Mumbai my new abode

I never thought I would ever get an opportunity to sample working and discovering a new city but thanks to a great boss and husband moving bases, this opportunity landed in my lap. So here I am in Mumbai, trying out new stuff to cook for dinner and trying out new tastes. I am consciously avoiding chains that I can get to eat in Delhi so that my food horizons broaden. Will be writing my reviews soon so far I have had Parasi, Gujarati, Mexican, Italian, only in Mumbai cafes and street food here. A few places get my likes , some don’t impress me much contrary to what some people might say.

I have another handicap- as much as I would like to try new places I’m avoiding being too adventurous so that I don’t get Mumbai Belly (read Delhi belly) here, so I try to be innovative for dinner at home. A few experiments that I try on husband have been as follows

1. Garlic bread- All time favourite

Ingredients

1 French loaf or Garlic bread loaf

2 table spoons of butter (I use Amul)

2 small cloves Garlic crushed (depends on how strong do you want it)

Pinch of Salt

Pinch of Pepper

Pinch of Oregano

1 tea spoon Olive Oil

Mix garlic, Olive oil, Oregano, Salt and Pepper in softened butter. Cut the French loaf diagonally into 8-10 pieces. On top of each piece of loaf spoon out the butter mixture, spreading it across the pieces equally. On a baking tray arrange the pieces and let it bake till the bread top is crisp and brown but should be soft from inside.

If the tray is not non-stick  spray a little bit of Olive oil before putting the pieces on the baking tray. You can also jazz up the bread by putting alternate juliennes of tomato and capsicum after you’ve put the butter mixture and bake. Or you could also put a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella on top of the tomato and bake till the cheese has melted and is slightly brown.

2. Vegetable Au- Gratin

1 cup par boiled vegetables- carrots, mushrooms, baby corn, french beans, broccoli, capsicums (red, green and yellow) and potato (all veggies are to be cut into cubes)

2 table spoons maida

2 table spoons butter

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

¼ cup milk

Ina non stick pan put the maida and sauté it with butter till the maida is slightly brown. Add milk to the pan stirring it constantly so that no lumps are formed. You can add water or more milk if you feel that the sauce is thick or will not cover the veggies. Add salt and pepper to the sauce and pour it over the par boiled veggies, hope the veggies are in a bowl that you want to bake the dish in. On top of the veggies in white sauce add generous helping of cheddar and mozzarella mixture and put it to bake. I usually use  100 degree Celsius for pre heating  the OTG and then keeping the dish at the same temperature till the cheese has melted and has become brown (approx. 5-10 mins) depends if your using a microwave with grill make sure you are using both microwave and grill so that the veggies are hot and the cheese slightly brown.To be served immediately.

3. My take on Cesar  Salad

For the dressing

2 table spoons olive oil

1 table spoon mayonnaise

1 tea spoon white vinegar

Salt to taste Pepper to taste

¼  tea spoon Oregano

1 tea spoon tomato ketchup

For the salad

¼ Ice berg lettuce torn into pieces and put in drinking water with ice

¼ carrot cut into cubes

¼ capsicums cubes (green, yellow, red)

5-6 Cherry tomatoes cut into half

4-5 pieces of Bread croutons

Drain water and dry the lettuce leaves on a kitchen towel , add carrots, capsicum and croutons. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl. Mix dressing and the veggies together make sure the dressing is not runny and coates the veggies. The salad is ready to eat, you could keep the salad in the fridge as well, it tastes best when served cold.

To add Hawaiian touch to this, you can also add a few pieces of canned pineapple cut into same size cubes as the rest. For non-veg add cold cuts of chicken or cold fried beacon and mix in with the veggies.

That’s it for now, I would be writting my reviews soon, let me know if you would like a few recipes that I have tried so far

1. Golgappa jaljeera home made (gol gappey ka pani)

2. Phirni

3. Pizza including the pizza base

or

4. Moong Dal cheelas

 

Crystal, just around the corner no more

Some restaurants are more than that. They are a part of your being, in the sense that they have played a large role in your life at some stage. You have hung out there, waiting for someone special, or with someone special. Or gone back there again and again, to have one particular dish. You associate some extremely important occasion with them, if not many.

