Friday, July 2, 2010

Food & The City

I am not a self proclaimed foodie. It is a title which has been bestowed upon me by my friends and colleagues and is seldom used as that one attribute that makes me different and interesting, but moreso for the lack of anything else that makes me different and interesting. With a potbelly which puts matters to rest and an appetite which are a source of entertainment for many, I can only humbly accept this sobriquet. The fact is I love food. All kinds of food. From everywhere. Opulent diners, specialty restaurants, snack shacks, roadside wagons, the ubiquitous udipis and even our very own home sweet homes. Encouraged by my confidantes, and the fact that I do get calls and an odd SMS from friends old and new asking for my advice on where to go and what to eat when looking to get adventurous with food on a warm Sunday afternoon or when a visiting client needs to be impressed, I have decided to document my recommendations on must-have-cannot-miss-food in Mumbai city for all kinds of occasions with a variety of budgets, locations and cuisines. The list below is a compilation of places and food items which I have been fortunate enough to savour, either by design or by default. It is aimed to provide my friends across Mumbai and those visiting a ready reckoner on not just where to go but also what to eat once you go there, because all items on the menu may not necessarily impress your tastebuds as much as the ones I have fingered on.
Disclaimer – I am not a food critic or a proficient writer. I only attempt to share my experiences and make interesting prose in the Queen’s language. Hence you will find most descriptors and qualifiers being repeated for lack of expert jargon and minimal references to smell, taste, ingredients, recipes and heritage which are typical of food shows and food guides. And this list is not comprehensive and in no way undermines any item from any restaurant or eatery which is absent here. This list is limited by my inability to travel more and eat more and discover more such delicacies even within Mumbai let alone India and the world! I can however assure you, even an untrained palate will simply savour the dishes listed here and take delight in the culinary experiences. It is also a testament to the fact that how simple, rich and opulent can all be a source of great joy and contentment for the starved soul. This list is also skewed slightly towards Bengali cuisine, which is what I am, little known restaurants in Chembur, which is where I live, non-vegetarian food which is what I live to eat and greasy, oily and not so healthy food which is what I love to eat. I have however worked in Cuffe Parade, Nariman Point, Worli and Andheri in my career spanning 10 years and given my refusal to take the trademark ‘dabba’ from home (only because I hate carrying stuff when traveling in the overcrowded local trains), I have had the opportunity to order in and eat out almost everyday for many years giving me a reason to try different items and different restaurants across town. I have also been brought up in a very food friendly family, who rejoice in the midst of good food, my younger sister who is in the lounge and fine dine phase of life and finds enough occasions to experience the newest and most fashionable eateries around town keeping me updated, my dad who has always endorsed lavish food outings even celebrating our birthdays in nothing less than 5-star hotels since when we were old enough to stop having birthday parties at home and not old enough to start birthday bashes at pubs and my mom, who is a marvelous cook herself and has tried and experimented with various preparations spanning various cuisines over the years mostly to keep me entertained and happy. From the traditional Bengali, to continental, Chinese, Mughlai and Punjabi, she has cooked it all, and cooked them exceptionally well. Which is where I developed my culinary cravings, I guess. Gatherings with our Bengali brethren begin and end with food, not just eating a lot of it but discussing it at length as well. It is important for us, as a community, with due respect to all other communities, to feed and feast well, in excess, with passion and with love, ‘cause, we really live to eat!
So here is an account of my experiences with good food starting with Vashi, travelling through the suburbs and ending with town, a culinary trip through Bombay city with a humble foodie…
1. Butter garlic crabs and Singapore Chilly crabs - Something Fishy, Tunga, Vashi. Order the 1kg+ crabs with the shells. Don’t take the easy way out by ordering just crabmeat. Probably the most expensive crabs in Mumbai, they were once very affordable considering the generous chunks of meat one managed to bite into. This is largely owing to the brilliant cooking which boils the meat just enough to keep it tender and easy to scoop out. For those who love eating crabs the way they should be…with the shell, using the clamps and scalpel to break them open and yet not sweat too much before you get to the meat, these crabs are beautifully done, and you can enjoy chunks of divine crabmeat with minimum effort and yet pride over performing the ritual of eating crabs.
