Ed: Looking at the week after this weekend is Muharram and Bohri Mohalla is going to be packed
It took me fourteen years in Mumbai, and a friend who is an archaeologist and caterer who in turn had a friend who showed him the path years back, to discover Bohri Mohalla.
Since that night Bohri Mohalla, or Bhendi Bazar, as it is officially known has become my favourite place to eat in Mumbai.
Bohri Mohalla is a tiny stretch below the vast recesses of the J J Flyover. A part of Mumbai that most of us sail over as we travel to South Mumbai and back. A place mentioned in google maps but left untouched by Wikipedia.
Yet Mumbai old timers swear by its marvels.
Bohri Mohalla the home to the very warm, hospitable and charitable Bohri community. A big-hearted community that know how to eat well.
Over my last few trips I have discovered Bohri Mohalla’s many wonders and the journey has just begun. Some of its treats have been kept ready for us over more than a hundred years. Bohri Mohalla is a part of Mumbai which almost seems like a museum brought alive. A part of our city’s heritage which still remains the way it was even as Mumbai takes rapid and impatient steps towards the future.
The food here is a meat lover’s paradise. Chicken rolls made the way they were in Karachi from where its makers came to Mumbai decades back. Fried chicken, minced meat, beef and then organs…livers, kidneys, brains…tossed on a tava in a way that is so uniquely Mumbai. After all this is the city that invented the phrase ‘bheja fry’.
Kebabs barbequed in front of you. Beef kofta as soft as the proverbial cheeks of a baby. Khiri, or udder. What I call the ‘mother of meats’. The bite of which is a pleasure that is intoxicating to say the least. And for the less adventurous… tandoori chicken.
Then there is the Bara Handi. Lentil base broths slow-cooked in 9 to 12 vessels over six hours waiting for you. Mixed and poured on cuts of meat – the hump, trotters, the tails – once considered poor man’s food which, through over a century of culinary research and development, have been transformed into a sublime meaty pleasure.
Mopped up with huge rotis, which were once made for soldiers who marched across the plains, to be broken and eaten in huddles at night…rotis that even today are wrapped in newspapers and are taken by Bohris for relatives who have moved overseas and yearn for these. That’s how long the rotis last!
The feast can go till you reach the sweets…aflatoon and, in Ramzan, huge malpuas made with enough eggs to feed an army. If that seems daunting then there are ice creams made in a process which is over 120 years old, and has remained unchanged since the beginning.
Some of this brought to you by the Bohris. Some by the Qureshis. Some be the Sheikhs. Food comes together here.
Eating at Bohri Mohalla is all about grunge eating. It is not for the faint hearted.
You won’t get a serviette here. It’s a good idea to wear a pair of jeans to wipe your hands on them as you eat. You won’t get individual plates and cutlery. Instead you will have to break a piece of naan bread and scoop up mouthfuls from plates of gurda or kaleji or bheja. This is what community eating was once all about before we moved into our skyscrapers. You won’t have a maître’d taking your coat but you can stand by a tawa and see how bheja masala is made and go home and practise it. You won’t have to stand in a queue to enter a restaurant but you can stand by the open coal barbeque and have the kebabs hauled from the coals and put straight on to your plate. You won’t get your own chair to sit on but you could balance yourself on a wooden bench and look with awe as the bara handi ustad performs his alchemy. No air-conditioned ice cream parlours here but you can get to taste the result of a 120-year old technique that brings back the cream in to ice cream and is bursting with seasonal fruits.
Is the food hygienic?
Well, the locals eat here daily and pack food for home. My friends and I have eaten at Bohri Mohalla quite a few times but then we call ourselves the ‘food commandos’.
Intuitively food served on your plate straight from the tava it is tossed on, or from the skewers that they are barbequed on, or food that has been slow-cooked from dawn to dusk, would be as sanitised, or more, than high-end restaurants with low turnovers. But then there are no guarantees in life and the risk is yours. Eating uncooked food from the streets or un-bottled water and juices could of course be a bit of Russian roulette. If you are vegetarian, or don’t eat beef ,then come here if you want to take in the atmosphere. You could go back a tad hungry.
If this interests you then join the very first Finely Chopped Walk which I plan to do at Bohri Mohalla.
Will put up the cost and time specs soon.
The date is likely to be the week after the Muharram weekend. So end Nov, early December. But soon
We would start around 7.30 pm and end at 10 pm.
This would cover a few of the food packed lanes of Bohri Mohalla with a tasting menu of tawa fries and rolls, kebabs, the legendary but dying art of bara handi and the gigantic rotis that go with it and the hand made sancha ice creams to cool it off. A trip covering four restaurants or stalls eating the way we do…with no reservations or table bookings…with the food cooked in front of you as you chat on the streets and take in life.
To get an idea of what’s on store go to the middle of this video clip of the segment that I hosted on Mumbai for Street Foods International on the Travel Channel USA. It features Bohri Mohalla.
Or take a look at some of the blog posts on Finely Chopped on Bohri Mohalla:
If interested write in to me at k(dot)finelychopped(at)gmail(dot)com or post a comment here.
See you there.
PS: Took me a while to put this into shape, get out of my comfort zone and press publish. Owe it to all of you have suggested these walks to me at various points. And some great folks who at times have goaded me… guided me too…Shivi & Shaili who coaxed me one afternoon to start, Simon, Maunika, Rushina (who started it all with her Masala Trails) , Anurag , Kaniska, Marryam, Sassy Fork, Kurush (whom I owe Bohri to), Rashmi, Shubho, Robyn, K of course…and the list will grow…wish me luck