This week, I learnt about the fall of not one but two such places. 

The first one is Crystal. To anybody who lives in Mumbai, it is difficult not to have heard of it. For business school grads who are not from the city, their first encounter is in the summers when they are put up in Wilson College and the evening meal is at this hole in a wall establishment. If you have seen it, you would know but for those who haven’t it wouldn’t be surprising if you didn’t register its existence as you drove past Girgaon Chawpatty on Marine Drive. It is difficult to describe the place from inside. It is as if someone had pressed the Pause button sometime in 1953, and the place froze. There were (yes were!) around  5 tables on the ground floor, and may be another 6 on the mezzanine level. The two were connected through a wooden staircase, which could test any back. The waiters looked as if and probably were there since the beginning – they all were in their late 40s/ early 50s and old world in all ways. The music on any given day would take you back to the Black and White era of Madan Mohan and O P Nayyar. My memory of the music is frozen to one night when I had come after watching a play called The Blue Mug, about some psychologically disturbed people and the song Zindagi pyar ki do chaar ghadi hoti hai was nostalgic to one of the characters . That evening, when I was returning from NCPA, I ate at Crystal and the same song was playing. It seemed as if it had been playing for years.

 The food was drop dead awesome, especially to anyone who has grown up in North India and misses the home cooking. It is difficult to describe how brilliant the dishes were at taking you back to that cooking – and I am afraid it might remain a secret how the cooks managed to get that taste repeatedly. I am sure the secrets included home made ghee, masalas ground on a stone slab and possibly transported from Himachal where the restaurant staff and owner hail from. The owner, to spend a minute on him, was an almost static figure – it seems his job was only to count the money, and return the change – but I am sure he was aware of every single happening in the restaurant. He would sit, without displaying an emotion – except if you turned up just after lunch or dinner hour and he would sternly turn you away signaling there was no room for negotiation.

I have been visiting this place for almost a decade, of course with much lesser frequency lately. As a bachelor, it was almost a haunt, where I would take a taxi from my pad in Churchgate, and queue up for the mouthwatering Rajma, daal, alu gobhi or sukhe aloo. As life got busier and I got married and moved away to the suburbs, the visits became infrequent – though both the wife and I share the love for the place. We would drag every visiting friend to the place, who after their initial shock (at how the place looked) would settle down to enjoy the meal, and the stunning kheer that would follow. We used to have a challenge – to eat for more than Rs. 200 between two people – and I can assure you it wasn’t easy – even for gluttons like me.

Last week, coming back from the Kala Ghoda festival, we stopped their to satisfy a late evening urge for Crystal food. We were sitting in the car and got the friendly waiter to deliver the parcel to the car. He mentioned, to disbelieving ears, that the place might shut down anytime – as the building is being razed down. Today, I discovered a shutter on the place with the chairs lying awkwardly on top of the decades old tables.

There is a small ray of hope –  apparently the cooks have moved to a new version of Crystal at Lower Parel, which is being run by the owners’ daughter. It would not be the same, it never could – but hopefully the food will be. I hear they have got an air-conditioned section. Wonder what the waiters at the old Crystal would have to say about that.

The other bachelor institution that has fallen is Just around the corner at Bandra. I would save that story for another day.

Grilled at last…

Bombay (yeah I know…but I don’t like saying Mumbai) – supposedly a haven for eating, dining, breakfasting, brunching…lunching…teaing and all that. I say ‘supposedly’ because I haven’t really had the opportunity to explore more than 10 eating joints in the last six years of my stay here, so going by what I’ve read and heard, that’s what it is – a haven. I should be ashamed of calling myself that with my fantastic record. But in my defense, of the limited joints that I visit, I am pretty much, a patron.