2. GCBC – the codeword that binds all carnivore Chemburites. We have grown up on the legendary Butter Chicken from Grand Central, in Chembur station, which is the flagship dish of this very fine family and one of the oldest restaurants in Chembur. Arguably the best Butter Chicken in Asia or maybe even the world, with chunky shredded chicken pieces mixed well with the patented tomato based red gravy to present a rich and delicious concoction which never ever fails to satisfy. If you had it once, you cannot not have it again. Friends who visit Chembur from other suburbs or have stayed here and now live overseas always ensure they have booked a date with GCBC next time they are in town, no matter how busy their schedules. You can also order the Paneer Butter Masala (mashed) alongside which is the best Paneer Butter I have ever had and butter naan to go with both. And don’t miss the chilled meetha paan from the old timer paanwala outside just to finish it off on a high.
3. Fish stewed rice with chilly fish (preferably pomfret and with dry gravy) at Star’s Parade, Chembur. If rich masala spicy food is not your calling on any given day, then head straight to this family restaurant just right off Chembur Naka. The bland yet delicious stewed rice with a rich helping of stewed veggies and fish slightly salted, slightly peppered but with the right amount of oil to make you feel good about yourself. With chilly fish on the side to add flavor this is a healthy and light meal which you will find under the Chinese menu in this otherwise very Punjabi restaurant. Also try the chicken kalimiri and pahadi kababs for starters. The butter chicken is rich with butter and boasts of a thick subtle and creamy texture which just delights your palate and is excellent with some rotis or naans.
4. Chicken 96 and Mutton Dum Biryani at Raj, Chembur Camp. An unusual name for this very delicious and unique preparation, Chicken 96 comes in two options – full and half. So beware when you order ‘cause a half is like a full in any other restaurant. Though a starter item on the menu, the delicious dry green gravy on the nicely fried chicken pieces makes for an excellent combination with a thin butter naan ending up being a whole meal in itself. This is of course if you do not have an apetite large enough to have the main course, where you must opt for the mutton dum biryani, served in typical dum phukht style, brass patela covered and sealed with atta, but purists pardon me for saying this, this tastes much better than the dum phukht biryani I had last at ITC, Mumbai, which had no taste at all. The Raj Biryani comes with tender mutton pieces and wholesome aromatic spices which you can smell and taste clearly in premium rice making it a biryani as a biryani should be – dry. Dal khichdi for the veggies is highly recommended and does form a great meal to sober up on a binging nite which is what this joint is infamous for. It’s a typical Sardarji owned bar n restaurant in a busy camp area which does not come across as very hygienic and has now also provided for a family room, but not really there. An evening with the boys where drinking till late is the main agenda allows for a good occasion to visit Raj. Else you can always have it delivered home, but the biryani is best had steaming hot at the restaurant instead of cold at home.
5. Butter Kulcha with Aloo Gobi at Geeta Bhavan, Chembur. This one’s for the vegans. An udipi famous for its idli, dosas, curd rice and full plate rice thali with extra plate rice, the item I enjoy most is the butter kulcha with aloo gobi and maybe a paneer makhani as well. The speciality of the butter kulcha is that its loaded with butter. One whole cube of butter (Amul or Vijaya) which you would typically be served with a meal on a flight or a train, smeared on the piping hot kulcha melting the butter into puddles of greasy liquid flowing all over the kulcha. And to prove their generosity with the butter helping, they actually leave the silver foil of the butter pack on the kulcha proving that its one cube per kulcha and no compromises here. You either die to eat it or die eating it. You have gotta see it to believe it!
