Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ambling Through Mumbai

Cities that have been a melting pot of cultures and attracted a steady stream of immigrants through the ages are the best ones if you are a foodie. Food moves in along with people bringing a variety of new cuisines and cooking styles even as completely new ones are created as the old melds with new. New York, New Orleans, Hong Kong and Kolkata all owe the richness in their food scene to this simple fact. So does Mumbai! In this teeming city of millions, there is always a new delightful place waiting to be discovered, no matter how many times you have visited this grand old city before.

As I moved from my jet-setting corporate life to that of a local entrepreneur, one of the nice things it let me do was discover street food, small local restaurants and other places I would rarely have the time to find and visit earlier.  As I (re-) discovered, there is a lot more to food than Michelin stars!



Bengalis have long been migrating to Mumbai given the similarities these cities share right from the time of the British Raj. The two most important port cities of that time, both Mumbai and Kolkata employed a large number of immigrants from other parts of the country and even the surrounding region. Among the more recent restaurants serving Bengali cuisine to its people is Kolkata's Bhojohori Manna.  Quirkily named after a popular Manna Day song from the 70s that talks about a mythical chef, this restaurant now has two outlets in Mumbai.  I decided to visit the one in Oshiwara.



An elaborate Bengali meal followed that included fish with mustard sauce, slow-cooked mutton in rich spices, a dish of banana florets, and palm sugar ice-cream.  I returned here again during my next trip and pretty much repeated the entire meal but with the fish replaced by a dish of tiger prawns in a coconut sauce.





On one day, after a long day of meetings, we sat down at tiny little Janta Bar at one end of swish Pali Hill.  This place barely shows up on Google Maps, but is quite a delight.  The best way to describe Janta Bar is to say this is like a 'daru-ka-adda' but with posh people trooping in.  In other words, a low-end gentrified Indian bar.  It was a warm day, so the pitcher of chilled beer was a welcome sight.  The tawa mutton we had ordered was excellent too!





We strolled to the other side of the road for dinner.  Jaihind is another one of those unassuming eateries that dot cities in India, but with fantastic food.  The local sea-food thali was amazing with crisply batter-fried fish, spicy gravy and fresh solkadi drinks.





La Pain Quotidian is another place I happened to have a business lunch in. This upscale boulangerie is a part of a global chain run by French-Belgian baker, Alain Coumont.  The name is Our Daily Bread in French, and they specialize in simple, elegantly made pastas, salads, breads and pastries.





Finally, during one of my trips here I walked the few blocks from my Juhu hotel to the once-iconic Prtihvi Theater.  Built by the 'first family' of Bollywood as a celebration of the performing arts, it is also home to Prithvi Cafe, a haunt for many aspiring artists during its heydays.  Even today, this is a is a wonderful place to chill out with one of their popular rolls and milkshakes.



Finally, Mamagoto in Bandra, an expanding chain of Asian restaurants that combines a Asian staples with a casual, fun vibe, without taking itself (and its cuisine) too seriously. Everything tasted nice enough, even though I am quite a traditionalist when it comes to Chinese food.

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