This post comes in the light of a slight deviation from the routine of six years. My very vegetarian in laws (just sis in law and hubby), my preferably vegetarian husband and the purely non vegetarian me decided to meet for dinner last Saturday. We almost entered the restaurant where we went to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, first Sundays of the month, buying a new lampshade, getting all traffic signals green, …basically anything. Anyway, just as we were entering, my SIL said she’d heard of a grill house nearby that we could check out. I was thrilled since the last time the four of us (or even just me) went to a grill house was two years back, soon after my marriage. That was something that had undergone more planning than the marriage itself…hey come on, we were going to ‘Kebab Factory’ (in Noida I think) for the first time and it was a big deal. We have been planning to go to Barbecue Nation near Bandra for the longest time but in vain. That’s another story.

Anyway, in less than five minutes we were out of our favoured restaurant and outside ‘Grillopolis’, in a place called Oshiwara located in the western suburbs of Mumbai. The name was about as far Greek as the place could get. Can be surer of that as my husband and I went holidaying in Greece last year and are pretty sure no façade there inspired what we saw in front of us. But I did not let that bother me…food (read grilled meats) was what I was waiting for and I was sure it would beat the ‘oh so famous’ (dunno why) Greek salad. Being a Saturday, we got a table in a record 10 minutes. Obviously we did not go for the a la carte since the buffet had five non veg and five veg starters, just as many dishes per category in the main course and desserts. Not bad. I didn’t even bother with the veg…and I’m not sorry. First up, I dug into the chicken kebabs that had some sort of a rice flour coating – soft and juicy on the inside, crisp on the outside. Lightly spiced but delicious. Then came the grilled fish with baked beans (didn’t know that could be a combo). It certainly wouldn’t have qualified for Masterchef Oz coz there were BONES!!! Did anyone watch the episode where Gary cooked a fish dish in a Masterclass and Callum found a bone in it…what a slap (or should I say prick) that was! Anyway, the grilled fish was decent. Found no more bones after the initial bits. Then followed some delectably soft mutton shammi kebabs served on tortilla chips (huh???). Didn’t bother with the tortillas but the kebab was lovely. It did not have the hit smell or taste of the original shammi kebab but it was fragrant and really really soft. Probably that’s why they served them on the tortillas so that they held shape. Then, dhan ta tan…grilled prawns. Was having prawns after eons. Didn’t mind how they were served…except raw of course. Spicy, well cooked. Very nice. Four down, one more to go. As I waited for it, I wondered what they could possibly serve – chicken’s done, so is fish and goat and prawn. Hmm…and then it came…chicken again!!! Well, that’s about as big as the non veg circle went. Pretty orthodox for a place called Grillopolis eh? But this time the chicken was quite interesting. It was a seekh kebab. Indian notes of garlic and earth spices in the beginning and then a kick of soya in the end. Sounds odd but it made for a pretty interesting combination. Quite nice, quite different. Had several helpings. Some of the names of these dishes may have sounded Indian, but they all had a pretty western hint in their tastes. A little here, a little there. If you go there expecting to find Karim’s kebabs’ copies…mmm…not that good an idea. The name of the place actually helps putting such expectations at rest.

Anyway, by now I had had my fill. But after a walk around the buffet counter for the main course I felt some empty spaces spring up out of nowhere within me. How else was I to stuff in the masala crab and fish and mutton biryani and drunken chicken and butter chicken??? (These guys really know their way around with chicken) Ah! Is there a cloud number 10? Well I was beyond that. Yeah I had to struggle a bit to maintain dignity while eating the crab. And that was not it. I had to make a pretence to my family (veggie, remember?) that eating crab was just like sucking on drumsticks (no not the chicken ones…the green ones you put in sambhar). But how…with crab…how??? Finally I found recourse in the wall of glasses and salt n pepper cellars that I created around my plate. Couldn’t eat the crab as much as (I mean to the last shred) I would have wanted to but that sufficed for the time being.

No more space left to create space for dessert! But the brave soldier marches on and the sight of those gooey, creamy, chocolatey delights made me brave enough to run. I had two helpings of dessert…hah! Strawberry pastries, chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream, baked Alaska – layered sponge and fresh fruits topped with soft peaked whipped cream and lightly bruléed. They didn’t do it too well as quite a few grains of sugar met their end between our molars. But what the hell…it tasted great and the attempt can at the least be appreciated. And the bottomline is…all good things come in sweet packages…

With a sumptuous meal down, we got discussing whether they served the same menu everyday. We said obviously not. I’m sure they know more than four chicken dishes. When will they serve those? Might go and find out soon.

