>I fell for flattery the first time.
They were launching their Mumbai edition and wanted ‘prominent’ Mumbai bloggers to write for them on the food and night life scene at Mumbai. An unwritten agreement followed after the first piece… words for Rupees. It was fun initially. Chasing the elusive cheque every month a small irritant…the value would barely cover a restaurant meal in any case.
Then came the bummer in month four. They printed my article on Bandra without giving me credit. Angst, recriminations were to no avail though surprisingly the cheque came later. Meanwhile I had sent my next write up to them in good faith. It was on the fish scene at Mumbai. I had no idea what happened to that. Was it even published? My contact went silent. And copies of the magazine could not be found anywhere in Mumbai. I wrote a couple of times to them and then forgot about it.
Saw the link to their e magazine on a fellow blogger’s Facebook page last week. Went and checked. They had published my seafood article in their August or September edition. More mails. Copy to the editorial team. My handler woke up. Denials. Then silence again.
Wrote a mail to the editor who funnily enough had just joined the Finely Chopped Facebook Page. The editor did a Sphinx. But my handler woke up again. Spewed venom. We have discovered that we actually haven’t paid you. But we are shocked that you brought it up. Shame on you. Bad bad boy …
To which my answer was, keep the change!
Frankly the affair was getting too murky and filthy for me. The antithesis of what many of us blog for. To share our opinions, feel good about ourselves. To sleep well.
So if you are launching a magazine or a portal, I wish you luck but please employ writers. If you are launching cooking oils, dips… please support the media industry…pay and advertise. And if you are opening a new restaurant please keep your free meal to yourself. I only write about food that I pay for.
A young blogger I admire said, when I discussed the issue of ‘free dinners’ with her, “that would be whoring right?”
All I could say is “language young lady” and nod in agreement at her wise words.
Oh and here’s the article in question, at least they gave the name credit for it:
Twenty thousand leagues above the sea … Mumbai’s seafood.
It is natural to think of Mumbai as a seafood heaven. It is a port city after all. Well you are not wrong. The city’s dining tables are loaded with the treasures of the sea. Ready to welcome you.
However, one needs to set one’s expectations right in the beginning. First of all don’t think that ‘abundant’ is equal to ‘cheap’. Seafood is fairly expensive here. More expensive than poultry, or even fresh water fish favoured by those from the East. Secondly, remember that Mumbai is the commercial capital of India. Not exactly a beach resort or a tourist hub. So you won’t find the sort of seafood courts which you would find in the Far East or in the Mediterranean. Thirdly, don’t expect dishes which romance the wonders of the sea. Bring out their flavours. Celebrate their tastes. Local seafood dishes are loaded with heavy spices. As a well travelled Italian Chef once told me about the clam masala that he ordered from Jai Hind at Bandra, ‘I love it. I can’t taste the clams. But I love the masaaala’.
Thus acclimatised you can begin your discovery of the seafood delights of Mumbai.My first foray into the Piscean offerings in Mumbai was at a small family run restaurant called Saayba. Saayba is located on S V Road at the beginning of Bandra W. You can identify it by the huge queues waiting to be seated in the evenings. This is where I first had fried Bombay Duck or Bombil. As any quizzard will tell you, Bombay Duck is not a ‘duck’. It is a fish which is quite popular with Mumbaikars. Locals make curries and even pickles with dried Bombay Ducks. Fried Bombay Duck is what those at restaurants prefer. The trick is to get the right balance of the soft flesh of the fish and the thin layers of semolina (rawa) batter coating it. Neither should dominate. And if fried right, as they do in Saayba, then it should melt in your mouth. Some of the other must haves at Saayba are the prawn fry masala for those who like their prawns to be juicy and spicy. And if you, like me, were traumatised by the movie ‘Jaws’ while growing up then go in for a Baby Shark Achari. This is a very fiery preparation though and is likely to bring tears to your eyes.
Saayba is a Gomantak restaurant. Gomantak and Konkani cuisines are native to Maharashtra and come from the coastal regions of the Malwan district. You would find a number of reasonably priced Malvani restaurants at traditional Maharashtrian areas of Mumbai such as Mahim, Dadar and Bandra East. Some of the popular ones would include Gomantak and Sindhudurg at Dadar. Sadicha and Highway Gomantak at Bandra E. Fresh Catch at Mahim. These are places where the locals eat. Always a sign of a good restaurant. These are simple operations. Usually non air conditioned. Family run. Crowded with a steady of flow of customers. The fish will be fresh given the high turnover. The portions are small. Prices are kept affordable enough for blue collar workers.
