Wishing you all a very Shubho Poila Boishakh or Happy Bengali New Year (15th April). The best way to celebrate it is to eat well. This is a post on a local Maharashtrian sea food restaurant.
I finally came across some really good food at Andheri E.
Malvani Aswad place had all the signs. Not the sort of place that would feature in food programmes on TV or food articles in the press. Local food, local cuisines dished without any reference to fancy terms such as ‘carbon’, 'slow' or ‘organic’. A crowd of people waiting to come in while others ate with looks of concentration on their faces. Hushed conversations. Waiters running around with precariously balanced still plates. A busy owner. Watchful. Keeping things under control. No delegation here. A Spartan room, basic tables and benches, no air conditioning, very little leg space … a happy, well fed lazy buzz. Hot food. Tasty food. Honest food. My sort of place.
We were headed back to work the other when I pointed at a Gomantak (Goan Maharashtrian) fish joint to my colleagues. One of them mentioned another place at the alley before our office instead.
"We went there the other day. The food was very good" Then he looked at me apprehensively. "It's a hole in the wall. Nothing fancy. Not a good place. You might not like to sit there". By the time he finished his sentence I jumped out of the air conditioned comfort of the car and headed towards to the restaurant that he had indicated.
Malvani Aswad is a simple restaurant no doubt but was much larger than the 'holes in the walls' that I was used to. We got a place easily. It was slightly before 1 pm. I saw the crowds increase as time passed by. There was a huge queue by the time we finished our meal. I could sense angry glares burn through the back of one of our group who ate at a very leisurely place.
Malvani food comes from the coastal Malvan region of Maharashtra and coconut forms a key part of it.
My lunch mates were young Maharashtrians. Both were Brahmins. Meat and fish were not allowed into their houses. But was not entirely illegal as their parents knew that they ate non vegetarian food outside. As did others in the family. The looks of joy on their faces through the meals was the final stamp of approval on the food. They guided me through the intricacies of he cuisine.
I went for a chicken sukha (dry) thali (set meal). The chicken was served in a coarse choppy bed of grated coconut. Edgy, the way I like it. The boys ordered chicken masala that came in a curry which was quite tantalising and teased your palate. The 'sukha' and the 'masala' were a bit like Sonny and Michael Corleone in the Godfather series.
Each thali came with the digestive/ appetiser sol kadi,a pungent cough syrup coloured pink drink which is cloyingly addictive and not advised before a first kiss. There was another base gravy with the set meal. My lunch mates pointed out that the chicken sukha, the masala and the gravy had very distinct tastes and that this was not always so. The waiters later brought rice which was beyond me though my younger lunch mates polished these off. There was a green chutney which my Maharashtrian lunch mates said was meant be eaten as an achar or pickle. I took a bite and swooned in its heady flavours. 'Extremely fresh' was how my lunch mates describes this coriander, chilli and coconut paste.
The thalis came with a choice of Maharashtrian breads. We chose one type per thali so that we got to taste all types. There were simple wheat rotis - flatter and larger in circumference at Maharashtra than in most parts of India. Local Brahmins apparently call these 'polis' and not rotis unlike the others apparently. In case you are wondering, Brahmins refer to a caste in the Indian caste system. Then there were 'vade's', similar to puris, deep fried in oil, but a coarse grainy texture which gave a rather 'multi grain' feel to it. You knew that these were sinfully doused in oil and yet there was an earthy reassuring feel to these. The third option was 'bakri' or very elegant and demure white rice rotis. You again had a Sonny and Michael thing going on here between the rough vade and the well heeled bakdis.
|Chicken sukha with bakdi or white rice rotis. The pink liquid is the sol kadi|
|Chicken masala with fresh green chutney and vades|
|Chicken masala with polis or rotis|
We ordered a plate of fried prawns with these. Coated in a very faint semolina batter, so fresh that it almost seemed like the prawns would get up from the plate and break into a Macarena. They were a pleasure to bite into well after the prawns went cold. Not chewy at all. The mark of real good stuff.
And then there was a whole fried pomfret. No batter here. A thin coating of masala and then deep fried. Now I am not a fish man. And yet, I bullied my younger lunch mates and ate up most of the fish once I took my first bite. That's how good it was. I have not eaten fish with such gusto in a very very long time. This was the 'Godfather' of fish. An eternal classic.
|Can we please get some fish?|
|The 'Godfather' of fried pomfret|
|A very rare sight|
No desserts here but my lunch mates treated me to a 'pot kulfi' from the ice cream counter. A cold icy pistachio's delight. Just what the Gods of Food would prescribe after the sweat, grit, guts and glory of the meal.
The rest of the meal - three chicken thali, extra vades and bakdis, 3 extra sol kadis, 1 fried fish, 1 plate of prawns came to about Rs 650 or around 15 USD.
The next time I go to Malvani Aswad there I will order the sol kadi, the pomfret fry and bakdi, the rice rotis.
|Mr Kumar, the busy owner of Malvani Aswad|
I met the owner Mr Kumar on the way out. He was extremely busy managing the counter and keeping an eye on the tables. We spoke for a short while. He told me that his restaurant was around twelve years old. His men went and sourced sea food from fixed suppliers at Crawford Market every day. He didn't go himself as he had to get the kitchen ready during this time. His personal involvement showed in the food. Kumar told me that he worked hard to ensure that the food is of good quality and that the taste is good. He then apologetically said that the only thing he had neglected was the 'ambience'. That the restaurant was 'too simple'.
Thank God for that.
If I want to go to an over priced, over rated, over hyped Malvani restaurant then I will head to Gajalee at Phoenix Mall.
Note: Malvani Aswad is at Sahaji Raje Road close to Andheri Station on the East side.