Icons

Every city has a few iconic places to eat – restaurant being too pretentious a term for some of them – that are part of the city’s social and cultural history. It is not only about the food they serve – which is usually fantastic – but about the ambience and quirks of the place. Somehow, these have become part of the image of the place, adding to the legend.

For all of them, the aura is as important as the menu. Many of them have been described as over-rated by non-regulars. There have been complaints of poor service. That is again part of their charm. Old-timers, wanting to keep the riff-raff out of their favourite adda, even tacitly support this!

This post is the first in (hopefully) a series in which I try to recount my experiences at these places.

Bangalore – Koshy’s

I love the way they put a table cloth when you order a beer. I love the way old-timers refuse to sit in the AC section. When I asked a friend why he didn’t want to sit inside, he said “That is not Koshy’s. That is Jewel Box. Koshy is out here.” I love their Brain Masala. Of course, I have been repeatedly told I should always be ordering the steak at Koshy’s. Its location – at the cusp of St Marks Road and MG Road – is as iconic.

When I was in Bangalore, there used to be a night-club called 180 Proof (now Hard Rock Café) just ahead. I remember clearly a discussion I overheard at Koshy’s on the meaning of 180 proof and whether absinthe was 180 proof alcohol.

It was as if I was back in Calcutta. How better can I compliment a place?

Picture courtesy: Iyer Matter.

Bombay – Britannia & Co.

Any restaurant which shuts on Sundays and opens for only 4 hours on other days gets undying admiration from Bengalis. I mean, the bugger doesn’t care about money and only about the quality of the food. Wah wah – one more Caramel Custard, please.

The red-check table cloth. The chatty owner shuffling from table to table. The bow-tied waiters. Even the hideous-tasting ‘unique drinks’ are part of the Britannia lore. It is a small matter that the legend was started by Berry Pulao and the Dhansak – which are quite fantastic.

I had lunch there again yesterday – after a gap of nearly five years – I was a little apprehensive whether I would like it as much as I did the first time. I needn’t have worried. From the first spoon of the Pulao to the last mouthful of Caramel Custard, it was beautiful. The warm sun outside, the patience of the waiting crowd and the sleepiness of Ballard Estate on a Saturday were all just as beautiful too.

Did I tell you that their Sali Boti is even better than their Berry Pulao? Well, try it and tell me if you agree.

Calcutta – Peter Cat

Very few restaurants – actively or passively – discourage mobile phone conversations nowadays. Peter Cat not only puts a tent card requesting patrons not to speak on the mobile phone, the stewards walk up and whisper polite warnings if you do speak!

Peter Cat is all about legend. As I had written some time back, an overwhelmingly large number of Calcuttans have been to Peter Cat after their first salary and that is a sentimental high no other gastronomical creation can match.

And their iconic dish – Chelo Kabab. No single dish in any restaurant in the world would form such a large part of the total orders as Chelo Kabab does in Peter Cat. It is currently described in their menu as ‘the protected regional product of West Bengal, our special kababs prepared in rare spices blended with Persian herbs and served on a bed of rice with butter and an egg’. Whoa!

When I was in Peter Cat last, I took a picture of the menu with my mobile phone camera. As I took out the phone, the steward frowned and started towards me. When I pointed the camera at the menu, he smiled and turned away. Must be happening a lot in there!

Delhi – Karim’s

There is nothing left to say about Karim’s that Lonely Planet, HT City Eating Out Guide or Time magazine hasn’t said already. Except that contrary to popular belief, the restaurant did not start in Bahadur Shah Zafar’s time. The descendants of the Mughal emperor’s chefs started the restaurant in 1913 (CENTENARY ALERT!!) and has been serving soul-stirring food ever since.  Which means no other restaurant in the world is probably as Mughlai as Karim’s.

Part of Karim’s charm is, I think, the inaccessibility. Jama Masjid and Nizamuddin, I can understand. Even their Malaviya Nagar outlet is particularly bad for turning and parking. I guess you feel the food better when you work hard for it.

