Surprisingly enough I am yet to go to Busaba, one of Mumbai’s earliest Far Eastern restaurants..
The original branch is at Colaba. Then they opened one at Lower Parel a year or so back. Mid-way from Town and Bandra. Both localities contain other favourite restaurants of ours so the Busaba trip remained elusive. And then Busaba moved in to the next lane. Figuratively speaking.
I am talking of Busaba’s express cafe, Busago, in Pali Naka, Bandra. ‘Meals in a bowl’ is what they claim to offer.
Ironically they opened shop just as we were moving out of our previous apartment. Close to the day when we began packing towards the end of last year. The packers were at work, meticulously unscrewing shelves and racks, bubble wrapping the glassware, taking clothes and books out of cupboards and putting them into boxes for us to label. As the earnest men of Marshall Packers took a break we got a bit of a window to breathe too. Looking at an option for a quick lunch, and a break from the scene of a slowly unhinging and disappearing house, we decided to go to Busago.
As we walked in to Busaba it looked like we had made the right choice.
It’s in a small place where Tandoori Kitchen used to be. There is open seating outside, opposite Gold Gym, which requires high endurance and tolerance levels given the crowded streets in front of you. There is some seating inside. The decor simple, uncomplicated, bright cheerful, high cream coloured walls and spoon and chopstick holders on tables and wooden benches, the feel very much of suburban local cafes in a city like KL. Places such as the the Ristoran Chilly (sic) Pan Mee at Mutiara and the Restaurant Ipoh Chicken Rice at the Mid Valley Mall for example.
The loo has a red door. A reminder of the red door in the bedroom we were moving out of.
The menu at Busago is limited.
You get a sample of what’s available in the main restaurant, Busaba. Most of the dishes here are curries and momos. Stuff that’s easy to put together in a small place. Again reminiscent of a lot of small restaurants in the Far East have a limited menu. In fact there is a place at KL, Restoran Sunrise, which just serves duck rice. A model which even places such as Tunday Kebabs at Lucknow’s Chowk and Vallibhai Payawallah at Bohri Mohall, Mumbai, follow.
Offer a few dishes and make them bloody well. No restaurateur can go wrong with this time tested formula.
Well, Busago, did meet our brief. We wanted a place to declutter the mind and unwind for a bit and Busago turned out to be just the little oasis for that. We wanted hearty, nourishing food. Busago worked again with its curries that hit the spot and refreshing juices and smoothies.
In fact we went back to Busaba the next day too. The day we actually moved out of our apartment. An even more chaotic day. Tried out the rest of the menu at Busago. The experience consistent.
As it was when we went back this weekend. A 'repeat offender’ as the ponytailed manager said with a smile. ‘A regular face here’ he explained. A fact that helped us get the last portion of pork momos that afternoon as we later found out. The others were told that they had to settle with chicken till 6.30 pm.
Busago is now about 4 lanes away from where we stay versus the two lanes from our earlier place. So we coupled up this trip with a stocking up visit to Pali Market. This time too one was famished and exhausted as it was close to 4 pm when we went for lunch and I had just got out of an hour of rigorous back exercises at the Qi Spine Clinic. Once again Busago turned out to be just the pit stop one needed and recharged one till one reached home to a delayed but much needed Saturday siesta.
Well like I said we have tried pretty much everything there so here are my notes.
Busaba is apparently famous for it Khow Suey. Khow Suey is to Burmese cuisine what tandoori chicken is to Indian, sushi to Japanese, fish and chips to British, pasta to Italian. A dish that stereotypes it for the rest of the world. The closest I have come to trying out authentic Burmese khow suey is what they call khow soi in Thailand’s Northern town of Chiang Mai.
Busago calls its Khow Suey Kaukswe, to give it a more Burmese twist I assume. the curry here is thicker than the ones in Chiang Mai. The curry forms a rather warm and maternal base to your meal which gives the soul much needed succour.
