Bandra to Kurla...a kebab odyssey, Nawab Seekh Paratha

Seekh paratha at Nawab's, Kurla. I had taken lot of pictures and videos that night
but lost most due to handset issues. Luckily had posted some on Twitter and Facebook
 which I am sharing here
A Friday night meat matinee

“Do you mind if we change the destination?” asked chef Aloo as he got into my cab.

I had just picked him up from outside the Tava Restaurant at Bandra, a local landmark. We were finally ready to set out on our long planned food exploration.

Who is chef Aloo? Chef Aloo, or Aloysius Dsilva, is a Bandra boy. A local east Indian who studied to be a chef at Bandra’s Rizvi College, worked across the world on cruise liners and then came back home. You might remember him from a recent post that I had written about the East Indian masala and how making it is an annual ritual in East Indian houses. I was privy to see the masala being made at his place and then eat some lovely dishes made by him.

Ever since that day, we have made many plans to go out and eat together but they never worked out thanks to my not being able to make it. Aloo had promised to take me to his favourite eateries scootering down the bylanes in Bandra. Then he called me one day out of the blue and said, ‘let’s go to Mahim to eat,’ I was game. I wanted to try out something new and there were a number of places that I hadn’t been to eat in Mahim which is where the island city of Mumbai ends. Alu suggested going to Mahim on a Friday night. "It’s more colourful on Jhumma (Friday) night". Belonging, as I do, to the Jhumma Chumma generation, this made sense.

This post is not about Mahim though. For when he got into the cab, Alu said, ‘let’s go to Kurla if you have the time. I want you to have the kebabs there. Then compare  those with the ones at Mahim. You will see the difference.”

Destination Kurla

That sounded like a plan. I’ve recently seen many eateries at Kurla with names such as Delhi Zaika and Lucknow Mehfil and what not while going to the Phoenix Mall there Places that seem to serve what we generalize as ‘Mughlai food.’ In other words, Muslim run eateries, serving meaty curries and kebabs and fried chicken and biryanis and pulaos. Very different in ambiance, clientele and menu from the posh and new age cafes at the swanky Phoenix Market City Mall next door. The two represent two very different worlds but then that’s what Mumbai is about. Peaceful coexistence. Or uneasy perhaps. I would like to hope it’s more the former than the latter.

I’d often wondered how the food at the Kurla joints were and thought that this was a great opportunity to find out. Like many I know, I love to write about food and travel. The reality of life is that we don't get to travel as much as we would love to. Which is why I have decided to travel across my own city and discover it more. Mumbai is a city that changes colour and character by the square kilometre and Kurla, though not far from Bandra where I live, is a world in its own.

So I changed the destination for the third time in my Uber (or was it Ola) and we headed off with our good spirited driver. The trip from Bandra west down BKC and to Kurla didn’t take much time on a Friday night. The landmark to our destination was a place called Kalpana Theatre. Between the driver and Aloo they were able to reach the place without using the GPS.

At the end of the road lay kebabs that would knock me over promised Aloo. I trusted him. I knew I was in good hands.

I asked him about the sea of restaurants on the way. “These are new places. I have not been to any of these. I will take you to a place that I’ve been going to for years.”

We got off the car a bit before the theatre. The Kalpana Theatre is an old school movie hall which looks pretty huge and imposing and is very different from the multiplexes of today. The movies shown are very different too. ‘Potboiler’ is the term for them I think. The place is a local favourite I was told.

We stopped by a restaurant called Delhi Zaika. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of the building. On the upper floor is a gym. More a place for bodybuilders it seemed compared to the more glamorous hipster Bandra gyms.

There was a tiny lane which went past the restaurant. On the other side of the start of the lane were two stalls. One selling shwarmas and I saw two young girls, dressed in ‘western attire' sharing a shwarma. They possibly worked at the mall nearby.

Beside the shwarma stall was a stall which sold the kebabs and parathas  that we had come for, said Aloo. ‘Those who don’t feel comfortable going into the restaurant eat here. Or they park their cars and parcel the kebabs and parathas and go. You should heat them while they are hot though.”

There was a mound of sliced onions and mint leaves and have limes on the counter of the stall. There were no kebabs on sight. Was he talking through his hat, I wondered.

“The onions are kept on ice blocks”, said Aloo when he saw me look at them quizically.

“Why?” I asked.

“So that they don’t spoil in the heat.”

I was with a chef that evening and used the opportunity to get a Dummy’s Guide to Food Secrets from him. 

Just then a young man appeared bearing a plate full of kebabs and parathas and handed them over to the folks manning the stall.

‘They make the kebabs and parathas fresh and send them out. Come let’s go in and see,” said Aloo cherfully.

The excitement on Aloo’s face was palpable. We walked down the dark gulley. It reminded me of another walk down another gulley a few years back. That too was in the hunt of kebabs. That was Lucknow though. The lane was a lot longer. I was alone that night. I was headed to the original outlet of Tunday at Chowk then. This time we were going to Nawab’s Seekh Paratha Corner as I found out. In Kurla, a suburb of Mumbai.

