cheese sandwich before she headed to catch a train home
The next generation gets ready

The magic griller

Move over Sophia Lauren
Bliss wrapped in crunch
Chutney, butter…Bombay’s answer to mustard and slop
I am sure he sleeps well at night

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>Of virgin white sheets and black lace. Foccaccia from Yazdani Bakery

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White sands. Azure skies. Cheerful blue seas. The sound of waves crashing into the wind. Chilled white in a bucket of ice. Grains of caviar on virginal crackers. A bowl of grapes. White sandals strewn carelessly on a red rug. The swish of nylons, the shimmer of silk. A mischievous smile.

Does bread talk to you?

I was a bit disoriented as I realised that next week would probably by my last at Fort before we shift to the new office. I had lunch at Deluxe. Porota. Keralite chicken curry. The waiter, who recognises me by now, came and gave me a steaming glass of rasam. On the house. “Have it. It’s hot. Made fresh”.

I stepped out. Realised I was on the wrong lane and ended up in front of Yazdani Bakery. I stepped in and ordered the apple pie that I wanted for a while. Couldn’t finish it and packed half. It was 50 Rs (!). Then saw that they stocked foccaccia bread. I picked up a loaf for home (Rs 20).

I stopped at Sante’s at Pali Naka. Tasted Light Goat’s Gouda and some Turkey Bacon. Proper taste samples unlike the woman at Nature’s Basket who gave us some cheese dust to sniff the other day. Picked both up and walked home.

I made myself some coffee to have with the apple pie. Broke a chunk of the foccaccia. Added a drizzle of olive oil on it. Bit into it with and then a bite of cheese.

I had to whip out the camera.

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>Sweet Dreams … Cafe Universal, Mumbai

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We met our landlord (Ll) and real estate agent (A) this morning. Both Goans. It was that time of the year. The bane of every tenant’s life. This is how the conversation went.

LL: I just went to Goa. Had some very bad chili fry there. It’s too crowded right now. My co passenger paid Rs 24,000 for his flight ticket
A: It is so difficult to get good chili fry
The wife: Martin’s is good for Goan
LL &amp A: big smile
Me: I like Snow Flake too
LL: But how did you find the service? Last time I went it was in shambles
Me: Well, it seemed like some-one’s house. Quiet and empty.
LL: Exactly. The emptiness put me off. D’Sousa used to be good
The Wife: D’sousaaaaaa! my dad used to eat there before he was married. I thought he had got the name wrong as I never saw it myself
LL: City Kitchen was good too
Me: I went there the other day. It has closed down
LL: Yes, the owner is a stupid woman. She apparently closed the place down for renovation..told the workers who had worked there for 35 years that she would call them when done…sold the place off…and didn’t pay them
LL & A sighed
The Wife: we love the steak and onion fry at Martins
A: (smiling again) My wife and I book nine steaks when we go there as they get over
LL: And the place has remained the same. The owner is crashed out. His father used to sit there before. Same spot. With a glass of country liquor
A: You don’t get good steaks anywhere. At the most, that Gondola place near your house. Kobes
LL: Kobes is all crap, bullshit and hype
Me: Mondegar’s has good steaks
A (much to my surprise) Where is Mondegars? New place?
Me: Mondy’s is a classic
A: Now where is this Mondy’s
LL: It is the same. Short form. It is in the first lane after Regal
A: The Baghdadi lane?
LL: No. No the one before
A: (suddenly)….er, I think this way we will only talk of food

And then our discussions of commerce began. I got a call from the A later in the afternoon

A: Kalyan, sorry to call you. This is not about the rent. Where is this place Mondegars again?

Well, welcome to my world.

(A lot of the restaurant gossip above would be hearsay and probably not all true…so no defamation suits please. The gossip here is not that of the blogger’s.)