6. Galouti Kebab with ulta paratha and mutton biryani at The great Kebab Factory, Hiranandani, Powai. Good things come at a good price. The Kabab factory has a great concept. You pay per head, and you pay well. You get 6 types of kababs served on your plate at your table in turns. If you like any or all you can request the waiter to serve it again. Its unlimited. But even the healthiest of apetities would not be able to consume more than 2 pieces of each kabab. So the best thing to do is to taste the first round of all the kababs and then focus on the one or two you liked best. For me it was the galouti kabab served with ulta paratha which is the first kabab they put on your plate. The kabab and paratha makes for an awesome combo and both melt into your mouth leaving you with a subtle and yet a wonderful flavour. They end it with their own brand of mutton biryani which is surprisingly, one the best biryanis I have ever had. It’s mildly flavoured, non greasy, dry, and makes you have more and more. The only hitch is that it is served after all the kababs so you have little space to accommodate a generous helping of the biryani. Now that you have been warned you can calibrate your helpings accordingly…
7. Sparkling spinach, betki fish in oyster sauce at Mainland China, Saki Naka. The sprinkling spinach is unique to Mainland China and very popular with the regular patrons. Its something to start off the meal with and does not dent your apetite one bit. This one is really for the senses, crackling crispy spinach between your teeth is just fun. The food at Mainland China is excellent. Any item you order is great and makes for a Chinese evening well spent. But this one item they make is fantastic. Seasonal and if I remember last, off the menu, order for a betki (bekti) fish in oyster or black bean sauce. This is a whole fish which should serve the whole table and is excellent with some chicken or egg fried rice. If available and a fresh catch, its fish and Chinese haven.
8. Lamb Shanks at Le Meridien, Andheri near International Airport – only nallis or nallahs or as we Bengalis call it ‘noli’, it’s actually the bone marrow which you suck out of a otherwise hollow drumstick. These are a delicacy and you will not find more than one or max two pieces of it in any mutton preparation at home or in your biryani as with chicken legs or spare ribs, but like the latter two have now graduated to becoming full dishes by itself, so has this. And the shanks are well cooked, with just a simple suck pulling in all the tender delicious marrow into your mouth leaving the shank clean as a whistle. I am not sure if this is offered on the menu since it was part of a dinner buffet at a friend’s wedding at this hotel. But I am sure if it was served at a wedding, it would be served on your table.
9. Sikandari Raan at Peshawari, ITC Grand Maratha – opulent ambience to only compliment an opulent preparation. Tender lamb leg cooked with exotic spices which only the chefs at the famed Peshawari and Dum Phukht are privy to, the Sikandari Raan at Peshawari is the undisputed king of all meat dishes. Served with tawa paranthas, the combination just melts into your mouth. One cannot feel more content in life after you walk out of Peshawari and suddenly everything in life seems beautiful. This one’s for the bucket list.
10. Nimbu chicken and tawa jhinga at Urban Tadka, Andheri West. Yes, you can have this at any Urban Tadka outlet in the city, but they don’t make the tawa jhinga like they make in the Andheri outlet as well anywhere else. A friend who is no more would always make it a point to order this item specially for me whenever we had dinner at her place no matter what else was being served for dinner. They don’t taste the same anymore, and I have stopped having it since. May her soul rest in peace. The nimbu chicken though is the same in all UT outlets. You can have it as a starter or order a roti on the side and wrap it up as a main course. It’s an unique preparation unlike anything else you would have had anywhere else, whereas the rest of the items are good but similar to any other preparation in any other restaurant. Finish it off with a plate of jalebi and the cold rabdi on the side and you will be a happy soul for the rest of the day!
11. Double chicken egg roll at Hangla, Lokhandwala. Andheri West. A Bengali fast food joint at the mouth of Lokhandwala market, it attempts to relive the glorious Calcutta rolls available at every nook and corner in Calcutta. Though not there in terms of the taste, it is probably the best you would get in Bombay. The kosha mangsho and mutton or chicken biryani are good as well.
12. Dal Khichdi at On Toes, Vile Parle. Done with your draft beer and innumerable starters, masala papad and cheese chilly toast recommended among them, end it with a satisfying main course boasting of a modest dal khichdi. It goes down smoothly, the lack of oil making you comfortable and very weirdly making you feel good about all that beer you downed while singing along those U2 and Beatles numbers.
13. Cheese Fondue at Out of the blue, Hill Road. I have tried fondue at various places. I like the one here the best. Mix it with jalapenos, mushrooms, shallots and even some fruits, Out Of The Blue makes for the perfect ambience for wine and fondue with the rare sight of an old timer stringing and singing ‘500 miles’ by “The brother’s four” in the background.
