Update: Firmed up on 19th May 2013 as the date for the walk basis the initial response. Walk details at the end of the post:
Lead up to the walk: A novel Mumbai brunch
I met food blogger Sassy Fork for brunch last Sunday.
It was a strange kind of ‘brunch’. There were no egg Benedicts, Belgium pancakes, French crepes, British scones and clotted cream, sushi, caviar on toast, champagne or macarons in sight but then we weren’t in the rarefied air-conditioned climes of one of the five star coffee shops of Mumbai. We were actually restaurant hopping and stopping to shop in between
We were at Dadar in central Mumbai. A Maharashtrian dominated locality. Your best bet to get a sampling of Maharashtrian food in Mumbai, some say, unless you get invited home by someone, and frankly what better to know a city than through the food its people eat? My Guide, Sassy Fork, half Maharashtrian half Bengali, someone who has grown up in Dadar and lives there
A snacky start at Aaswad
What followed is one of the best food experiences that you can have in the city of Mumbai in my experience. Sample some of the food in offer. Aswad and its Amba daal, a seasonal delicacy made with pulses and mango, a dish which straight away took you miles to the East to the streets of Thailand. The sharp and refreshing flavours of mango making the amba daal the first cousin, twice removed of Som Tam, the Thai salad.
I tried the Maharashtrian version of panha and at Aswad they add a touch of saffron which makes the drink so refreshing.
I have sample some of their snacky delights in the past including the thali peeth. Wonderfully textured thick rustic rotis to be had with a wonderfully contrasting white butter…these multi-grained breads were served in Maharashtrian households way before dieticians from the West made multi-grains the answer to all of life’s questions.
Shopping for the flavours of Maharashtra…Santosh Masale, Kokan Bazar
We then crossed across the road towards Sena Bhavan and went into Santosh Masala. A small spice shop run by a Santa Claus without a beard.
This genial man sells home made pickles and spices. He asked us to taste a bit of the bitter gourd or karela, preservatives free pickle and I couldn’t say no to his smiling face. Tasted fairly interesting…not as scary as I thought it would be. The blend of the heat of the masala and the bitterness of the karela grew on you. The shop a treasure trove of condiments and we tried quite a few while we bought some stuff.
There was more interesting shopping. Kokan Bazar for example set up by a lady who retails products made by women from the Konkan region of Maharashtra. They welcomed us in the shop with a refreshing glass of kokum sherbat. A drink made with the juice of kokum berries which are also used to make sol kadi and is added to fish curries by the Konkanis. The relatively unsung Kokum juice, rarely available in restaurants even in Mumbai, is a world beater of a drink and deserves to be put out there with one of the best indigenous drinks in the world which tastes great in absolute terms too. They have a pretty good range of stuff here from local spices to unpolished rice to Maharashtrian snacks and some ready to cook eats. I took the methi paratha mix for K and she just loved it.
What makes Kokan Bazar a treasure trove is something else though.
For years I had scoured markets in Mumbai for a mortar and pestle. I finally gave up and carted one back all the way from Chiang Mai. Well, there in front of us were Maharashtrian versions of mortar and pestles. Some pretty similar to the Thai ones. Smaller sized than mine. Stone-made, starting at about Rs 200. They can get bigger ones too. Then there were the flat ones for grinding. Similar to the Bengali sheel batas. I think the Maharashtrians call it khaal batta I think. Then there were cutting boards similar to the Bengali botis. This place is a treasure trove like Aladdin’s cave.
Sweet Maharashtra: Panshikar, Gadgil’s
There was more shopping to do. We headed to a sweet shop called Panshikar. Now my key exposure to Maharashtrian sweets so far had been through the pebble textured, yellow food colour heavy pedas served in office functions. Add modaks during Ganesh Chaturthi. When one thinks of ‘Indian sweets’, Bengali Sweets, the jalebis, rabdis and gulab jamuns of the North and Mysore Pak of the South comes to mind more immediately than Maharashtrian sweets.
Sassy Fork still took me to Panshikar and I was quite impressed by the tender and delicate flavours of the pedas and the shreekhand wadi and some of the halva. As a sign of gratitude for introducing me to the shop I got a box of the delectable sweets packed for Sassy’s very sweet parents.
Just beside Panshikar is a tiny shop run by a gentleman called Sanjay Gadgil. He comes over every day from Dombivli to sit in the shop his dad had started. According to Sassy Fork you get the best puran polis here. Puran polis is a sort of chapatti stuffed with a sweetened channa dal paste which Maharashtrians love. The Parsi version of which is called daal ni podi and I am told is stuffed with a tur daal mix. There were some other interesting food products in Gadgil’s shop including a stuffed colcasia leave dish which you took home, slice, fry and eat. A tiny shop packed with interesting Maharashtrian food products.
Missal at Prakash
We moved on and stopped once at Prakash. I had to have the missal there. So different from the spicy, Bengal gram based missals which one has had in office canteens and some South Indian Shetty run places that one has eaten it. The missal at Prakash is made with sprouts and hast that simplicity and lightness to it that makes it tastes like something made in somebody’s house. Plus it is one of the few Indian dishes that match up to the dishes of the Orient in terms of balance of contrasting textures, colours and flavours.
Don’t give up so easily on ‘Shetty run restaurants serving Maharashtrian food though.
For the lunch part of brunch we went to Sachin, a restaurant which serves coastal Gomantak food and is a big favourite of locals. Sassy Fork herself has been picking up food from here for years.