Actually we did go in search of City Light the other day. We walked down Fort on a wet afternoon. Down Bora Bazar. Towards GPO. And then Fort Market. Past old buildings, big roads, a glimpse of VT, approaching Ballard Estate…in search of City Kitchen. A kind avuncular gentleman with white beard at a Muslim restaurant told us that City Kitchen had shut down.

So we strolled into a place called  Universal Cafe   An old building from the British era. Stained glass windows which proclaimed that it was established in 1921. The place looked smart and well maintained. High ceilings. Creaking fans. Irani Cafe tables. Wooden sofa/ bench booths. Smartly painted. Aged yet graceful like the late Maharani Gayatri Devi.

The air was languorous, lazy. Execs in white shirts, ties and trousers, young couples taking a break from work… pitchers of beer. Not the sort of place to walk into if you have to get back to fill in hours in your time sheet.

It was an Irani restaurant. The menu ranged from steaks to OMG (‘world’s’ biggest burger’), Chinese, Dhansak and a couple of Irani dishes that I had never heard of. I didn’t feel like experimenting. So we went for Chinese.

‘Beef chilly fry’ said my lunch mate. This is the landmark dish of Leopold’s. Seemed like blasphemy to order it here. The beef chilli turned out to be quite different at Universal. I think that don’t approve of cow slaughter at Leo’s and don’t encourage eating beef. The beef chili is inedible at Leopolds. Yet it holds you in its spell. You order it though you know it won’t be good … and then curse it.

The beef chilly at Cafe Universal on the other hand was well flavoured and suitably tender…edible of course, made you happy and satisfied, like, er, a cow chewing cud.

For the mains we went for pepper prawns. Guided by our knowledgeable waiter. Spicy. Juicy. Hot. China meets Yana Gupta. The mixed fried rice was well flavoured, had a good mouth feel. As my lunch mate said, “Don’t know if its the beer but I am actually beginning to like the rice too”.

Cafe Universal is now synonymous with lazy afternoons in my mind. This was a place where time had fallen asleep. And urged you to doze too.

And here’s Kurush Dalal on the Finely Chopped Facebook page on the history of Cafe Universal:

  • Kurush F Dalal

    cafe universal was a typical irani restaurant famous for its chai, bun maska, omlette and kheema …. then came the end of the honeymoon (around 1975)and the dockworkers and lay people began to find other alternatives like the udipi … alongside the rising sun of south indian food was the twilight of the irani cafe …. universal rose to the challenge by transforming into a beer bar and started a very good 2nd innings unlike many a compatriot who clung on to the ‘chai-bun maska’ and fell by the wayside.


    universal was a ‘cheap’ place to score a beer with a few basic snacks … soon it had a regular clientele then suddenly 5 to 10 yrs before glasnost and perestroika eastern europe and the ussr started sending goods via the sea route and eager east european sailors on shore leave started thronging the cafe …. the owners cashed in on this with large Cyrillic lettering proclaiming the name and the wares ….. 20 yrs down the line the shipping industry had reached its own nadir as had the eastern block the cafe was deserted and only the brave staff kept faith with the regular patrons stoppin by for a beer after work ….. around 2001-2002 universal saw a determined attempt at a revamp and a 3rd innings ….. the owners of leo’s took it over the cafe and went for a fullon makeover, heady with the success of cafe royale …. the menu at universal now had exotic steaks (pretty good ones) and a plethora of fancy dishes …. but the old faithfuls were having none of this and the yuppies baulked at the thought of the old rep. Once again in a short while it became a ‘beer bar’again …… it’s a better beer bar and appears to have more clients but at the end of the day she’s just a tired old lady a bit gaudily primped up and awaiting the axe.

     

  • Beef Chili Fry
    Pepper prawns
    Mixed fried rice
    The search begins as we walk down Fort

    A ‘Parinda’ moment
    ‘Make you strong man’
    Mr Lazy is here
    Possibly the owner…the place looked well looked after

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    Filed under Finely Chopped Knights, Fort, Oriental, photo blogs, South Mumbai, Vintage Bombay