They give you a range of condiments at Busago which you can use to spice up your dish to your tastes. So there are chilli flakes to tank up on heat, dried shrimp and onion to add crunch, lime for zest, boiled eggs to make it even more soulful, coriander and my favourite, finely chopped celery, which gives a very sharp bite. No fresh sprouts, which are so typical of Thailand, and can add a lovely bounce to each chopstickfull, here. I asked for a nam prik la (chopped red chillies in fish sauce) which bring these sort of coconut bases Thai, Burmese dishes alive for me. I am a big fan of it. Got it immediately once i asked for it.
The only thing that I fell missing in the khow suey at Busago was that in both occasions the curries were served lukewarm. One missed the searing and scalding heat of the khow sois of the markets of Chiang Mai.
Still, to paraphrase Shakespeare, and we Bongs love to quote him, the Kaukswe at Busaga is surely ‘Tired nature’s sweet restorer’. Best paired with an afternoon nap.
They have the two base Thai curries. Red and green at Busago. The consistency of the curries thin. A throwback to the ones one has had in Thailand. The flavours quite delicate and yet surprisingly prominent.
Curry to curry I prefer the green curry in Candies as it probably has a higher fish sauce quotient and I like my food to be on the saltier side. They serve the curries with sticky rice at Busago here to complete the Sukhomvit curry cart experience. The chicken in the red curry was a tad tough. The green curry is veg but you can add on chicken and the chicken here, as in the kaukswe was thankfully fairly tender.
On our second visit I avoided a social gaffe as I didn’t have my DSLR with me. Folks in the next table were eating momos. As they broke into the momos the air around began to steam up. I was worried that if i had my camera I would have gone to their table and tried to photograph the momos. They would have made a beautiful picture I am sure social niceties be damned.
We did have the momos in our next visit. Pork momos. Small. Thin casing which made the pouches of meat inside the hero of the dish. Lovely house chilli dips to have them with. Pretty exquisite.
We also tried the Koean beef bulgogi. The beef delightfully tender…the sort of texture which makes one compare meat with velvet. The dish was on the sweet side. My memory of Korean food was of it being very very hot. Tear jerker spicy. Was this really bulgogi I wondered.
Restaurateur, chef, owner of Busago, Nikhil Chib was surprised when I told him this. He said that the bulgogis he has had in Korea were on the sweet side and that the recipe was picked up from there. He did agree that they are often served as sizzlers. That’s how I had my stuff in Melbourne. Busago is of course a satellite restaurant so the curries are prepared and sent, heated and served I guess. That rules out sizzler plates.
I went back to the blog and looked up the post I had written about the Korean Oriental Spoon in Melbourne.
Nikhil was right. The bul dak was the dish that was the nuclear chilli one. The bulgogi was actually sweet.
No, I don’t know Nikhil personally but he was there during our second visit at Busago, looking after the restaurant. I recognised Nikhil from the TV show he and his wife used to do plus he is often featured in the local media. We chatted for a bit and Nikhil reminded me a lot of Moshe Shek, whom I first met at the bread counter at Moshe’s Bandra. Down to earth, disarming, unassuming, sleeves rolled up in the restaurant, very hands on. Obviously a guy who had travelled the world and knew his food.
We chatted for a bit about our food travels in the Far East and then Nikhil told us a bit about Spain, with our impending vacation there coming up, and then about Paris where he has studied. As I spoke to Nikhil, the little touches of the chopstick container on the table, the thin texture of the curries and the bites of celery that fired up the kaukswe made so much sense.
This is a man who knows his food, who has a sense for it and this shows in his restaurant.
Darn, I need to go to Busabo soon.
In case you are wondering, the secret behind the tenderness of the beef in the bulgogi is tenderloin cuts and two days of marination. The beef apparently needs just a couple of minutes on the pan to cook after that says Nikhil.
This time I am not doubting him.