I don’t know if there is any one dish that Karim’s is really famous for because I manage to forget every item I order by the time I visit next. Actually, I forget the dishes by the time I walk out of the restaurant. All that remains is a whirl of meat, ghee and spices that tend to engulf one’s senses. In fact on the way out, I manage to lose myself in the bylanes as well. How does the second left matter after Chicken Jahangiri?

Hyderabad – Paradise

How many places in the world do you know where a street or a square is named after a restaurant located there? Paradise Circle is the only one place I know of.

For those who think biriyani is paradise, Paradise is biriyani. In a city known for biriyani, they have taken it to a different level altogether. Actually they have taken it to three different levels altogether – the air-conditioned section upstairs, non-AC downstairs and the terrace outside!

Their chicken-mutton mixed biriyani is an innovation that deserves a Nobel Prize – either Chemistry or Peace. And their take-away section deserves one in Economics – for the most efficient revenue generation. Their hermetically sealed packages of biriyani and kabab are handed over in one smooth motion after the money is handed over and you are back in your waiting cab even before the ignition is switched off.

Visits to Hyderabad are incomplete without a sealed packet of Paradise in your hand baggage. Don’t tell me you’ve not done it even once!

Lucknow – Tunday Kababi

They have opened branches in malls of Lucknow and Delhi. And yet, their original shop hidden in the labyrinth of Aminabad remains the touchstone of all carnivores. I had written about it once earlier and haven’t eaten there recently to add on that.

Except that I’d give anything to eat there right now.

Picture courtesy: Outlook magazine

The Nizam from New Market…

So why is this about New Market and Nizams? Because this one is about wafting memories that have since floated down  from the legendary open market in Kolkata, right down to the suburbaness that is Andheri West. This one is about the memory of singing along with Shahrukh in his Main Koi Aisa Geet Gaoon, from the much overlooked Yes Boss from a matinee at Roxy to move towards the back alleys of New Market to the food mandala that resides there. Ah yes – fresh out of Elite, guiltily enjoying the tackiness of one of the foremost creature films that hit India : Anaconda – The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (oh yes, I liked it! I am man enough in admitting it! ), and then moving almost in default – to that institution called Nizams. The rolls – the heavenly rolls. The porotha , yielded by flour, fried lovingly in oil, splattered with the fried chillies, onion and other madness, filled with red juicy nuggets of mutton cubes- tossed in marinade of a hundred recipes, and then garnised with lemon squeeze and sauces. Served hot! Or the biriyani – mutton biriyani! Grains of basmati – glittering in saffron-yellow sunshine, bristling lightly in ghee (not too much), married with a plethora of spices, adorned with a piece of potato and the egg and then  digging deep and you find those chunks of lamb – tender and sumptious… all served with the lemon wedges, slit chillies and onion rings (although given the current scenario, the onion may be a disappearing number). Ah yes – Nizaams biriyanis and rolls, served in the New Market Mohalla , in a the communal table or the curtained private ‘femily room‘ – depending on if you are with your fresh love of school (‘female party’ as uttered by the liveried waiters) or your gang of dudes from your neighbourhood! Good times of Kolkata!

This post is not about Nizams. Or New Market. But its about rediscovering rolls and Kolkata style biriyani in the town of Andheri West, in Mumbai.

A few years back, when my mind and pallette was suffering from withdrawal pangs of how the Kolkata roll was diminished by the hugely overhyped (and may I add grossly inferior) Frankie in Mumbai nagariya, Rahul and another ex- colleague of mine from STAR, Sayan – told me about this cart joint called Bhimas in Andheri West, that apparently served up rolls Kolkata style.

 ‘Go for it – Almost like Kolkata rolls’ Sayan said

‘You dont have to speak much modon, this guy just hands out the stuff. No chitchatting.  Its more of the silent strong treatment type. Do your business and leave ‘ said Rahul! (I had this overwhelming feeling that I was a dog being trained!!)

