I found myself at Nandu Pai's studio beside Grant Road Station once again. We were working with his quiet and super efficient editor, Ajit, on the AV for our presentation.
Grant Road is one of those colourful places in South Mumbai which are slowly going out of the radar of a lot of us with offices in Mumbai moving to the suburbs.
But it is some locality! You have crowded, bursting at the seams lanes such as Kalbadevi, Mumbadevi, Gulalwadi which connect Victoria Terminus and Crawford Market to Grant Road. Each road is full of life and has a character of its own. One could be filled with imposing Muslim mosques and dry fruit stores. Another could have ornate Hindu temples followed by car spare parts shops. You can easily lose yourself in these lanes making up your own stories as you walk.
To think that Singapore peddles 'Little India' to tourists. Pshaw! When will we ever learn?
Grant Road is also known for its red light areas and its legendary dance bar, Topaz, shut down by a home minister who was busy closing dance bars while terrorists attacked Mumbai. Another institution, if one can call dance bars that, which could have been such a tourist attraction was closed. While Bangkok counts the dollars at Pat Pong.
Grant Road also offers a mad medley of food. You have Jaffer Bhai, with its rich and heavy Muslim Moghlai food. And then the tiny Irani Cafes which dot it. Irani's are related to Parsis and had migrated to India from Iran centuries back. Irani Cafes are small, dingy, no - nonsense economical places with a distinctive decor and famous dishes.
One such cafe is B Merwan's just beside Nandu's studio at Grant Road E. They had called for Mawa Cakes for us on the first day of the edit from B Merwan's. These Irani, milky cup cakes were warm and quite tasty.My colleague, Ips didn't like it too much though and she bakes great cakes herself. It has a slightly peculiar taste a bit like Chinese Moon cakes. I am OK with them but am definitely not crazy about these tiny cakes.
We felt like some good Parsi food for lunch. B Merwan's only offered us omelet pao (bun) and a variety of other Irani Cafe specialities such as bun maska (butter) and brun (a hard, baguette like bun) maska. I was looking for something for more substantial such as kheema (Irani styles mince curry) and pao.
I called a South Mumbai Bawa (Parsi gentleman) who is quite well informed on matters of food. He promptly directed me to By The Way just beside Gamdevi Police Station close to Grant Road.
I had never been here before and it was a pleasant discovery. It was the sort of place which you enter and know that you will come back to.
By The Way did serve Parsi food but it was everything that the legendary Irani Cafes weren't:
- Bright and airy
- Air conditioned
- Nice wooden furniture, elegant and different from the round tables and chairs peculiar to Irani Cafes
- It had a full Parsi menu and Goan dishes and sizzlers
- It was empty
- It was expensive
- The staff was very attentive and polite
- They don't mind if you have a leisurely meal and don't hurry you out
By The Way is run by a charity called Seva Sadan was founded in 1908 by two philanthropists, Shri Behramji Malabari and Divan Dayaram Gidumal to help destitute widows. A hundred years later it works for downtrodden women and girls. By The Way is a new restaurant in the front of an old building which has been very well maintained. They have a snack bar next door for local snack items. The money from the restaurant goes entirely to charity. So for once you can think about karma rather than bad cholesterol while eating.
The Parsi food was apparently cooked by elderly Parsi ladies. It tasted quite home like and simple and was served nice and hot.
We started with akuri on toast. Akuri is an Irani scrambled egg which is spicy, doused in masala with chopped condiments. The one at By The Way was quite authentic and close to what we had at my in law's place. Minus the chopped chillies which my pa in law loves. It had a nice smoked taste to it. Don't ask me why.
We followed this with a mutton cutlet with gravy. The cutlet, as Ips pointed out, didn't taste of mutton. That's because Parsi cutlets are an equal balance of miced meat, potatoes and an egg batter coating. The three come together in harmony without either taste dominating. The cutlets and the tomato gravy which came with it were a trifle salty. I would ascribe it to being cooked by the elderly ladies instead of seasoned chefs. Home cooking can get a bit temperamental. The only problem is that your expectations are high when you are paying a high price (Rs 175, 3 USD per plate).
We followed this with chicken dhansak (lentil gravy with meat served with brown caramelised rice and kebabs). The dhansak was quite domesticated too. Similar to what I get at my in laws or at Mama's. The colour of the daal was dark yellow like home cooked dhansak and not the dark brown daal which you get in Irani restaurants such as Biritannia or Jimmy Boy. The chicken was really tender. It was a leg piece, as promised. juicy as a ripe mango and could be broken easily with a fork. A real pleasure to eat. It was fairly addictive and we kept eating at it even after we knew we were full. At Rs 220 (4 USD), the price was similar to Britannia's and higher than Mocambo's.
We followed this with a laganu (wedding) custard. The first bite took a bit of getting used to as it had an essence. But then rapid spoon fulls cut the air as we couldn't have enough of it. The custard grew on you and this chilled, stiff pudding was just what one needed after the heavy lunch. Definitely one of the best laganu custards that I have had.
We followed this with a caramel custard which was irritatingly sweet and was disappointing after the laganu custard.
Someone ordered a sizzler just as were leaving. It smelt so good that we felt like a second lunch.
By the Way is expensive. The food largely left you with a good feeling of home cooked food. It's open from lunch till dinner. It's expensive but the money goes to charity. And it's a nice place to sit too. Truly a hidden treasure. A great recommendation.
- They have a simple and clean rest room
- You can buy little handicrafts there (envelopes, cards)
- They don't offer you beds which is sad as a good Parsi meal HAS to be followed by a snooze