Please scroll down for details of the walk
A couple of years back I worked out of Laxmi Building in Fort for four months.
Each day at lunch time I would take my camera with me and wander down one of Fort’s many lanes stumbling on to a new place to eat in. Usually one of its many half a century old family run restaurants that I had not even heard of. Each day I would discover new dishes, meet new people as I shared tables with strangers, occasionally speak to the owners and the waiters and revelled in their stories as I ate. Each day I would return from lunch grinning from ear to ear and beyond.
It didn’t matter if it was hot and sunny or if it was raining. For Fort, once the Central Business District of Mumbai, is possibly its most organically developed urban corporate eco-system. There are enough trees at Fort to offer you shade. Its lanes intersect to give natural ventilation. The awnings of each building give you shelter to step out and reach one of Fort’s million places to eat in even if it is raining.
The food available caters to every community from across the country that came together to make Mumbai the commercial capital of India.
Now compare this with the modern CBDs of Lower Parel, Andheri E, Goregaon, BKC and so with their gleaming soul-less glass buildings…no walkways to shelter people from nature. No food apart from what’s available in usually smelly canteens…an environment that hardly allows you to stretch or rejuvenate like Fort does. Nor does it offer all those cheap and honest places that you have in Fort where you can duck in for a dosa and filter coffee, or a piping hot vada pao or chai and bun maaska before you head home from work.
The sad thing is that Fort today is a bit of a ghost town frozen in time. Buildings with grand exteriors that make you doff your hat in respect. Buildings whose interiors are often dark and dank inside.
Yes, Fort is not the CBD of Mumbai today but it is definitely one of the city’s warmest and most big-hearted spots. I keep looking back for opportunities to return to Fort. A place which welcomes me with hot piping jalebis made by the Ustaad at Vidya Dairy where the owner insists that I eat a full plate of jalebi. It’s his treat. I can’t skip a single jalebi. I can’t pay for even one.
Then there’s good old Tirandaz at Yazdani who greets me 'with a big cup of Irani chai. “Eat something eat something” he exhorts as we chat about topics spanning cricket, politics, Anna Hazare, how the British shouldn't have left, the beauty of Iran, a far away land called Bandra & his favourite actor Salman Khan & of how Tirandaz wants to 'buy' an email account but his dad won't allow him.
He has a cell though.
More familiar faces. The owners at Apoorva. Always present. Checking on the food. The difference which makes it my choice for Mangalorean. The cheerful smiles of welcome at Swagath as I sit down for an ulundu dosa and filter coffee as I did every evening before heading home when I worked at Fort. And the very dignified, gentle and soft spoken Parvez Irani who runs Ideal Corner. Your best hope for authentic Parsi food outside of a Parsi home. I am so happy that Parvez decided to close his bike repairing shop and converted it into Ideal Corner, one of my favourite restaurants in Mumbai as I say in The Times Food Guide.
Then there’s the joy of walking down the streets of Fort and remembering the many banana-leaf meals that one has had at the Keralite Deluxe. The joys of discovering Kori Roti at Modern lunch home, beef & porota at Raahmanya, the Goa-Maharashtrian fish curries at Pradeep Gomantak, the thick lassi with malai at Moti Lassi …some chance discoveries and some places which folks on twitter pointed me to.
Yes, I love Fort. Am enchanted by it as I once said. Hence the walk. So here’s the plan for the walk:
The Finely Chopped Fort Food Tasting Walk
We meet at 11 and start off by 11.15. I don’t know about you but I like a late breakfast and when in Fort nothing makes more sense than bun maska, brun pao and Irani chai. I guess you will be as astounded as I was when I first found out that the the crust brun paos are favourites of toothless Parsi grannies who love to soak it in hot tea and have it. Talking of the temperamental Irani cafe owners, if we are lucky we could see a sixty year old wood fired oven which is so deep that you might get a glimpse of Persia at the other end.
We walk around a bit taking in the restaurants around you, getting to know what lies inside and what I would order if we’d go in to eat there. Take a look at the Parsi fire temple and the khao gulley and the sheer variety of street food there from Pao bhaaji to Tamil rice carts to lassi to thela Chinese.
Hungry from the walk and the sights of food around us we head for lunch …some Mangalorean seafood which pairs beautifully with the local favourite drink, sol kadi, a drink that’s an appetiser, a digestive and above all very refreshing. Soak some neer dosa into tangy piquant gassis and see how many spice notes you can identify on your palate.
Then perhaps some Parsi dishes to follow. Lacy cutlets. The pillowy wonders of meat fried in an egg batter. And then, no, not necessarily dhansaak…there’s more to Parsi cuisine than dhansaak. Find out why you should never expect dhansaak on any happy occasion except Sundays. What do we ‘pair’ Parsi food with. Raspberry of course. The favourite drink of Parsis which honestly needs a lot of getting used to but you’ll never know till you try it. Ten years down the line and I am still not sure about my feelings towards the Raspberry drink but I always order it. Won’t be kosher otherwise.
Desserts after that and some hot piping jalebis made by the ustaads from the North of India before we head for some piping hot filter coffee from South India.
All you need to do for this North South switch is to cross the lane and not the country, for in Fort you have it all.
Hopefully at the end of these four hours you will be as besotted with Fort as I am. As enchanted by it as I am.
Date: 16th March 2013, Saturday
Timing: 11 am to 3 pm
Start Point: Fort, DN Road
Things to get: Camera, phone, hand sanitizer, a big appetite.
Planned food stops: 4 to 5
Inclusions: Stops at some of my favourite restaurants and cafes. Mix of cuisines and communities for that’s what Mumbai is all bout…Irani, Parsi, Mangalorean Coastal, Udipi, UPite. We will space out the food to make sure that you don’t miss out on any dish. Bottled water included. Not soft drinks. Eating will be at the participant’s risk. No responsibilities on the food. The ‘walk’ will cover essentially 3,4 lanes around Bombay Stores.
Cost: Rs 2000 per head (all inclusive)
So catch you at Fort.
Here’s the link to a post on the earlier Finely Chopped food walk at Bohri Mohalla
And these are my posts on Fort to give you an idea on what’s in store
Do check out this link to an episode of Aneesha Baig’s Will Travel For Food on NDTV 24X7 recently. She and I walk to two of my fav restaurants in Bandra a couple of weeks back in the second half of the episode