Being a part of the corporate circuit lets me travel to new places quite often but the hectic lifestyle also leaves me with little time to eat local flavours. Caught up in meetings the whole day, the only time I get for myself is post sundown. But by then I am so tired that all I want to do is go back to the hotel, order room service and mindlessly flip through TV channels. This had become my routine for as long as I can remember. But I wanted things to be different. Yes, there were times when I did manage to get a taste of the local bhel or batata puri but those occasions were few and far between. I had figured out that the best chaats were undoubtedly the ones that come from Karachiwala in Bandra. Hygiene is not a concern here as you can see people at the dispensing counters wearing gloves and using mineral water to make the snacks.
If you are anywhere near Marine Drive, a visit to Bachelors Juice House is mandatory. No, it doesn’t represent the kind of people who visit it! The place boasts of a mind-boggling range of juices, apart from outlandish combos like green chilli ice cream, and ginger kulfi. Their specialities are fresh fruit ice-creams, but the conventional strawberry and cream version is my hot favourite. When in Mumbai, one can also not miss the kulfi-falooda! On a friend’s recommendation, I sampled some at Badshah Kulfi near Crawford Market and at Sanjay Kulfi at Borivali West. The sweetness still lingers in my mouth!
On a subsequent trip to Mumbai, I made it a point to try a hearty local breakfast. Some friends suggested Yazdani Bakery on Patel Street at Fort. Even today, this Iranian restaurant is one of the few establishments that traces its origin to the pre-Independence days. The business of exporting cakes to Japan is over; now it specialises in serving mutton dhansak (a Parsi speciality), lagan nu custard (bread-milk baked custard) and kheema pav (kheema served between buns).
These bakery-cafes came up in the late 19th and early 20th century when Mumbai was flooded with Iranian migrant workers. Offering quality food at reasonable prices, the cafes were ideal meeting points for people who wanted to unwind after a hard’s day work. Years later, they became the city’s landmarks, breaking down social barriers and religious taboos for all communities.
If you don’t fancy a heavy breakfast, settle for a simple paav. Available in variants like kadak (hard) and soft, they can even be teamed with a runny potato gravy to make a delicious breakfast. You could also opt for the wholesome bun maska. Spring roll dosa and idli manchurian represent ‘Indo-chini’ culinary ventures that are available at any of the Sukh Sagar chain of restaurants near Chowpatty or Bandra, or at any Udipi restaurant dotting the city.
Movies and meals go hand in hand. My friend and I decided to watch a film and follow it up with a meal. After a thorougly enjoyable three hours, we went to a small eatery that served ‘East Indian’ food. Here, a base masala called bottle masala (a mixture of 21 rich spices) is used. Only three restaurants located in Colaba, Malad and Bandra serve this this type of cuisine. The rest of the East Indian restaurants offer takeaway or home delivery services. But, as I found out later, many housewives also make this cuisine against special orders. Try the chicken moile, and if you eat beef, the tongue moile (a delicacy made with the cow’s tongue). Don’t miss the chicken or mutton khuddi - curry dish with green masala - either. And if you relish seafood, ask for lonvas, a spicy prawn-based dish. There are several vegetarian options as well.
East Indian culture not only has a vast repertoire of food, but it also blends food with home-brewed alcohol. So if you are invited to an East Indian wedding, don’t refuse. Ask for kimmat, a heady drink with a cinnamon-clove base. It has to be served warm, which means that you can’t get it over-the-counter.
What next? A retail binge on the second day, was followed by a visit to a bar. Now Mumbai’s bar culture is similar to that of a pub in the western world. Everyone has a local bar they like to visit in Mumbai and you will be spoilt for choice. But I recommend the 100-year-old Cafe Leopold and the hipper Cafe Mondegar. What started as a wholesale oil store has, over the years, become the most happening bar and restaurant in the city, with foreigners outnumbering Indian clients. At Colaba's Cafe Mondegar, the walls are covered with cartoons and quotes creating a lively ambience. The continental breakfast comprising waffles, sausages and eggs is good value for money.
A big attraction for meat lovers is Bade Miyan, located in a nondescript lane behind the Taj Mahal. Its egg paranthas, onion-smothered kheeri-kaleji (udder and liver) and biryani are to die for. Whatever your taste, you’re never out of options in Mumbai. The best part: eat your fill without burning a hole in your Hugo Boss wallet!
• In summer, several fruit juice stalls come up. Try the sugarcane juice minus the ice.
• If you are in Mumbai during Ramzan, take a tour of the Minara Masjid and Bhori Mohalla area after sunset when Muslims break their fast. Feast on egg paranthas, boti kebabs and biryani.
• Gajalee's (Vile Parle East) sea food is legendary. Bombay Duck, a variety of fish, is dried and then coated with spices before it is deep fried. Crunchy on the outside and soft inside, it takes a while to get used to its taste. But once you do, you’ll be hooked - line and sinker!
• Made from fermented chickpea batter, dhoklas,are a hit not just with Gujaratis in Mumbai but with all other communities. Spiced with chillies and ginger and tempered with mustard seeds, these light snacks have become a part and parcel of Mumbai’s cuisine as have Gujarati thalis.
• Poha and kanda are indispendable elements of a Mumbai household. Made with chiwra (flaked rice), kanda (onion) and seasoning, it’s a staple breakfast dish.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Chor Bazaar, near Bhendi Bazaar, in south Mumbai, is one of the largest flea markets in India. You can find everything here, from grandfather clocks, gramophones, chandeliers and art deco clocks to old Bollywood posters and authentic Victorian furniture