You could travel all the way to Pangat close to Borivili National Park for a lavish, cramped but air conditioned Malvani seafood experience. Clams, mussels, oysters, fish, squids, lobsters, prawns, sharks … just let your mind wander and choose what you want to eat.
Most Malvani food is coconut based. The difference, I am told, comes from the proportion of dry and wet coconut used in the dishes. Traditional Indian spices like ground red chilli, garam masala, garlic and a local favourite, Kokum, feature liberally in the curries and masalas. These often overpower the taste of the fish. A far cry from the rock salt flecked, fire roasted fish of Istanbul or the Soy, lemon and spring onion kissed Baba Noynya cuisine of Malacca. A stroke of luck for those who find the taste of fish too ‘fishy’. What you get here is a complete meal which appeals to all senses. Not just a fish dish. Most Malvani dishes are served with a curry on the side and you can have this with rice or chapatti.
The most famous Malvani restaurant would possibly be Gajalee. By ‘famous’ I mean the one that features most often on TV and in print. Gajalee started off in Vile Parle in the Western Suburbs of Mumbai. Since then it has branched to a number of places including Phoenix Mills in Central Mumbai. The new branches are fairly modern affairs. Air conditioned, English speaking head waiters, inviting sofas, look classy enough for corporate dinners. Not where locals flock to. My travels seeking out good food in foreign lands have taught me that such places are likely to be expensive and not truly authentic. There are many who praise the tandoori crab or whole stuffed pomfrets at Gajalee. These are the dishes which feature on television and are likely to burn a whole in your pocket. I am obviously not a big fan of the food here. I have not been impressed during the couple of occasions that I ate at their Phoenix outlet. Yes, I went for the comparatively cheaper dishes and not the blockbusters which many swear by. All I will say is that this is the place to go to if you want to sample local Malvani food and are not really willing to roll up your sleeves and hit the streets for it.
Mumbai seafood is not all about Malvani food. You could sample the Mangalorean fare from across the state border in what are known as the Shetty restaurants. The triumvirate of Mahesh, Apoorva and Trishna in South Mumbai’s Fort area have defined this cuisine for years. They have now branched out to the suburbs as well. This is a good place to try South Indian dishes such as fish or prawn gassi, coconut based curries, with the string hopper like neer dosas. You will find a higher proportion of curry leaves and mustard seeds in the dishes here in comparison to the Malvani dishes. The standout dish in my opinion is a preparation called ‘butter pepper garlic’ at Mahesh. You can have this with crabs if you are not out on your first date. They break the shell for you if you so wish. For the lazy, this dish is available in easier to eat options such as squids or prawns.
You could try the Goan version of seafood dishes. Goan cuisine could broadly be divided into two schools. One is the Portuguese influenced Catholic pork and vinegar based dishes. The other consists of the seafood dishes preferred by the Hindu Saraswat Brahmins. These are coconut based and are similar to the cuisine of Malwan. There aren’t too many places which serve Saraswat cuisine in Mumbai. The Goan owned Soul Fry at Bandra’s Pali Naka is a good bet.
Then you have the Jai Hind chain spread across Mumbai. Here you will get a taste of everything … Malvani, Goan, Mangalorean. The dishes are less expensive than those of Gajalee. Taste closer to the real thing in my opinion. Are more accessible through the city. Have air conditioned options for those who are not comfortable with the Spartan settings of the more simple Maharashtrian ‘lunch homes’. You must try the bombil stuffed with prawns here. A truly memorable dish.
Most Continental restaurants in Mumbai served seafood dishes as well. For a Bengali fresh water fish experience you can head to Oh Calcutta or Calcutta Club.
It is natural to feel tempted to go out and buy fish in Mumbai and cook them at home. Where else would you get such a collection of fresh fish? The thing to keep in mind is that the traditional fish markets of Mumbai are ‘wet’ markets. They are literally muddy and messy and are likely to turn on those who love to buy fish. Most fish markets have an army of women selling a whole range of fish – pomfret, kingfish, mackerel, baby sharks, squids, clams, mussels, betki, rohu, prawns, lobsters, crabs – name it and you will get it. Fish is normally sold by piece and not be weight. Under intense haggling. These fisher women mean business. Use traditional shopping artillery such as a counter offer of half the price quoted or pretending to walk away in disgust. You will win some. Lose some. Definitely a more entertaining and dramatic experience than the average Hindi TV serial. For those not so adventurous, the cold storage of some malls offer a frigid, sterile, mechanised, non histrionic, uneventful, easier, hassle free way of buying fish.
So go out. Buy fish. Cook fish. Eat fish at the restaurants of Mumbai. And don’t forget to order the dish which most people love in Malvani seafood restaurants… Mutton Masala.