Mumbai Deboned... Mumbai Food Bloggers Dinner, 55 East, Hyatt, Kalina

Caveat: Very long post but can lead you to a number of amazing Mumbai Food Blogs
"Salads for you sir"
Remember those days of black and white films and dog eared sepia Circulation Library books?
A woman would be sitting at the restaurant by herself. The waiter would come up.
“Madame, your champagne.”
“But I didn’t order any”
“It’s compliments of the gentleman at the corner”
She would look across and their eyes would lock.
I was a bit flummoxed when the waiter came to me at 55 East, Hyatt, Kalina and said,
“Sir, your salad”.
WTF. I had ordered tenderloin.
“It can’t be mine. I never order salad. I didn’t order salad”
“The lady at the corner of the table ordered it for you”
I looked up bemused. There she was. Huge camera brandished. Clicking away. She later said that she was giggling too much at my discomfort to get a proper photo.

For some reason Rushina was bent of making me taste vegetables all evening. “It is my mission to introduce people to vegetables” she said as she nibbled on a tenderloin salad. 
The making of the Mumbai Food Blogger's Dinner
Well, we will forgive her her moments of insanity because Rushina Munshaw Ghildayal was the reason why we were together last night. She had organised a fantastic Mumbai Food Blogger’s Dinner. Possibly the first ever such meet. 

Rushina writes food books, consults food companies, puts Facebook status updates of dinners at home which seem like menu cards at a billionaire’s wedding. In between all of this she blogs at A Perfect Bite. She is one of those who has actually done something with her passion for food. I admire her for that. It is always a pleasure to catch up with this busy Queen Bee of Food. It was only befitting that she organised this evening. And thankfully she didn’t forget to call her friend, The Knife.

I recently got hold of Anthony Bourdain’s latest book, Medium Raw, at KL. The book starts with his describing a clandestine meeting of some of New York’s top chefs for a tasting of game pheasant. There was a big build up to the event and lot of oohs and aahs when the guests finally saw each other. Bourdain had just published his first book and was apparently in awe of the celebrity chefs around him. Thanking the fact that his writing allowed him to come across people he would normally just read about. Admire. But had no hope of meeting till then.
A couple of months after reading the chapter I got an invite from Rushina to attend the Mumbai Food Blogger’s dinner that she was hosting. How uncanny was that? I licked my chops in anticipation of meeting fellow food bloggers. Some of whose posts I had read. People I wanted to learn from and hear from. An assurance that you are not alone out there. Clicking pictures of what you eat. What you cook. Posting them on your blog. Baring your alimentary canal to the world. A knowledge that you could still be neurotic. But that you were not the only one.
Well the evening turned out to be everything one thought it would be. Good food of course. The cavernous setting of 55 East was fairly uber cool. I got to catch up with a few old friends. Met bloggers one had read but not met before. Met new bloggers. And one of the few Indian food writers I really admire.  
A stellar cast 
It was fun catching up with Gaurav. His blog, Eating out in Bombay, is one of the first you will find on Google searches. He writes on quite a few city based sites too. I have been following his blog for a while. He too assiduously writes down about every place he eats at. The existence of a section on dislikes was what attracted me to his blog in the beginning. I begun blogging because of mushy product plug writers after all. This dislikes section of Gaurav game me hope. I later discovered that Gaurav was vegetarian. Yet, he would push the boundaries of different cuisines. Something I admired. There is no need to go into solitary food confinement because you were born a vegetarian after all. I would butt in if he went to a non vegetarian place and panned it in its blog. “Er, you can’t enjoy a Kolhapuri place if you don’t eat meat”. I would often push queries from vegetarians to him. I wouldn’t mess with the expert. I guess between the two of us we try to have the flora and fauna of Mumbai covered.

It was good to catch up with good old Shanky. Excellent host with a cherubic smile and fellow Bengali food blogger. It is easy to get lost in his excellent blog, Lotsa Food. Full of travel tales. Interesting nuggets. Engagingly told. Fantastic pictures which make me bow down in front of a master. I have a basic disconnect with his blog though. He updates it ‘once a quarter’ in his words. Which is just not fair. You can’t swoon people with the appetisers and make them wait for hours for the next course. Not quite Kosha Mangsho.

Then there were the ladies too if you thought that this was becoming old boy's club.
Lulu of Lulu Loves Bombay writes a blog which features quite prominently on city pages. I had come across her blog a long time back. Found the stories of this mother of two returning to India quite engaging. I followed it sporadically. As we agreed when we spoke, we were ‘night time bloggers’. I know it sounds selfish but precious spare moments didn’t allow us to read blogs by others as much as we would like to. I would strongly recommend her blog especially to those who are new to Mumbai. There are lots of handy tips on Lulu Loves Bombay. Just one thing though. She is a vegetarian. But don’t worry. There are enough of us sinners writing about meat out there.