14. Chicken in wire mesh at Toto’s Garage, Pali hill. The all-time popular Toto’s Garage pub with its brand of classic rock music and regular patrons singing ‘…eyes on the road and hands upon the wheeeel’ in chorus glugging away their draft beers and applauding the driver (DJ) in his modest maruti van console above your heads has stood the test of time and has become the default watering hole for any and all occasions for years and years together! Unpretentious, casual, friendly and fun, it is where you go without thinking about what you are wearing or how much cash you got in your wallet. You also don’t put too much thinking into what you gotta drink or eat, since it comes almost as second nature when you enter Toto’s. And I am sure all those who been there done that have seen and eaten the bird’s nest being served on several tables. Called ‘chicken in wire mesh’ on the menu it contains piping hot morsels of chunky chicken in generous quantities in a moderately spicy garlic/ginger sauce served on a base of a crispy potato mesh resembling a bird’s nest, the perfect finger food to complement draft beer, Doors and Dire Straits!
15. Mashed potatoes at Da Vinci, Hill Road. An Italian bistro attracting a very well-to-do yet elite crowd of mostly youngsters, it has all the makings of a quiet dinner date if you looking to make an impression. The wine list is complete, though I stick to Sula Satori Merlot on most occasions, which goes down smooth on the buds, I would also recommend the dry martini which, if you keep refilling can burn a hole in your wallet. The standard Italian fare of pasta, lasagna or risotto with some garlic bread is what you would typically order, and they are all splendid. But one item which you should order on the side, if it is not on the plate already are the mashed potatoes. Not sure what they put into it, but it is heavenly. Goes with anything you order and leaves you wanting for more.
16. Egg mayonnaise @ Salad buffet at Just Around The Corner, Hill Road. If you love eggs and mayo, then you know what I am talking about. But what I like about the preparation at JATC, is that the proportion of Mayo is just right and the eggs are boiled to perfection. Yes, its just one helping and you have to maximize the 240 odd bucks with helpings of the other salads on the spread, but this one just makes your day, which I why I invariably start and end with egg mayonnaise on my modest sized plate.
17. Sushi and prawns tempura at Global Fusion, Linking Road, Bandra. A wonderful ambience, great service, awesome food and an unique concept, if you are looking to overeat on a Sunday lunch buffet, look no further. The best of Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisines all under one roof at one fixed cost with unlimited helpings, this is one buffet which will blow you out of your mind. Start with the prawns tempura…chances are you will finish with it as well, cause you simply cant stop munching into these delicious tiger sized prawns with a crispy coating made probably with egg batter. Move on to the sushi bar and pick up two of everything, there are several types of sushi to impress you. You will also find the seafood salad, prawns generously mixed with mayo served off a coconut shell. Divine. Order for the prawns and chicken dimsums which will be served hot at your table and place your clips on any and most of the fish, chicken, lamb and prawn starters on display. You will be exhausted by the spread and surprised by your sudden increase in appetite. And now that you have stuffed yourself up with every meat possible in generous helpings repeatedly, you are ready for the main course which offers crab, prawn, chicken and veg curries with rice and noodles. And if that’s not all, there are 16 items on the desert buffet.
18. Chicken n cheese croissant at Croissants, etc. a quick snack couldn’t be better satisfied than a chicken n cheese croissants served hot and with mayo on the side. My staple evening meal if I am passing by any Croissants, etc. outlet at the time. They would make the most amazing chicken burgers as well when it started around 15 years or so back, but have stopped eventually. The chicken croissant, ham n cheese croissant and the chocolate croissant are wonderful as well.
19. Salami pizza at Taj Land’s End, Bandra. They make the dough fresh. In front of you which is quite entertaining. But the Pizza is simply brilliant. A thin crust, but not that thin, right quantity of the cheese on the base and the salami merged within the cheese served fresh and hot is a great and satisfying meal. Since this is in the 24 hr. coffee shop, you can drop in anytime, in the night after a late nite discotheque outing in the suburbs or just to satisfy a midnight snack craving.