‘Where exactly is it?’ I asked salivating

‘ Its close to the Andheri gurudwara…” said Rahul and Sayan in chorus, knowing fully well that I am a newbie in Mumbai and would have no clue where this aforementioned gurudwara would be.

( And then Rahul went back to ragging me, the lowly management trainee I was then!… Good times! ) 

Fresh in Mumbai then, and goaded by the promise of a Kolkata Nizaam reverie, I had gallivanted to the haven to taste the delight. Let it be known now, it was ok- decent, given that nothing of the sorts existed in Mumbai anywhere else. I happily gorged on a few and there in hangs a tale!

Now , its been 4 years in Mumbai and I have shifted base in Andheri West from Santacruz. One sultry evening, while passing down Oshiwara, I noticed this non descript road-side stall ambitiously titled Kolkata Konnection. The Karan Johar nomenclature form aside, it drew my heart strings! Could it be a roll shop which borrows more from the city rather than just a name? I explored.

” They say you will forget Shiraz and Nizaam rolls after you have ours”, ambitously proclaimed the owner (incidentally he is not a Bengali). I tried it, and from therein lies the basis of this post.

Kolkata Konnection is truly a slice of life Kolkata rolls. Made in the same style as I have grown up seeing in Babughat, Park Street , Lindsay or any of those nook and corners of Kolkata,  there arrived the white paper wrapped Indian tortilla, stuffed generously with irregular cubes of juicy chunky meat, with sauteed onions and chillies, smacked with sauces. There is also, I suspect, a dash of chat masala along with the mandatory lemon squeeze. Freshly from the tawa, it was handed to me , a beckoning of sorts to bite into a promise. So I did! It was – well- Kolkata taste buds all over again. Not the Nizaam fare, not the Shiraaz fare, but still pretty darn good… I am a person who believes in excess, so I had ordered the double egg mutton roll. Loved every lip smacking part of it!

I succumbed. Kolkata Konnection had me hooked and now a challenge was thrown to taste more. Quickly scrolling down their one pager pamphlet menu, revealed all kinds of chop-cutlets, biriyanis, gravy accompaniments, and surprise of surprises – Moghlai Porotha. I decided that the biriyani should  be put to test.

A word on Mumbai biriyanis. So this rice artifice that goes by the misnomer of biriyani in Mumbai is not – lets face it – what it should be. Any self respecting fellow who has tasted the real fare in Shiraz or in Dilli Darbar will know what the Lucknowi Biriyani is all about. Its not a pulao wearing multi coloured hues, not adorned with paraphernalia like dry fruits and doesnt have a dump of masala with the meat safely ensconced in the bottom. And the biggest piece of deceit – they dont have the aloo! No siree – that aint biriyani the way its meant to be! Its just not cricket!

But here I was, suitably encouraged with the gastronomical delight that was the roll, so the mutton biriyani was the call. Five hungry minutes later, there came the dish laden with the good stuff. A generous mound of rice, smelling divine, with the all important aloo peeking through. The smell itself was sign enough. I jumped into it with unabashed glee. The rice was soft and had absorbed the masala very well, the saffron aroma wafted through in every mouthful, the aloo was perfectly boiled and the mutton – wallahh! not hard at all, not too soft that it loses its texture too soon for you not to enjoy its juices- just perfect! It wasnt too spicy, the flavours of the rice and the meat and the marinade worked together to create this drowning feeling of sumptiousness that was this biriyani. Well done- the battle was won! I was advised by the now-over zealous owner to try it with the Rezala. I did, on a later visit – but that’s another story. Suffice to say, the biriyani in itself was a triumph!

So thats the story about Kolkata Konnection. I have a special account in my name in their home delivery clientele, I also get an extra aloo by special request. So that’s Kolkata Konnection – my walk back to the Nizam and the Shiraz days, to New Market backyard, to ultimatelu a delicous memory. To the good things of life!

Prithvi

PS: I also tried their Moghlai Parotha. Not the best, but will do! There is also Hyanglas in Lokhandwala that serves all of the above. Much has already been spoken about it. While it was good when it first launched, its now slowly on its descent. And their home delivery sucks! (And then it sucks some more!)