Romancing Vintage Bombay on Parsi New Year.... Cafe Samovar, Jehangir Art Gallery


19th August was the Parsi New Year.

We decided to celebrate it the way Parsis would approve of. By eating with joy and gusto. We chose a place which was not a Parsi restaurant. But situated in a building built by Parsis. As are many other parts of the original business district of South Mumbai.

We went to Cafe Samovar at Kala Ghoda's Jehangir Art Gallery. The only reason a philistine like me would spend time in an art gallery.

Samovar is an old favourite of the arty crowd and regular hungry souls. It is located in a long veranda by the garden in the art gallery. I had been there when I worked at Nariman Point. Colleagues had strongly recommended the kheema (minced meat) parathas then.

The gentleman in the white shirt and the lady in blue work with me and patiently waited while I clicked photos galore. Photographing Vintage Bombay was an old dream of mine. Managed a part of it thanks to Chinmai and Neha

Close to ten years later the kheema parathas remain as satisfying as ever. Both the thin paratha and the lightly spiced mince stuffing seemed more like home-made stuff than oily restaurant food. The alu (potato) paratha didn't thrill me. Lacked a bit of salt. The alu stuffing had turmeric and I prefer the whiter stuffing that Banu, our cook, uses for her alu parathas. The surprise of the afternoon was the sprouted moong dal paratha. This healthy high protein paratha had a debauched, degenerate foodie like me purring in delight.

The chicken vindaloo roll was another show stopper. Tasted nothing like vindaloo but I just loved the succulent, juicy chicken stuffing which came in a fiery looking, yet demure, masala mix.

All of this washed down with a rather petite and chirpy sweet lassi. As you guessed, we didn't see any of the paintings on display.

The walk back to office on a wet afternoon wonderfully captured the magic of Mumbai.

Hawkers selling everything from pictures of deities to porn dvds to pirated books to plastic cutlery, cigarettes, shoes, nameplates, biscuits, fruits, peanuts, Bombay sandwiches, Bombay chaat. Petty commerce surrounded by majestic buildings of yore. Many built by Parsis. Parsi shops and Fire Temples.

So join me and feast on the photos of the Mumbai I fell in love with.

Porn DVDs on one side and Parsi Matrons checking kitchen utensils on the other

This was the landmark given to me for my first office at Mumbai (summer of 96)
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Kala Ghoda. Fountain. Fort. And the leafy lane leading to my temporary office building. A building blessed by the Goddess Laxmi. The Goddess  of wealth and prosperity. The quirk of fate by which a simple market researcher momentarily occupies the corner office where the man who was once the most powerful man of Indian advertising sat in his heydays.

And yet Mumbai or India is not the tourist hot spot it deserves to be.

The answer perhaps lies in the mysterious columns of pillars on the stretch we walked back. I have often wondered what they were. I checked thoroughly today. No sign plates. So we have to go by the words of  young Chinmai who claims that these columns were part of the original Fort of Mumbai.

Now imagine what Singapore, KL, Bangkok or Istanbul would have done with something similar. And you will get your answer.


Pinku said…
lovely pictures....i almost walked on those roads again...
S said…
i walk this path everyday, and some of these pictures are taken right outside my office, but i still took five minutes to stare at the photographs. Thank you for making me realise once again why I love the city so much.

On a tangent, at Samovar, the juices are also a must try. The guava juice is a lil too sweet for me, but the plum juice was a discovery!!!

And of course, the lachcha paratha and keema, which a lot of colleagues are fans of.

Happy South-Bombay-ing :)
vandana rajesh said…
Lovely pics of Mumbai, its almost like being there myself. Having studies in Sydenham college these roads are one that I have walked very often.
As for samovar, the chicken biriyani (especially the tasty chutney they serve with it) and the parathas are a must have. Have spend a lot of time going through the various works on display.Really nice post.
Unknown said…
Your pictures brings back memories of Enakshi's 12th Board exams. Used to roam about in that very area with Kirti. I love that part of the city!
In fact Kirti ate at Samovar, while I went to see the paintings on display. The only way I could get him to visit an art gallery!!
lovely pictures ..its been ages since I had seen India..and people like this in a casual way.
Rhea said…
:-( Very true. Preservation and promotion is not our forte.

Having said that, LOVED the pictures. Absolutely beautiful.
lulu said…
lovely post! great to hear that samovar is up and running again. i think it was closed temporarily when i went a few years back. got to go bck again and i hope that have something delicious to offer for vegetarians! :)
Unknown said…
Thanks for the lovely post. Reminded me of the old Mumbai which I left behind many years ago.It is still the same, rustic as ever.
Harshad said…
Aahhh... Samovar! An acute bout of memoria happened with this post of yours, Kalyan.
Jehangir was such a part of art school life, when it was considered mandatory by our profs for us to at least tuck in a weekly visit to Jehangir. For the art, of course! And while our JJ-days pocket money ensured we went out to the museum BEST canteen for their spicy Vada Pav and Samosas, Samovar always held its mystique where many an art stalwart dug into its dishes while dishing out his or her fare in the halls around.

Personally, its Russian origins notwithstanding, Samovar has phonetically often conjured up the image of a delicious fat Samosa for me! ;-)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Pinku, wanted to do this for ages

@S,Plum juice sounds so interesting. Treasure your time here. It's a magical place

@Vandana...I did see the biriyani. Looked interesting.

@Rumni...I missed hooking you up with you guys there. K took me to a Picasso museum at Lucerene. It didn't even have a canteen. I was so bored.

@Harman, you are welcome. Hope to wear the tourist hat a lot more so hold on

@Subikshana, sad isn't it?
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Lulu, I would strongly recommend the lassi and green sprout parathas

@Krsnaknows...and thank God for that :)

@Harshad ha ha loved, that samosa connection.