After the ‘dance of democracy’: Maharashtrian breakfast at Aswad, Mumbai

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The municipal elections got over recently at Mumbai and all the talk about the sons of the the soil and local vote banks got me hungry for a Maharashtrian breakfast.

I’d made plans to go and try out the Maharashtrian dishes at Aswad with Sassy Fork for a while. The Mumbai election based political panel discussions on TV and articles in the newspapers reminded me of that. So we headed to Aswad on Sunday joined by a couple of other friends.

Aswad is located near Sena Bhavan at Dadar. On the main road roughly opposite Sweet Bengal. Dadar is a traditionally Maharashtrian heavy area of Mumbai.

Aswad is air conditioned and looks marginally more upscale than Prakash down the road. Yet our bill, which had more than ten items that morning, was just about Rs 340 (7 USD).

 Gokhale at Thane serves snack items that are available at Aswad.  Prakash at Dadar has a menu similar to Aswad. Aswad would work for you if you are looking for a place to try out vegetarian Maharashtrian dishes. A place which is at the centre of the city. Specially if you look for a sanitised even if not plush place to eat at.

Aswad has a mixed range of vegetarian dishes on offer…including South Indian…most were eating dosas when we landed up on Saturday. They have a small section of Maharashtrian breakfast and lunch items in the menu at Aswad. You will come across a few of these dishes such as missal, batata vada, poha at office canteens in Mumbai. The canteen fare is usually cold, congealed, reheated at the most, rancid stuff.

I’d been to Aswad twice before. First time on a night when we went to see Haseena Maan Jayegi at Plaza. In the 90s. The other recently when my mom was in town and wanted to eat a batata vada. Aswad was packed in my previous visits which were on weekday evenings…slightly empty this time on a  lazy Sunday morning.

One got to try quite a few things at Aswad that morning. The advantage of being at a large table. That’s what friends are for as they say. You always end up overeating when eating alone at a restaurant.

The poha…nice, fluffy fresh… the folks at my table said ‘this is what we make at home’. But as someone who has access primarily to the inert office pohas, the light and ethereal local rice flakes preparation at Aswad was wondrous enough for me to call for an extra dish of poha just for myself.

poha

Then there was the thali peeth. A multi grain dough of everything that sounds good …local cereals, carbon footprint friendly, nutritious…the version here was deed fried and served with the customary dollop of white butter. I was told that you could have baked ones too.

I liked the thali peeth at Aswad a lot more than the one at Prakash. The latter was a bit too smoky for my tastes. The thali peeth at Aswad had the robustness and soberness of healthy cereals with a naughty little crunch to it to lighten the mood.

thali peeth

My table was split with one Aswad loyalist and one Prakash loyalist. I added to the stalemate by voting for Gokhale at Thane which has some seriously good stuff. Though for whatever it’s worth I am the ‘outsider’ unlike the other two who are Maharashtrians.

I did vote though.

In the elections.

Moving back to food, we had a sabudana puri at Aswad…different from ‘vada’ I was told. In the latter the sago beans have a higher proportion of potato added to them. Sabudana vada or puri is an acquired taste …chances of your liking it if you like the sticky rice of the Orient is higher. I missed the sweet curd chutney and was told that it was served with sabudana khichdi not puri.

sabudana puri

The girls then ordered a kothambir vade. A dish made with gram flour and seasoned with coriander or kotambir or coriander. I have earlier eaten cubed rubbery versions of this. Never liked it.

The kothambir vadi at Aswad was served as rectangular slabs not small cubes…was surprisingly soft…near savoury-mousse like in texture and quite well flavoured.

This kothambir vadi I didn’t mind.

kothambir vadi

And then of course the batata vada or what the world knows as the filling in the Bombay Burger or vada pao. Mom loved it when she came to Aswad a short while back. The reason why she liked it was obvious once I took my first bite of the vada on Sunday.

The besan or chickpea batter was light, thin and crisp…I have had some stodgy batters during my time at Mumbai. ..always at offices or airports or malls…never on the street. You can rarely go wrong if you have a vada pao straight out of the wok on the streets of Mumbai.

The batata vada one at Awad was all good. Worthy of being sold on the streets

If scared of eating on the streets then Aswad would be a good option for you to try out batata vadas. The batter was perfect as was the potato filling…densely packed and yet not chunky or too solid…the spices just right…the texture of the potato enticing and pliant…a carb fest as they say

batata vadas

As popular as vada pao amongst the locals, though possibly not as iconic, is the missal pao…a mung bean and pulses spicy curry topped with farsan (bhujiya to the North, dalmut to the east) with chopped onions, occasionally tomatoes and a dash of lime. One of the few Indian dishes which uses multiple textures and colours to play on the palate.

The rather unusual excess of garam masala, or local goda masala (according to the Maharashtrians at the table), weakened the missal at Awad for me. The balance of taste was a bit off.

Missal pao

Missal pao was one of the few things which I liked in the canteen at my first office at Mumbai. This was the daily breakfast dish there.The other dish that I liked in the canteen there was the puri bhaaji. I used to look forward to Thursdays as that’s the day they would make puri bhaji in the office canteen.

The puri bhaaji at Aswad got back memories of my favourite puri bhaaji from those days.

the potato bhaaji

The potato bhaaji was pretty good though I missed the oily, garlicy, chopped chillies and deep fried onion decadence of the canteen bhaaji but the puris made up.

Unlike the silken texture of the maida luchis of Bengal the pooris of Maharashtra are made with aata or whole-wheat flour and have a slightly rough and edgy mouth feel. If deep fried flour work for you then you would be able to finish four puris at the end of a meal just as I did that morning.

puris

And if feeling guilty of the dietary sins then sink into bliss by drinking a glass of Piyush…a liquified drinkable version of the Maharashtrian curd based sweet dish, shrikhand. I preceded this with a ginger lemon drink as the milky chaha (tea) or coffee at these places just don’t work for me.

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End a visit to Aswad by crossing over and then taking the lane opposite to Godbole’s. A tiny shop which sells Maharshtrian snacks, pickles, masalas in modern packs…often made diet friendly with a centrifugal machine to pull out the oil I was told. They also sell Maharashtrian dishes (sheera, pulao, etc) packed into convenient boil in the bag forms for folks to send to their children studying abroad. Sassy packed some diet nachni chivda, methi bajri and karela chakli for me… each is so tasty that I am scared to dig deep on the health quotient…

Walking around the Dadar area is a good way to discover what appeals to the Maharashtrian palate and a world beyond vada pao and cutting chai.

After all to know a city you have to know what its people love to eat.

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And wait till I tell you about Chaitanya, the tiny little place which we went for lunch. It is opposite Aswad. I got to try some really fresh Malvani seafood fare carefully there put together by the owner, Mrs Surekha Walke…

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