Why Mum­bai is a veg­gie-lover’s par­adise

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

IN a few decades Mum­bai will be the big­gest city in the world. Al­ready a sprawl­ing mega­lopo­lis that stretches out like a gi­ant crab’s claw, you can travel from the tip to the north for two hours by train or car with­out breach­ing its bor­ders. Its growth – fu­elled by trad­ing cot­tons, silks and to­bacco overseas for the past 500 years – has beck­oned work­ers from all over In­dia, trans­form­ing it into a glo­ri­ous mix of cul­tures, peo­ple and food. It has made it what it is to­day: the best place in the world to get a snap­shot of In­dian food from all around the coun­try.

Among these of­fer­ings, the veg­e­tar­ian food is un­ri­valled. In­dia is home to half a bil­lion veg­e­tar­i­ans, which is more than the rest of the world’s veg­e­tar­i­ans put to­gether; Nat­u­rally, many of In­dia’s great­est hits are served here. It is a veg­e­tar­ian’s par­adise.

On my last trip to Mum­bai I ar­rived on a 6am flight, in­ten­tion­ally, so that I could squeeze in as many meals as pos­si­ble dur­ing the next 24 hours. I was picked up, as al­ways, in an old Pad­mini taxi by my un­cle, Ma­hesh and friend, Sam. In all the years I’ve been trav­el­ling to the city, our plan has al­ways been the same: to eat the best food in the city, as much as pos­si­ble, with no rules (ex­cept the ob­vi­ous ab­sten­tion of meat).

As we moved across town, past the rickshaws and mo­tor­bikes car­ry­ing fam­i­lies of five, we smelled on the road­side what the city was eat­ing for break­fast: fresh aloo parathas, big vats of steam­ing poha: flat­tened rice with caramelised onions, pota­toes and lemon. Sand­wiched be­tween them, the chai-wal­lahs, with their muzzein-like calls “chai, chai, chai”, were pour­ing tea from great heights in an act of show­man­ship.

Around ev­ery cor­ner, another smell, another stall. Amid the smoke and steam of the city, you can eat every­thing here from lace-edged dosas from the south to creamy chole (chick­peas) with fly­ing-saucer bread bat­uras from the heart of Pun­jab, at all times of the day. The best places tend to have one thing in com­mon: they do one thing very well. The egg bhurji man I met near Church­gate sta­tion had been cook­ing that same recipe for 35 years, while Sanjay Singh, a sand­wich-wal­lah in Kala Ghoda, had been mak­ing his sand­wiches for 22 years. Both are masters of their craft.

This street-level ex­cel­lence means that ev­ery­one agrees that ex­pen­sive doesn’t equal the best, not here in Mum­bai. Few fol­low food crit­ics; Most pre­fer to fol­low their nose, or the words of their friends. It works. Lawyers, stu­dents and man­ual work­ers all queue to­gether at the best places in a rare show of egal­i­tar­i­an­ism in a city oth­er­wise split by race, caste and money.

We stopped at Kyani and Co. This is a Parsi cafe, where we or­dered akuri: su­per-creamy scram­bled eggs mixed with green chill­ies, toma­toes and onions and served on toast. Pow! What a start to the day. For a small com­mu­nity, the Par­sis have had an enor­mous im­pact on Mum­bai food cul­ture with slow-paced, airy cafes and an ob­ses­sion with eedu per (eggs on every­thing).

A walk through nearby Craw­ford Mar­ket was manda­tory to pay homage to the pyra­mids of pineap­ples and wa­ter­mel­ons be­fore a mid-morn­ing stop at Bad­shah for a falooda. Falooda is a milk­shake with a long tra­di­tion. It used to be made us­ing ice gath­ered from the moun­tain-tops. To­day’s in­car­na­tion is a tall glass filled with rose syrup, milk, glass noo­dles, ice cream and topped with slip­pery de­li­cious basil seeds. In 40C heat, it was every­thing I needed in one glass.

Re­freshed and in search of the city’s best street food, we took the su­per­high­way north to Ban­dra – the hip­ster en­clave of Mum­bai – and pulled up out­side Elco Pani Puri Cen­ter. This was no hole in the wall joint, it was dis­cov­ered by the Bollywood set some time ago. Crispy semolina shells are filled with a mix­ture of pulses, dunked into a tangy tamarind chut­ney and then ice-cold mint and co­rian­der wa­ter – there you have pani-puri. You have to eat it quick, be­fore it ex­plodes! There’s no other way. It was a vi­brant clash of sweet, sour, cold and crunchy: a roller­coaster of flavours. The pani-puri is made with min­eral wa­ter here, so it’s a safe place to get your fill.

Al­though din­ner op­tions are vast in the city, Shree Thaker Bho­janalay is one of Ma­hesh and Sam’s go-to veg­e­tar­ian res­tau­rants. Gu­jarat, a state on the west coast of In­dia is fa­mous for its thalis: a plate onto which a rain­bow of sea­sonal cur­ries, chut­neys and a va­ri­ety of breads are served. The wait­ers walked around bare­footed hawk­ing our plates ready to top us up un­til we begged for mercy (just like with any Gu­jarati mum).

After din­ner, we headed to Chow­patty Beach where Mum­bai’s young lovers go to hold hands (and es­cape their par­ents), while the rest grav­i­tate to­ward the whizz, pop, bang of the food and en­ter­tain­ment stalls. Or­di­nar­ily, I’d have gone to Bach­e­lorr’s across the road for a mango juice or a cus­tard ap­ple ice­cream but I’m only hu­man and I’d hit a wall. You can eat like a queen in Mum­bai, for not very much. The only lim­i­ta­tion is al­ways the size of one’s tummy. – The Guardian

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