How many times as a chef, have chefs themselves ventured into the bylanes of Mumbai to experience the real food? They may be dim lit, dingy, low on cleanliness but some and I am not afraid to say, unabashedly, do more business than the restaurants they are heading themselves in most starred hotels. Most would agree with me, when I say, “This is where the true flavours lie. This is where the consistency lies”.
Some are in business for over a hundred years, with not a spoon of spice changing. Some have mastered the recipe through generations while some have yet not laid their hands on the family recipes. Despite being aged 60, they are still getting groomed by their fathers who are pitching strong even at 90.Yes, I am referring to the very humble and mystical –Bohri Mohalla in the heart of Mumbai.
Secrets run here deep and business sense strong. They are up all night, serving patrons like us and prepping all day. Fasting as per their religious demands, yet getting every grain of sugar , spice and salt correct for the patrons who visit them not just around Ramadhan but yearlong .This is the commitment, passion and consistency that most groom their teams to have. And like I always say, “The essence of the three pillars lies in strengthening our basics”.
Bohri Mohalla is not just about the community staying in a particular area. It is about culture, values and traditions enveloped into society. I visit the locale every year, sometimes during festivals, sometimes just to talk to people who are REAL. It is always an experience, as you get to know so much more than what you gathered on your last visit. Old shades, old boards, old menu cards, old techniques, old recipes and age old traditions, every time it’s the same yet it’s another page, with each turn of the calendar.
On our way back from Imagica Adlabs, one breezy evening, an idea germinated into a concept and there took birth the idea of a food walk. There was an instant roaring agreement and the date sealed. Indian food freak-Suprio Bose turned it into one of the most awaited dates on every foodie’s calendar in Mumbai and chalked a food map taking us to the best of sharbats, ice creams, rotis, kebabs, shorbas, niharis, malpuas, jalebis, phirnees and everything else one could thing of garnering the courage of stuffing in.
We gather at Saifee Ambulance service which is right at the beginning of the Mohalla. Kurush Dalal (Professor of Archaeology), leads the way and marches all of us upto Indian Hotel to break much more than just bread. He orders everything available on the menu yet says, “Eat less, this is just the first one of the trail”. We all share a cute glance and pounce upon the little porcelain plates, each holding a piece of bread in one hand to dung into the next plate.
Most of us found a place to sit even at prime time; however who really cared for the plastic tables and stools. As long as the chicken roll, mutton roll, mutton bhuna, chicken bhuna, kaleji bhuna (liver), baida roti (egg) and gurda masala (kidney) was flowing in with splashes of green chutney, onion rings, lemon wedges and chaat masala, we were more than taken care off.
Next we head to Taj Ice Creams. 125 years in business making sancha ice creams using not just dried fruits but fresh and seasonal ones too. Fresh alphonso, chickoo, jamun, litchi, mixed fruit, guava came out tops and we went in for a repeat plus parcelled some for ‘after food walk’ plans.
Haji Tikka right opposite Taj Ice Creams failed to offer us anything as they had sold out most of their signatures and specialties. Suprio, however, on his earlier visit had a luck band and gorged onto the most sensuous charcoal grilled udder (Kheeri).
BAR-B-QUE, right next to Haji Tikka, however, served some steaming kebabs and tikkas right off the glowing coal. Reshmi tikka, murg malai tikka, chicken tikka, and mutton tikka left us asking for more.
We try and cleanse our palate with a dash of Imam Sharbatwala. A sharbat which took me back to my childhood. Pure yellow colour and apple essence mixed with saccharine and watered down milk. Chilled and served with diced watermelon. The sharbatwala near my school served a similar recipe with grated red apples and lots of ice. The ice quantity filled up almost the entire glass and reduced the quantity of the sharbat but here, at Bori Mohalla, it was a genuine full glass, with a pre-chilled mix.
Kurush Dalal and Hussain Hathiyari, both local experts and resident-guests led us to Noor sweets best known for their Malpuas and Jalebis. The maker in full view, starts his flair of mixing khoya with freshly broken eggs and mixing a premade batter of refined flour, sugar and milk. Pouring it out in measured quantities into hot oil and flipping it over once.
Draining the oil and drizzling with a guzzle of condensed milk is a norm. It is not a necessity but quite an add-on which enlivens the sweet bread. He makes some of the crispiest Jalebis in the vicinity. They are unusually lighter, fluffier and larger than the ones we get to see on the streets normally. They are zero on coloured sugar syrup , hence its originality and charm , both retained. Also, we chanced upon some crisp margarine laced puff pastry parcels called ‘Mawe ka khaja’. Superior and resonating deliciousness.
After a sweet binge , came the real test of a meat eaters appetite. We head towards the most iconic and age old- Vallibhai Payawala. The original ‘Barah Handi ‘ concept was seen here, where different meats and preparations and simmered over live charcoal for over 12 hours to get the meat fork tender yet holding onto the bone.
Quite an art, in itself. We ambitiously order paya shorba (Lamb trotters soup) , pichoda (ox tail), topa (hump), Nalli nihari (shanks) which are all laced with a gelatinous gravy, and if that din’t seem enough some squashed bone marrow, chunks of belly fat and a few splashes of simmering fat,sprinkled with coriander. It is served with a crisp roti and Macchli pav, which is a yeasty fine bone shaped bread. Truly fascinating
We gear up for some more sweets and head straight at Tawakkal sweets. Mango Phirnee, Malai Phirnee and Mango malai are a dessert lover’s weakness. With the right balance of sweetness and kewra (essence of screwpine), he had hit the right spot. We were too full and by now start empathizing with a racer passing out just before finishing line.
With a cheerful heart and a full stomach, we try to bring ourselves out of the busy lanes and start thinking about how much we had really eaten. Had a few more places been open that evening, our stomach would have burst, without any exaggeration. But a foodie is always a ‘nutcase’ in point as we stand outside the lanes making our breakfast-trail plans around Matunga, visit to Irani cafes and Bengali food hubs in the city !