20. Shrimp cocktail and Chicken Satellite sizzler at Yoko’s, Khar. The only destination for sizzlers I would recommend considering the pioneers Kobe at Tardeo or Bandra do not whip up the same sizzler they used to 15 years back. The version at Yoko’s is excellent. Though the quantity has reduced and the prices increased over the years, it still makes for a wholesome meal for one with a decent appetite. The chicken pepper sizzler is my favourite, but the steak sizzler, or the chicken satellite or shashlik (served with rice or noodles) are great as well. And while you are waiting for the sizzling plate to be served at your table, cool your palate with some shrimp cocktail. Served chilled, shrimp and mayonnaise blended together with some tangy sauce for the zing fling, makes for a good entrée before you dig into the meat and veggies of your chosen sizzler.
21. Dal Bukhara at Sheesha, Shopper’s Stop, Linking Road, Bandra. The best dal makhani urf kaali dal urf black dal in Mumbai. They don’t make them better than Sheesha, a must order with all the kababs and curries you order at this rooftop open air Persian ambience restaurant.
22. Bombil fry and prawns pulao at Fresh Catch, Mahim. Owned by Mili’s family, the celebrity hair stylist I had the good fortune of working with on many hair shoots invariably at studios in and around Mahim where the food was always ordered from Fresh Catch. Fantastic bombil fry which melts into your mouth and an exotic prawn pulao preparation with a flavor which you would never taste anywhere else.
23. Chicken schewarma at Hotel Pritam, Dadar and at Mahroosh, Phoenix Mills, Lower Parel. If you are passing by Lower Parel or Dadar during lunch or in the evening, take a pit stop at these joints and grab a chicken shwerama to go. Always filling and a fantastic meal anytime of the day.
24. Mutton sukka at Café Royal, Worli. A typical Shetty restaurant attracting the regular office going crowd who drop in for their lunch and maybe a beer in the evening from in and around the Mahindra Towers side of Worli, before you get to Shiro/ HRC. The mutton sukka (and request the waiter for less bones) is out of the world. 3 tandoori rotis and the dry mutton sukka is a dainty meal. You may not even need to touch the rassa served alongside if you like it dry. Its been my meal of the day everyday for over a year!
25. Fish hariyali at Banjara, Worli. Bang opposite Café Royal is Banjara, they serve an awesome concoction of fish in a green pudina based gravy. A generous helping for two to be best had with tandoori roti.
26. Pork ribs, crabcakes and galoti kebab at Blue Frog, Lower Parel – yummy pork ribs served with a sour cream sauce with the right amount of flavouring to add that zing with the juices from the tenderly cooked meat. Equally royal galouti kebabs served with a wrap and the most exquisite crabcakes bordering on delicious and exotic. We were fortunate to have eaten these three preparations in the early days of Blue Frog, thanks to a friend who knew the owner. As I found out to my plight, that the menu has been changed and except for the crabcakes these don’t figure in the new menu anymore. Pray why?
27. Oh Calcutta, Tardeo – One visit may not be enough. And two visits too many. The problem is, that for a bong, it’s the hunger in the eyes when you read the menu and not really the hunger in the tummy that make you go overboard with the ordering. And invariably you are treating some friends or clients to some exotic bong food and you are their host and guide with blind faith in your call as to what to order right from the starter to the desert. So here’s what you should have…and I have tried to sort this dilemma out for you…Visit 1: roshun bhapa maach for starters, kodaishutir kochuri with chollar dal, yellow pulao with chingri maacher malai curry, for desert -rosogollar payesh and goja. Visit 2: mochar chop, luchi with begun bhaja and jhaal mangsho, steamed rice with eelish macher paturi, for deserts - kheer kodom and chitrakut
28. Butter garlic crabs and cheese jumbo prawns at Trishna, Fountain. The crab craving on this side of town is easily satiated by Trishna’s famous butter garlic crabs, which are as delicious as they are legendary. Order them with the shells and eat them with the clamps. That is the best way to savour the delicious crab meat in this exqusitie butter garlic sauce preparation patented by Trishna’s. And if you like something more on the side, check out the jumbo prawns with cheese melted all over it making for a sumptuous bite.
29. Chilly garlic potatoes at Fountain Sizzlers, Fountain. Made famous over the years, the chilly garlic potato finger chips are a must eat before you dig into your sizzlers.