I let her order and what followed to start with were amazing juicy fried prawns. These were fried with a very mild, near-invisible spiced batter coating which added loads of flavour and embellished rather than took away from the purity of the prawns. The Spaniards who believe in very little coming in between a good prawns and them would appreciate the prawns at Sachin I am sure for at Sachin they treat their prawns with love, respect and care.
We also ordered a mutton thali. There was a mutton kheema (mince) curry that came with it where the curry was very intensely flavoured and was robust and meaty.
The special mutton Thali had mutton masala and mutton (goat meat) curry which were sheer works of passionate art. The mutton very very tender. Gave in easily to the nudge of a spoon. The masalas once again bringing the flavour of good meat to the fore rather than shrouding it. Was a delight to scoop it up with thin chapattis.
On the way out we met the lady at the counter. Turned out she was the daughter of the founder (in the pic below). The place, which shares the name with Maharashtra’s most famous son, is named after her bother, Sachin.
Sachin used to be an Udipi restaurant till 1974 when her father decided to turn it into a Gomantak place.
Now, here’s the thing. This place serving Maharashtrian food, which is a favourite of the community, is actually run by a Shetty family. Shetty’s are South Indians who are famous as hoteliers in Mumbai. A bit like how New Martin’s, the favourite for Goan food in Mumbai, is actually run by a Mangalorean gentleman.
Sassy Fork said she was surprised to hear about Sachin’s Shetty ownership. As were some other Maharashtrian fans of Sachin whom I later told this. I guess the sincerity of this family, the lady had quit her job in the hotel industry, to devote her time on the restaurant and the fact their cooks have been here for more than forty years helps.
Aamras at Gypsy Corner
Wanting dessert we walked back to Gypsy Corner, a relatively new outlet from the folks at Gypsy corner, whose Chinese all Dadar’ites have grown up on. Gypsy Corner serves an array of vegetarian mains from the Brahmin cuisine of Maharashtra. We went and sat at the tables by the boulevard which led to Shivaji Park. Future Gavaskars and Tendulkars walked past us after their matches at the maidan on which the legends of Indian cricket learnt their art. We were surrounded by Maharashtrian families and friends sharing a Sunday lunch of traditional Maharashtrian food. They looked happy which is always the best certificate a restaurant can get.
I wanted to have an aamraas which is the mango pulp based dish which the locals are besotted with. Not just any mango, but Alfonso mango which all Mumbaikars…whether they are Maharashtrian, Gujarati, Parsi or Muslim will tell you are the best in the world. Folks from Bengal, UP etc have a different point of view but then this is a country where folks can’t even agree on which political party will lead the country…and mangoes obviously elicit stronger passions.
Sassy Fork demonstrated the ‘right’ way to have amraas as she broke a bit of the accompanying puri and scooped up the aamraas.
I decided to be a bad boy and have the aamraas by itself as our wonderful Sunday brunch came to a refreshing end.
I now plan to do a Finely Chopped Walk around Dadar. I think that it’s a great area to discover and unlike say Fort, Bohri Mohalla, Agripada Colaba or even Matunga, Dadar is rarely spoken of while talking of ethnic food trails in Mumbai. I thought that it would be a great idea to walk down the leafy boulevards of Dadar to see what is it that makes the Maharashtrian community of Mumbai tick. To understand the food culture of the majority community of the city which we all like to call home. To listen to the city’s soul and get charmed by it.
So what do you think? Sounds like a plan?
Announcing the The Dadar Marathi Finely Chopped Food Walk
Here’s the plan
We will walk through some of the leafy boulevards of Dadar in the area around Shivaji Park and Sena Bhavan. The area is a treasure island of ethnic Marathi restaurants and stores. We will go to a few of them to sample what’s in store. This will be a walk whose flavours might inspire you to come back and explore more of the rich food heritage of this area and get to know more about the Maharashtrian community.
In the walk we will cover 3 to 4 food stops. Past walks have shown that a big part of the experience is the conversations that participants have during the walk and the connections that they make. This sets to the pace of the walk and has a bearing on how rushed we want to be and how much we cover.
In terms of food we will look at the diversity of Maharashtrian food and will start with intricate vegetarian snacks from the cuisine of the Brahmin community and savour some of the seasonal mango based delicacies. We will then go to some food stores where the legend goes that no-one has ever come out without buying something at least. In case you pick up a mortar and pestle then do book a session in the spa the next day. The early start of 6 pm ensures that we catch the stores before they shut at 8.30 pm. From the appetisers of vegetarian snacks we will move have some of the seafood and meat-based Gomantak dishes. These places do make a few vegetarian options using base spices.
Chances are that though full at the end you will be left hungry for more. Hungry to discover more of the marvels of Dadar.
Date: 19th May 2013, Sunday
Timing: 6 pm to 10.00 pm
Start Point: Aaswad, opposite Sena Bhavan, Dadar Shivaji Park
Things to get: Camera, hand sanitizer, a big appetite, bigger shopping bags,
Planned food stops: Around 3 to 4 and a couple of shop visits
Inclusions: Stops at some of the restaurants in the posts where we will cover a mix of vegetarian snacks, seasonal mango based dishes and a Gomantak dinner. We will space out the food to make sure that you don’t miss out on any dish. Bottled water included. Not soft drinks. These can be ordered separately. Eating will be at the participant’s risk. No responsibilities on the food. The walk will cover the lanes around Dadar’s Sena Bhavan
Cost: Rs 2000 per head (inclusive of food tastings)
So catch you at Dadar on Sunday
My earlier posts on:
As a non-Maharashtrian some of my post might be incomplete. I have tried to share whatever I have learnt so far. I know that this is just scratching the surface as Dadar is a treasure island of eateries. Do feel free to add anything you would to this post. Perhaps one can plan many walks