A breakfast for women's empowerment in the by-lanes of Bandra

The perfect start to your day
To reach the stall, go down the lane past ICICI Bank at Mehboob Studio
to the end of Peter Dias Road in Bandra opposite Mt Mary apts

I know that this headline sounds clickbait oriented, and it is a bit to be honest, but please bear with me for a bit and you will see that it is not completely unjustified.

Mumbai runs on Maushi's messes

A few weeks back I had gone for a meeting at an office located down Peter Dias road which is in one of the by lanes of Bandra,  the suburb which has been my home in Mumbai for close to two decades.

It was noon when I reached and I saw a lady standing by a table set outside the office. Placed on the table were stainless steel containers which are typical to stalls run by maushis.

'Maushi', literally meaning 'maternal aunt', refers to Maharashtrian ladies who operate primarily in the Dadar and Parel areas of Mumbai. They cook food at home, set up stands outside offices at lunch time and serve hungry office folks. The food is economically priced and is lightly spiced too.

I used to occasionally eat at a maushi's stall when I worked in IMRB, a market research office located at the Mhatre Pen Building near Mumbai's Dadar station. That lady served both vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian food and dished this out on disposable paper plates.

Bumping into Bandra's breakfast maushi

The lady whom I saw at Bandra reminded me of one of these 'maushis'. I went up to her and asked her about what she had on offer. She told me that she had some pohe left and that she sells breakfast dishes every morning here till stocks last and that on other days she has puri bhaaji and other stuff too.

I decided to come back another day and have breakfast at her stand soon. I like to try out simple Indian breakfasts these days and that is one thing you will rarely get in the hip cafes and modern cafes that dot Bandra and which have a more global (read Western) orientation.

I got busy over the next couple of weeks and finally managed to make it her stall a few days back at around 10 am.

The first thing that I requested for was a plate of puri bhaaji. The lady took out puris and the bhaaji and put it in a plastic bag after I placed my order. I quickly told her that I wanted to eat it there itself and not to pack it as a take away. She giggled sheepishly and offered me her chair to sit and eat on and which I equally sheepishly accepted after trying to say no.

Lovely puri with a very light potato bhaaji and
a runny coconut chutney


Just then I saw a lady come out from the gulley behind the stand with a plastic bag full of tiny aata (whole wheat fried flat bread) puris. On asking, I found out that these had just been fried in the house behind.

I requested them to serve me fresh puris which they readily did and I found myself with a plate of 5 or 6 puris and a very lightly spiced and yet delicious, soft potato bhaji. I was alone that morning and I thought I wouldn't be able to finish all the puris.

I had a couple. Then one more. Then two. Finally, I said what the hell, and finished all the puris on my plate!

That's how lip-smacking and yet maternal the food was.

Half pohe and half upma, Rs 20

I then requested for a plate which had a mix of upma (savoury suji, semolina) which had boiled corn too and pohe. Pohe is the Maharashtrian version of the pan Indian rice flake based dish. Here it is cooked very lightly spiced with turmeric, green chillies and mustard seeds and has very little embellishments or condiments added in.

Both dishes were once like the puri bhaaji, very home like. Not too oily, not too spicy. The food promised comfort with every bite.

Upma
Sheera

I was stuffed by then and could not eat any more. I wished I was not alone and had someone to share the food with me. I wanted to taste the other dishes too. I requested for a taste of the sheera (sweet suji). She was generously giving me quite bit but I firmly refused took just a little spoon of it. The sheera turned out to be not too sweet and had a very pleasant mouthfeel. I could have easily had a lot more. It had such a grandmotherly feel to it as did the rest of the food that I had here.


Usal


I also tried a bite of the usal, a white pea based Maharashtrian curry, which they serve with chapati here. This too, like the rest of the food, was not oily or spicy and I could imagine having a whole bowl of it though it was alien to my Bengali palate.

I have had souped up, spicier and oilier versions of this usal, with farsan (namkin) and finely chopped red onion added on the top, in the office canteen at Mhatre Pen. It was served as 'misal' there along with pav for breakfast.

The reason for my use of inverted commas is a tweet by Ajinkya Joshi from Pune where he said:

Replying to 
Adding farsan wdnt mk it a misal.Misal is 2-3 or variety of sprouts together. Thts why the name "misal". The street guys pt jst 1 costcutng.

This reminded me of the first time when I had misal at Prakash in Dadar and then at Aaswad. I was surprise to see a combination of sprouts in it, as well as the fact that it was far less oily or spicy than what was served as misal in the non-Maharashtrian run canteen at Mhatre Pen.

Ajinkya made another point in a subsequent tweet which is important to keep in mind while discussing 'authentic Indian food'. He said:

Replying to 


Unlike European cuisine and French to be specific, we have 100 versions for one dish. Our aim is taste,satisfaction,love and hospitality.

Hope the umbrella keeps them dry through the rains

Food you can bank on without breaking the bank

After I posted a picture of the puri bhaaji, someone on  Instagram said that he felt that what I ate would be unhygienic as it was sold on the streets.

Well, my tummy was absolutely fine after the breakfast. I didn't feel heavy. Didn't rush to the loo either. So I do not think you should worry about that.

The food is cooked every morning in the homes of the ladies who run the stall. They live in the settlement located just beside the stall. They shut shop once sold out by noon. No food is left over for the next day. The food is kept in metal containers which are kept covered with no chance of dust getting into them. The food is served in disposable plates with plastic spoons.

That's a good formula if you ask me and makes eating here a safe bet.

Their biggest customers are the residents of the swank high-rise complex in front of which the stall is set up and the young folks who work at 101 India, the content creating office next door. That is a testimony to the quality I guess.

The pricing of Rs 20 per plate, with a portion size  adequate for one, make them heaven sent in Bandra, a suburb where eating out options are becoming increasingly expensive.

Reshma and Anita

Breakfast with the empowered Maushis

Now for the 'women's empowerment' bit.

Once done with my breakfast, I spoke to the lady manning the stall to get to know more about her.

She told me that her name is Reshma and that she is a Maharashtrian and not Koli. I was recently told that there are Koli ladies in Bandra who run such stalls and hence had asked her if she was one.

Reshma said that she has two children whom she is raising as a single mother. She works in the houses of expats as a domestic help and goest there to work at 1 pm every day after close of business.

She told me that she and two of her friends had set up the stall about a year back. One of whom, Anita, had come out with the puris when I was there. Reshma makes the rotis and attends to the stall. Her business partners cook the rest of the food which is sold here. They set up stall from 9 in the morning till noon or till stocks last. They then head out to work and are the chief wage earners for their family. Reshma told me all this with a smile. Anita, who listened in, nodded and smiled too.

Their sense of well deserved pride and self worth was visible. 

They told me that the sales from the stall were good thanks and that this income definitely helped them run or support their families.

Reshma told me that they set up the stall with the encouragement of a 'mahila mandal' or woman's organisation. On asking, she told me that the Mahila Mandal is supported by Mr Ashish Shellar. He is a politician belonging to the BJP. There was so signage about that though and I am not sure about the nature of the support.

It began to drizzle when I was about to leave. I asked them what they would do when it rains. Would they shut shop?

Reshma told me they plan to stand under the big umbrella that they have and keep the shop going.

"Won't the rains be too much for the umbrella?" I asked.

"We did it last year," said Reshma with a smile and a look of determination, "and we will do it this year too."

I hope they can because there are few acts as noble as feeding someone a good breakfast.

Sabudana khichdi that someone ordered while I was at the stall
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