30. Mutton Sukka and Keralai Paratha at Deluxe Lunch Home, Fort. I have been here once, and can’t wait to go back. The taste of the mutton sukka and the soft layered and crispy kerala parathas continues to linger on for many months after having it. A modest thali joint in the bylanes of fort behind Citibank, with shared seating, this place attracts the average mallu working in the fort or fountain area looking for a quick non-veg lunch at modest prices. But for a foodie like me who might visit here once, it’s a culinary treat and one that is memorable even.
31. Chicken baida roti at Bade Miya, Colaba. What is it about Bade miya that no matter where in Mumbai you are partying, whether you are drinking in Chembur or partying in Bandra everyone’s always willing to head to bade miya for the post party meal no matter how sloshed or tired or late in the night it might be, a show of hands always confirms this modest roadside joint where you usually end up eating off the bonnet of your car in a busy Colaba causeway bylane the unanimous choice. Everyone’s has their favourites at bade miya, the chicken or mutton rolls, keema and paratha, kiri, kaleji, gurda and pota, even paneer rolls are a big hit with the vegans. My pick is the chicken baida roti. A stuffed paratha with chunky chicken filling and coated with egg, some pudina chutney and onion slices on the side and you cannot not overeat.
32. Delhi darbar, Colaba - Dabba ghosht, paneer makhani and reshmi parantha, mutton biryani. One of the oldest and finest establishments in town, Delhi Darbar is famous for its legendary dabba ghosht. Soft succulent pieces of mutton prepared in a light semi-oily gravy mixed with boiled eggs and garnished with salli (thin crispy potato fries) best had with the reshmi paratha, is heaven revisited. Panner makhani for the vegans who are not calorie conscious and mutton biryani if you have the appetite is a splendid, rich and royal meal recommended for special occasions.
33. Ling’s Pavilion, Colaba – Non-veg barbeque, prawns barbeque, fish wrapped in bacon, hailstone soup, crabmeat in sharkfin soup, Ling’s mixed meat pot rice. End it with the honey noodles and vanilla ice cream. Ling’s is the most authentic and genuine Chinese restaurant left in town after Nanking shut down, and Kamling and Chopstix have fallen out of favour. Ling’s is a treat for the Chinese food connoisseur. The manager and waiters both reek of authenticity and are prompt with their recommendations basis the sketchy brief you might hand out. The service is great and the ambience is nice. But the best part is the food. Items on the menu which you will not find elsewhere and preparations which completely blow you mind. If you had Chinese here once, and if your tastebuds are evolved, you will never prefer Chinese anywhere else in Mumbai.
34. Piggy Feast burger at Café Churchhill. Salami, sausages and ham. No wonder it’s a pig fest with this burger. Flanked with some cole slaw and varities of bland cold cuts makes for a fine burger from this very cozy and yet hugely popular café which has been around for years on Colaba Causeway.
35. Fish thali at Konkan Café, Taj President, Cuffe Parade. The beautifully done jumbo prawns, surmai or pomfret fry and the fish curry with neer dosa followed by steamed rice are delicious, different and delightful. A fish thali that never fails to satisfy for occasions when you want to treat or celebrate among posh environs, Konkan Café is your calling. And just when you think you can’t eat anymore, you are served the desert – a large jalebi with rabdi which is delicious and you wish you could do it all over again considering the servings are unlimited.
36. From my Mom’s kitchen – kumro chingri, pudina patar chingri pulao, chicken khara masala, jheengey posto, doi maach and yellow pulao, luchi and jeera aloo and begun bhaja, masala dal, anda curry, dhokar dalna, begun shoshe, kosha mangsho, French toast and betki fish fry. Nothing compares to the delicious and magnificient food I am treated to everyday at home courtesy my very patient, loving and enthusiastic mother. The preparations are rich, most of them oily, majority of them to be consumed with steamed rice which is a staple bong item on the lunch and dinner table and each of them delicious. It’s like being treated to great food everyday and after 30 years still very relishing and more than satisfying. Can’t wait to go home everyday after work to hog and if its any one of the above dishes, then it’s a feast. Thanks mom for creating, nurturing and then unleashing the foodie in me.

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