Shaheen Peerbhai or Purple Foodie is of course a celebrity blogger. She has got one of the highest Indiblogger ranks amongst food writers. And often features in the press. Including at The Hindu today. Go to her blog if you are into baking. If you aren’t go there for some of the most sensuous, seductive, sinful food photographs. Her photographs would be at home at any of the best food magazines of the world. She's so good that people lift from her blog without telling her. I was a bit stunned when I met her. For all her bake stories and high calorie food photos, she looked as if she had never touched a grain of sugar in all her life.
What would you do if there was a restaurant you doted? Try to eat there as often as possible? Be the last person they throw out? The first person when they opened? Well Simran of Bombay Foodie loves Indigo. So what did she do? She took the menu of Indigo, saw the names, and tried to recreate dishes herself without the recipes. Going by the photos that I have seen at her blog I won’t be surprised if the guys at Indigo are trying to recreate her dishes now! Don’t be taken in by her friendly looks and warm manners. When you hear her talk about how she bakes her own cupcakes because commercial cupcakes are too sweet, about how she makes her own cream cheese because Philly Cheese tastes like something her maid would make, about how she bakes her own bread because none of the breads in shops satisfy her, you know that that this Little Chef means business.

Remember all those times when I quote lines from Bourdain? Well I had my moment too. Jyotika of Follow My Recipe was there last evening. She is rediscovering Mumbai and India after her stint studying at Amreeka. We have interacted through our blogs for a while before we finally met. I lifted my collar a few notches when she told me that her sister apparently quoted a couple of lines that I had written at some point... “My mother in law has a PhD in bargaining” “My middle class values made me eat up everything that was on the plate”... I couldn’t stop beaming. Well before I slip into further sins of hubris do check her blog for some eye catching photographs and very earnest, from the heart, recounts of restaurant visits. Her biggest thrill of the evening apparently was being with a group of people who would not judge her for taking photographs of all the food around.

I met a number of bloggers I hadn’t read before. One such blogger was Harini of Tongue Tickling Treats. In between recounting stories of her attempts to make the ‘feet (?) of macaroons’, she told us about how blogging taught her about food photography. I just opened her blog for the first time and was completely floored by her photographs. You have to see them to believe them. Few people have made Indian food look as astounding and breath taking as this amateur photographer has. And while on food photographs check out Homemade Happiness  for some scrumptious pics. Take a look at the Nonchalant Gourmand. A male blogger with recipes which come with stories and brilliant photographs. The blog's a part of his dream to write a book on world cuisine.

Seeing the photographs on some of these blogs has been very humbling for me.
I didn’t get to know everyone in detail and Rushina has promised us more such meets. Here’s the list of bloggers who were there on that magical night. Feast away folks. These are some of the very best that Mumbai has to offer.
1. A Perfect Bite - (Host) :)
2. Now Cooking - (member of APB team)
4. Curry spice of Follow my recipe -
5. Purple Foodie -
6. Lotsafood -
7. Divine Taste -
8. Homemade Happiness (some more great photos on this site)
9. Eating out in Bombay -
10. Lulu loves Bombay -
11. Sunshinemom of TONGUE TICKLERS (
12. Nonchalant Gourmand -
Meeting Obi Wan
For me a high point of the evening was meeting Vikram Doctor. I came across Vikram Doctor’s writings in the Economic Times. His features were the one thing I never missed in the ET when I used to do financial service market research. Vikram is one of the few Indian food writers whose work I love from the bottom of the heart. He goes into the details of subjects which range from bell peppers to jaggery to Goan sausages. In case you thought that he is a food geek then let me tell you that these informative pieces are some of the most engaging, personalised, simple, free flowing, from the heart articles on food writing that are around. We have exchanged a couple of mails before. Imagine how weak my knees became when I heard this food writing wizard refer to specific posts of mine. Fish head with daal ("Which was the fish head that you show in your post?" ). Cinnabon. (" I completely agree with you on Cinnabon. From USA to here. Just doesn't work" ) He told me that he often read Finely Chopped just as I soared out of the roof! Turns out that he is a fellow Khar Market fish shopper too.

Bites in between the Bytes

How was the food? 

Well 55 East was like a modern Coliseum. You walked around picked up what you wanted. Tangy hummus and pita which made your belly dance. A Japanese Chef making your Sushi in front of you. He stayed away from the vegetarian sushi though. A limited but robust cheese platter. A smart bar. I was in a happy place. And yet did  a decent job with the chopsticks.

There was an Indian food counter with ‘homelike food’ according to Rushina. A Western counter where you could go in for live grills. My tenderloin steak was rather overdone. But then Shanky did ask me to go for medium to well instead of well done. There was a Thai section where I went for a very nice Massaman curry like prawn yellow curry with sticky rice. This epic dish was livened up with a fish sauce with red chilly dip that they put together for me.

The dessert spread was eclectic. Shanky asked me to go for the crepes. I had learnt to listen to him by now. My cherry with banana crepe with some orange liqueur on the side was a stellar end to the evening. 

Enchanted Madame
It was quite awesome to meet the faces behind the blogs and learn from their experiences. I felt quite proud when the Finely Chopped cards that Harshad and Kainaz designed caused a flutter among the bloggers. I had got a mix of options with me. Ran a bit short when Rushina wanted one of each. But I guess she deserves them all and a big hug for putting this great evening together. Especially if she promises to go easy on forcing the greens on me.