The Chinese are coming.... Ling's Pavillion, Colaba

"If I was to ever live in town then I would order food from Ling's everyday"... Mrs Knife, a proclaimed non fan of Indian Chinese food

PS: I've been there twice more since I wrote the post. Loved each meal. Stellar discoveries since then have been chilli garlic king prawns, roast pork belly, Chinese 'greens' with prawns, pork spare ribs in honey pepper sauce, rince with mince meat with egg cracked on them at the table. Just returned from a visit with the Finely Chopped Knights whom I met after ages and Manisha whom I am eternally grateful to for introducing me to Ling's

Chinese greens: BB pic
Roast Pork belly: BB pic
Meeting the original Knights after too long
Master Class(Photo credit: M)

If I remember my Tagore right there was a line in Bengali which went 'Jaha chai taha pai, jaha pai taha chai na'. Or was it a line from a Bengali film? It translates as 'I get what I want. I don't want what I get'. So there is my food partner in crime, Ipsita, now at KL pining for the Hakka Noodles of Indian Chinese restaurants. And here I am sitting at Mumbai constantly looking out for 'real Chinese'. The Chinese which KL lovers and my friends, Arindam and Sasha, introduced me to. And the Kharbanda's of Petaling Jaya led me further into. At least I got lucky recently.

I'd known of Ling's Pavillion, Colaba, right from my early days at Mumbai. Times spent frolicking at Colaba. When I fell in love with Mumbai. Ling's Pavillion seemed like an expensive place from outside and we never really went in. That's how things were for more than ten years. Colaba became more an 'outing' as my life centred around the suburbs and Mill Lands of Mumbai. Reflecting the shift in the city's fortunes. Then my short posting at Fort at South Mumbai began. Colaba bounced back into my life. As did Ling's. Folks wrote in praising it. MumbaiCentral told me about its authentic Chinese. About how the best thing to do there is to 'order outside of the menu. To ask the owners about what to order. Then Sassy Fork wrote about it. And soon I found myself at Ling's one afternoon with Sassy Fork and her cousin Archie. Sassy Fork writes a food blog and prefers to remain anonymous. A wonderful soul whom you won't get to see here I am afraid.

I walked into the cavernous, old school, dimly lit (pardon the photos) restaurant and joined the two lovely ladies in the upper section. Pleasantries exchanged it was time to order. Sassy Fork lobbied for the roast pork. Archie, on hearing 'pork', heaved a sigh of relief. "Must be an authentic Chinese restaurant then". They looked at me to place the order. I put my hands up and requested Sassy Fork to order her favourites. Which is when she pointed me towards a chubby gentleman by the door, Baba, the owner.

I went up to him and explained that I liked 'original' Chinese and that we ate pork too. He nodded, called the waiter and scribbled something on a page and got onto the cell phone. Soon hoards of Chinese entered the restaurant. They looked like business delegates in Mumbai. Apparently in search of 'home food'. There was complete pandemonium as the lazy afternoon turned into a bee hive of activity. The Chinese were seated. Earnest Chinese tour coordinators running from table to table. Waiters were very busy. The three of us sat cooling our heels waiting for the food to come. The Chinese visitors ate away with looks of grim and determined concentration. No photographs taken unlike the Japanese. I made a mental note to be more tolerant of colleagues who make a beeline for daal and bhindi masala on office tours abroad during those pre-recession days.

The first course finally arrived. After what must have been a very Long March. I asked the waiter what the dish was. Kung Pao prawns. Come again? That sounded as American as it gets! We were hungry and tore into the dish. It was similar to Kung Pao dishes in other restaurants. The prawns were so fresh that they almost waved at us. There was a strong acidic sour taste which tempered the sweetness of the dish. That seemed different. Were we clutching at straws? Was the food going to be any different at Ling's?

The next dish looked painfully familiar and out of place in a Chinese restaurant. When asked we were told that these were fried Bombay Duck. Looked like they were straight out of a local Gomantak seafood restaurant. We bit into it. Were there treasures hidden inside? The disappointment swelled up. This was good old Bombay Duck in an all too familiar batter. Without the masala. As Archie summed it up, it was neither Gomantak nor Chinese.