Part 1: Paratha parables


The paratha ustaad


We stopped at a garage like shop/ kitchen on the left side of the lane. “You should see how they make the parathas,” said Aloo. “The rolled out parathas are roasted and then fried. It’s a two stage process. You have to see how the guy lifts the parathas at one go at the end. That's truly remarkable”

Guided by Aloo I watched on. I saw a couple of workers roll out chappati like circles from the maida (refined flour) dough at one corner of the garage like shop. They then put the rolled out paratha circles on a flat square open tava. They toasted/ roasted from both sides. The parathas were then stacked one over another and and the workers poked holes through them with then metal skewers.

The stack of roasted/ toasted parathas were then taken to a man sitting by a kadhai filled with hot oil at the corner of the shop. He took the paratha disks and put them into the boiling oil one by one. The parthas puffed up as they came into contact with the heat. They looked like puris and reminded me of the gigantic puris at Kanha Sweets in Amritsar.

The parathas then flattened out. That’s what the holes were for Alu later explained. To make sure that the air went out of the puffed up fried breads. The paratha ustaad meanwhile dipped in a long handled cast iron spoon into the wok and scooped out all the parathas at one go. This was truly a marvellous act to watch. He happily paused for me take photos. He took pride in what he did and deservedly so. There was a table fan to cool him with just as there was for the kebab maker outside the Tunday at Aminabad in Lucknow.

A young boy came to shack and took a stainless steel plate full of freshly fried parathas from the basket and moved on.

Some people got confused when I put a video showing how the parathas were made on Instagram. They saw the parathas puff up and asked, “aren’t those pooris?”

They were not, as they flattened out unlike pooris which stay puffed. They were thicker in texture too. Some readers wrote in saying that this is how parathas in old Delhi’s Paratha Gulley are made. Those too are deep fried as against the tandoor made parathas of Moorthal outside Delhi. Apart from these, there are the shallow fried tava parathas that our cook Banu makes. Like the biryani and the dosa, the paratha too is one more Indian dish which has one name and yet many renditions of it. 

Part 2: The kebab kings

The Kebab factory

We too followed the steps of the paratha carrier and left the paratha shack and walked down the lane. Opposite the paratha cave was a deep and narrow room. The kebab kitchen.

“They hand pound the meat here. Mix the lightest touch of spices to it for seasoning. They then skewer (the seekh) the minced meat on the charcoal grill kept at the entrance,” explained Aloo.

The meat used here is buffalo. Referred to as ‘bade’ or 'big' local parlance. When I saw the cooks cut the meat and then mince and put it directly on the skewers, I suddenly remembered a place called Nase Maso in Prague. Nase Maso is a meat company there which owns a number of restaurants and cafes where the meat used is from their company. The restaurants are new but pay homage to the Prague of yore. They have a butcher’s shop too called Naso Maso. This is modelled on the old fashioned butcher shops of the city. Shopping at such places is  practice that they are trying to revive as most people in modern Prague go to malls and super markets to buy their meat today At the Nase Maso shop, you could also choose your cut your meat and they would make you simple steaks and burgers which you could eat freshly made at the couple of tables kept there. I did so and the steaks were amazing and the young lady at the shop counter knew her meat evidently.

Why did grimy Kurla remind me of picture postcard pretty Prague? Well, that’s what was happening here in a way. They brought in the meat at Nawab’s. Cut, skinned and minced it at the shop itself. Put this in the grill and made the kebabs straight. As I saw later, the quality of the meat shone through in the kebabs just as they had in the steaks I ate at Nase Maso, but then I am getting ahead of the plot.

“The secret to the end result lies in letting the meat rest to avoid it becoming too stiff,” said Aloo.  "You should let chicken for rest for four hours at least after its culled and before cooking it. Goat meat for 8 hours and something as a large as a buffalo, overnight at least. The meat loosens out and the flavours come to the fore then."

A happy ending


The seekh parathas are brought to your table for you to place an order

Just next to the kitchen was the restaurant. More an eating house than a ‘restaurant’ to be honest. It is a huge hall. Non-airconditioned. There are many tables inside with very basic chairs to sit on. One of those places where you eat and move on. You share tables if you are alone. The place was packed. I didn’t spot any women or families eating there. 

We waited to get a table and then saw two men get up from one as they were done. We went to grab that. An attendant came and wiped the table clean and we sat down. Someone else walked up and kept two stainless steel plates in front of us. One had mint leaves, sliced onions and chopped limes. Another had a green, watery, coriander and chilli chutney.

Aloo and I sat quietly for a while and no one came up to take our order. I remembered my first visit to Tunday and how difficult it was to find someone to take my order there too. But we were in Mumbai, the city of efficient service. Being ignored seemed strange.

Aloo, looked at me, smiled and said, “you can’t place an order here. They have only two items that they sell. Kebabs and parathas. Once a fresh batch is ready, someone will walk in bearing plates of each and will go from table to table and you tell them what you want."

A bit like Murugan Idli in Chennai where a waiter comes with a tray of steaming idlis and you tell him what you want. Of course the two restaurants as far removed from each other as possible. What connected the two was the visible joy on the faces of those eating here.

