One of the first food associations which one has with Bombay or Mumbai is the vada pao. This is a round, deep fried, spicy, mashed potato ball with a gram flour coating (vada) squashed into a burger like bread (pao). It's the most popular snack here and I am sure even reading about it with bring a lump to the throat of any Bombay expat reading this. My favourite vada paos were the ones sold outside the LIC building at Churchgate.
This post is not about vada paos though. This is about another quintessential Bombay food, more a cuisine actually, Malvani food. Malvani cuisine is a local coastal cuisine. As expected, it is sea food based and has a lot of coconut in it. It tends to be quite fiery and has loads of chilly, mustard seeds and curry leaves too.
I must confess that I am not the biggest fan of Malvani cooking. I have the inherent Bengali bias towards fresh water fish and I find sea water fish to be a bit chunky and chewy. Prawns are an exception of course. Plus I don't know like the excess of coconut. I like the coconut milk based preparations of Thailand or Kerala but am not a big fan of grated coconut which Malvani food has.
However, I am quite fond of the food at Saayba, a Malvani restaurant at Bandra, SV Road. I love their Bombay Duck (a fish actually) fry which literally melts in one's mouth. I also love their prawn chilly fry - juicy, succulent in a fiery red curry. So does my Mom who keeps remembering it while sitting at home in Calcutta. My in laws and Kainaz are big fans too. Saybaa's shark achari is memorable too because of the uniqueness of having a shark (take that for scaring me as a five year old Mr jaws) and the extreme spice of the 'achari' preparation which brings tears to one's eyes.
The other famous malvani joint is Bandra Gomantak. I remember eating there years back and wasn't impressed. I went there recently with some office friends for lunch in between meetings but could not get a table. There were people queuing outside.
So we went to another place called Sindhudurg which too is in Bandra East close to Highway Gomantak. The food was strictly OK. My problem with the food was the same as what I had with Highway Gomantak when I had gone there. The gravy sort of over powered the fish and was not very well flavoured and lacked salt. I feel that Saayba is definitely a better bet.
We ordered a thali (combination of dishes) at Sindhudurgh. Just see the two bowls in the photo which I took from my phone... a complete gravy train. In the corner is the deep fried fish (Surmai) which was the redeeming feature of the meal. I also like the pink, pungent, digestive drink called kokum kadi which you get here.
More than the food what I would remember were the quaint attempts of a colleague, a fish virgin, to have her first piece of fish. The rest of us gave her well meaning directions on which part to eat and which to part to skip and on how to take the fish out. We had ordered a fried pomfret for her.
She summed up her experience at the end by saying "fish is nice and it is not like chicken".