I don’t know what spurred off this trip. The disastrous coffee shop breakfast the previous day. Or a long standing desire to discover some of the Maharashtrian food of Mumbai. But if I had tweeted that I was going to a Maharashtrian vegetarian restaurant at Mahim for breakfast on a holiday then folks would have thought that my phone had been kidnapped.
But every journey needs to be led by an intrepid explorer. In Bhairavi, who has covered thirty five countries so far and counting, is one. We met through twitter and then at Gostana, a common favourite, by chance. Plans to go to Prakash were made and finally kept. Prakash is a simple Maharashtrian restaurant at the cusp of Mahim and Dadar at Mumbai. In a Maharashtrian dominated locality, not too far from Bandra. Mumbai, of course, is the capital of Maharashtra.
Time flew as we drove to Prakash despite the Saturday traffic at Bandra as we chatted about our travels. Bhairavi compared the traffic around us with the disciplined no honking traffic of the cities of South America and even Beijing. She regaled me with stories of her 28 country in 90 days trip as a part of a peace march association a couple of years back. Of her discovery late in the day that Mauritania is a country in Africa and is not Mauritius. Of being stuck at Columbia without a visa. Of eating with the locals everywhere despite being a vegetarian. And of how seventy members of the global peace corp stayed overnight at a bomb shelter at Zurich.
We reached Prakash close to one. It was reasonably empty. A bit after breakfast and not quite lunch hour yet. But the tables began filling up as we ate. Soon there was huge queue outside. And then people came and stood by the tables including by our shared table which had two Maharashtrian ladies standing beside us. If you needed any proof that the place was good then this answered it. British food writer and chef, Maunika Gowardhan, went to Prakash during her recent trip to India. She told me that the food tasted exactly the same as it did more than a decade back when she used to go here with her mom.
|The crowd starts to form|
|Packed to the gills with more coming in|
|The very busy manager or owner|
|Marking their territory. Our table was theirs|
I started with the poha of course which many had recommended to me. Bhairavi took a bite and said that the poha (a dish made with rice flakes) in this Maharashtrian restaurant was exactly the same as that made in her Gujarati household. I had been subjected to poha molested and mauled by various canteens for over a decade. A tasteless unappetising debris in most cases. I must say that I had questioned the point of going to a place whose flagship dish was poha.
Well the poha at Prakash was light, pure, warm and rather motherly. The exact opposite of whatever I had tasted in all these years.
As was the missal. A dish which I had always known as an oily, spicy, chickpea and fried gram flour based tasty though suicidal office canteen and bus terminus shop dish. The missal at Prakash was very demure and domesticated. It was made with moong sprouts, had soft pieces of potato, a very thin layer of sev and not the heavy fried gram flour farsan mix. It had a very granny’s kitchen feel to it. I was rather full by then but yet kept having spoonful after spoonful of this soothing, nurturing dish.
Of course it was not all so innocent. We had deep fried savudana vadas which were crunchy outside and fluffy inside. Again very different from the sticky, jaw clamming stuff of office cafetarias. As Bhairavi pointed out, it didn’t come with the usual sweet curd chutney.
We followed this with thalipith which is a roasted grain based dish. It looked interesting. A very primordial, close to nature local bread. The thalipith at Prakash was rather salty and burnt and disappointing. Bhairavi assured me that thalipeths are normally quite different and tastier.
We ordered batata vadas, the quintessential street food dish which feeds the whole of Mumbai. A good comeback after the thalipith. Hot, fresh, bouncy but not as pungent or piquant as the street ones. Again seeming as if it was straight from granny’s kitchen.
|Piyush, heady though not intentionally|
We started our meal with Piyush, a sweet local drink which had the same effect on one as a can of spinach had on Popeye. Our meal had a sweet ending too. Shrikhand, the sweet thick milk based local dessert.Bhairavi felt that shrikhand here tasted off the modaks which were offered to Lord Ganesha at Mumbai’s most famous temple, Siddhi Vinayak. Which, according to her, is not the way shrikhand should be. Well it was sweet, mildly sour, creamy and thick. Worked for me.
This huge array of dishes cost us all of Rs 240 (5 USD). The service, smart, efficient, very friendly. Our waiter, Yadav
As Bhairavi pointed out, the food wasn’t spicy or hot. Nor was it oily. Which is probably why I felt that each dish seemed like it was made in someone’s home. Possibly by a wizened granny. Not my home of course. I won’t be able to tell you how ‘authentic’ it was? But then do two grannies ever cook exactly the same way?
What I do know was that the food was cooked with a lot of honesty. With a pure heart. Food which was a tribute to the earnest and hard working patrons of Prakash. A rare example of simplicity in an increasingly complex world. Of earnestness. And warmth.