As if by magic, a young man appeared just, balancing plates of kebabs and parathas. Remarkably, might I add, as the food was hot.

“One plate seekh paratha,” Aloo ordered with his limited and very Mumbaiyya Hindi. Compared to East Indians and Goans and their Hindi, my own grammatically unsound Bengali’s Hindi often sounds like the poet Premchand's in my opinion!

One plate seekh paratha meant four kebab skewers and one paratha and cost 100 Rs with no service charge.

“We won’t fill ourselves as we will eat more at Mahim,” said Aloo. He then told me that if eating only here he would eat 8 kebab seekhs and 1 parathas and not 2 seekhs and half a paratha as we did that evening.

He was about to tear the paratha into two when he stopped and said, “oh I forgot. You will take photos. Don’t let it go cold though.”

The first thing that struck me was how each kebab seemed to be glistening with its own fat. The second was about how natural the colour of the kebabs looked.

I took a bite of a kebab and knew that this was really good stuff. The kebabs were very juicy and meaty. There were no overt spices coming between you and the kebab. No excessive chillies or cinnamon or cardamom or any other garam masala. It was all about celebrating good meat here.  I could not stop marvelling at just how the moist the meat was. 

I then broke a bit of the paratha and scooped up a bit of kebab with it and took a bite. The two went together as if they were made for each other. The paratha wasn’t too thick or doughy. They had their own flavour and that acted as the perfect foil for the kebab.

“Now take a bite of the mint leaves and then that of the kebabs,’ said Aloo. I avoided that at first as I wasn’t sure if the leaves had been washed properly. It wasn’t sanitized by heat after all unlike the kebab paratha. I wasn’t sure of the chutney for the same reason. The quality of water used. Then, emboldened by Aloo, I did have a bite of the mint leaves and dipped the kebab into a bit of the chutney and then gave it a bite. This definitely added some zing to it but I decided that discretion was better part of valour and didn’t eat more. The kebab and paratha were pretty complete by themselves in my opinion and my stomach was far from upset that night.

“They remind me of the kebabs at Do Tanki but are a lot juicier. Those were too dry. These are definitely one of the best seekh kebabs that I have eaten in Mumbai,” I told Aloo.

“Do Tanki, Bachchu Bhai? These are better not doubt.”

Aloo was acquainted with the kebab stall at Do Tanki near one of Mumbai’s most active red light areas. The kebab stall there was once a favourite of all including students returning late from college. We had once gone there to eat with Kurush Dalal recently. Kurush had had built up the romance of the stall to us but had told us not to expect much in terms of the kebabs.



"Among the best you have had in Mumbai?" you ask. Well the kebabs here were juicier than the seekh kebabs that I had at Do Tanki and years back at Bade Miya. Not as over spiced at what we had later at Raees Kebab Corner at Mahim. The Sarvi seekh kebabs are softer in texture from what I remember. I am yet to go Farid's at Jogeshwari which many praise for their kebabs. Haji Tikka at Bohri Mohalla does good seekhs but I think the kofta, same family but plumper, is nicer.

Aloo told me that there can be two typed of kebabs. Sukha (dry) and geela (moist). He said most now make the sukha ones as the 'locals' prefer that.

Later in the night I saw stall at Mahim which said ‘Nawab Seekh Paratha’ too! That was not where we were headed though as we wrapped up our meal ( and booked a cab to head to Mahim. We were supposed to check out more kebabs there but there were some other surprises in store for me as I found out. To know more, wait for the next post.

Check this video that I had posted on Instagram of the parathas being fried

Nawab Seekh Paratha opens for business at around 6 pm and is open late till night. It is in gulley Beside Delhi Zaika and opposite JJ Mava jalebi and to the left of Kalpana Theatre. A plate of kebab parathas costs Rs 100

To read about more of my kebab explorations across India, do read my book, The Travelling Belly. Here's the linkwhere you can buy it

Also check out posts on references made to in this blog post:


  1. Getting to know about East Indian masala at Chef Aloo's
  2. My first time at Tunday Kebabi
  3. Exploring Do Tanki's kebabs in Mumbai
  4. The amazing kebabs at Sarvi
  5. Nase Maso in Prague
  6. Kanha sweets and its puris in Amritsar
  7. The Murugan idli place in Chennai


I saw some Mumbai old timers and street food lovers get excited when I posted pictures of the kebabs on Facebook. Through them I figured out that that the 15 year old Nawab Seekh Paratha at Kurla was actually an outpost of the original Do Tanki outlet. 

This is what they had to say:


Comments

Kunal Vijayakar Alongwith Rajasthan and Sarvi, these rank pretty high up on my list as well. Ate dozens of these in the days Filmistan was a regular shooting studio for me. Let's do it again.


Pradeep Rao Whole generation of GMCites have grown up eating these kebabs. It was our go to meal at night. I learnt about this place even before GMC from my Wilson college hostel mates.


Sankarson Banerjee The same family is there in grant road, do tanki, Kurla and Oshiwara. And always right next to a JJ jalebi
Manage
Pradeep Rao JJ Jalebi not next to Do Taanki. That is next to the traffic light at JJ junction
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