Chest beating, remorse and recrimination followed. We wondered whether we had been a bit foolhardy in placing ourselves in Baba's hands. Sassy Fork had had enough. She smiled though I was pretty sure that  I wouldn't want to me at the receiving end of the maelstrom of emotions that the smile covered. She called for a waiter and ordered a roast pork.

The rest of the order followed. Dawn broke after the depths of night. Baba's offerings headed our way. Our lunch began to look up.

There was Chinese omelet or Foo Yong. Delicately flavoured, well beaten eggs with the resounding and reassuring crunch of shredded dried Chinese vegetables. Biting into it was like sinking into a feather mattress with someone occasionally tickling you and making you giggle with childish joy. Yes, this was different.

Then capsicum stuffed with pork. Minced pork elegantly and primly perched on a diced bell pepper. Reminiscent of a young Scarlett O'Hara getting ready for a formal dance at the plantation next door. Sizzling across the very tender minced pork were the roaring flavours of capsicum. Meat and greens waltzing their way together down your palette. This was no 'Manchurian Chicken'.

And then came what they called 'beef stew'. Extremely tender slices of beef which flapped like a baby elephant's ears. Served in a thick caramelised sauce, served in a clay pot. It awakened memories of my last trip to Malaysia. The name of the dish eluded me. But I was transported to a food court at Petaling Jaya with Arindam, Sasha and Soumik with each mouthful. I smiled dreamily as I bit into oodles of happy memories. A later search on the blog told me that me that the dish was called Bah Ku Tea. Arindam's favourite from the Sector 17 food court at Petaling Jaya.

The roast pork was as tender as Sassy Fork promised. It's taste sweet, typical of many Chinese dishes of the Far East.  With steamed, even though long grained rice, I finally got my long sought after Chinese meal. Move over Mainland China. This is the real Mc Coy.

On the way out we spoke to the owners. First to the Mr Ling, the thinner brother who had spent sometime in the States. We asked him about what the Chinese ate at the restaurant. He said that the Chinese wanted food that was not too spicy or oily. And that the 'best thing' was the fact that they ate whatever was put in front of them without asking what it was. I precociously asked him about Sichuan peppers, weren't they spicy? Mr Lin explained that Chinese peppers were different from Indian spices. The heat hit you later apparently.

And then the discovery of the day. I found out that they served Siew Yoke and Hainanese chicken rice. Again introduced to me by my friends at KL. Dishes I fell in love with. All of these and Char Siew too. A dish I had at Singapore while I chatted with Mr Saw at Chinatown. You had to order the chicken rice a day in advance at Ling's. Still reason enough for me to plan my next visit.

We met Baba on the way out. He was happy to see his choices get our approval. A slow start with a strong recovery. Baba claimed that his was the only place to serve authentic Chinese in Mumbai. He proudly spoke of the 119 Chinese delegates who ate at his restaurant that day. Yes, they looked very at home. Baba apologised for the delay in service. He put down the Chinese of Calcutta as "too oileeee" when I brought up the topic. Run by new generation Indian of Chinese origin. "They like curreee" he said disdainfully with a Kl meets Mumbai accent. Well, I did keep burping all day after the enjoyable deep fried Chinese lunch at the Indian owned Ming's at Colaba Causeway sometime back. The food at Ling's stuck to its 'non oily' claim on the other hand. A marked difference. No gastronomic opera post lunch here. This royal feast which could have actually fed five cost a fairly reasonable Rs 2500 (50 USD) with a soup and two mocktails ordered before me.

Finally Mumbai was complete for me.

Bhindi masala....Chinese version
Our flustered waiter
The rather sharp Kung pao prawns
Bombay Duck fry...identity crisis
Omelette with Chinese vegetables...the party started
Pork stuffed in capsicum
Beef stew or Bah Ku tea
Roast pork...entree? Dessert? Delectable either way
Mr Lin promises Hainanese Chicken rice & Char Siew
Chatting with the great Baba on the disappearing art of Chinese cooking


Anonymous said…
I'm coming with you next time.

- maker of disastrous pancakes
Sassy Fork said…
it's always fun having a meal with you....
this place has some awesome seafood
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Anon, I want pancakes tomorroe

@Sassy Fork, so let's meet again soon
Kurush F Dalal said…
we must ... absolutely must do Ling's together .... try the cha su pao next time and the spinach wrapped prawns ..... Lings according to me is probably mumbai's best restaurant!!
Unknown said…
Thanks for sharing the best and informative article.
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