Ramzan in Mumbai…a food lover’s dream come true
Come Ramzan and the food lovers of Mumbai get all excited in anticipation of the stalls and restaurants that offer the much sought after Iftar treats to break the Ramzan fast.
Heading out to savour the Ramzan eats is a ritual that cuts across religion and communities here. The Minara Masjid lane, at Mohammed Ali Road, is probably the most iconic places in Mumbai to go for a Ramzan meal. For years that’s where I’d been going with friends to eat during Ramzan.
A narrow lane bursting at the seams with festive spirit. Packed with people. People stepping out from the mosque after prayers. People shopping for new clothes, shoes, jewellery, handbags. People thronging the food stalls that have been set up to sell kebabs, fries and curries. You place your order and a skewer with a meat of your choice is taken out, reheated and assembled on a plate. On the sides are sweet shops selling mammoth malpuas and fluorescent aflatoons and other sweets.
Minara Masjid gulley in Ramzan is an experience you will never forget. The food? Well let’s say its ‘festive’ and leave it at that. Huge crowds, stalls that come up only for the season, little repeat business…you do the math.
Beyond Minara Masjid
My Mumbai Ramzan experiences began change thanks to the blog. First was when we went out Soumik, Rahul and Irin to Sarvi after we had just met through the blog. Rahul suggested going to Sarvi over Md Ali Road for our Ramzan eat. I was sceptical, didn’t know these guys then. Didn’t want to make a fuss but wondered why we were heading to a restaurant for Ramzan instead of the carnival at Md Ali Road.
The answer lay in what are possibly the best sheekh kebabs to be had for the love of money in Mumbai at Sarvi. Soft, delectable, flavour and pleasure packed…regal, gourmet stuff in the humblest of eateries…the food geeks chapter of the Big Bang Theory had turned out well.
The magic of Bohri Mohalla
Things got even better next Ramzan when Kurush took us to Bohri Mohalla which, since he introduced me to it, has become my favourite place to eat in at Mumbai. Kurush pointed out that Bohri Mohalla is different from Minara Masjid during Ramzan as it doesn’t do anything ‘special’ for Ramzan. Yes, there are the additional Ramzan treat such as the malpuas at Tawakkal but that apart, the food at Bohri Mohall is the same as what you get during the rest of the year. And that, as we figured out in earlier trip with Kurush, is superb.
The scintillating khiri kebabas at Bar-b-Q at Haji Tikka, the gurda masala at India Hotel & their Karachi styled baida rolls, the marvel of the patrel biryani at Firoz Farsan the slow cooked symphony of Vallibhai Payawallah’s Bara Handi, the hot and humungous rotis from the specialised roti shop next door, the Delhi Pulaos at the pulao gulley there, the ecstasy of the amazing malpuas at Tawakkal sweets and the calming, soothing, loving Sancha ice creams at Taj Ice Creams…some of the best food to be had for your money in Mumbai. Dishes that are served here through the year. Their patrons, first and foremost, the residents of the Mohalla. Repeat business lies at the heart of the great taste and quality here.
Last year we did explore a bit of the world outside Bohri Mohalla and Minara Masjid with Kurush at places like Do Tanki but frankly Bohri Mohalla spoils you for everything else.
So when folks wrote in and tweeted to me asking for a Ramzan Walk I knew it has to be at Bohri Mohalla.
I guess it is time to revisit the scene of the first Finely Chopped Walk.
The Finely Chopped Bohri Mohalla Ramzan Walk
We meet at Bohri Mohalla which is my favourite place to eat in Mumbai.
If you eat meat and are adventurous then there are few places as exciting to eat in at Mumbai than Bohri Mohalla and this comes with the best ice cream in town to cool things down after your meal. There’s a certain mystique to eating in the Mohalla. It took me 16 years in Mumbai, and the good fortune of making friends with a local food expert, to discover Bohri Mohalla. It is a part of the city whose food loyalists swear by and yet whose very existence remain a mystery to many. There’s also a sense of finality to each meal here now as the Mohalla is slated to go in for redevelopment and you don’t know for how much longer you will get to savour its culinary treasures.
When you eat at Bohri Mohalla you get to meet its legends who have been running the eateries here for decades and the pedigree and earnestness shows in the quality of the food here. Whether its Hatim Uncle of Taj Ice-creams, Shabbir Chacha of the pickle shop, the Methuselah-like Khan chacha of India Hotel, Abizer of Fioz Farsan, Haji Mohammed of Haji Tikka, they and all the other owners of the eateries are there to host you at their shops with food which shows decades and centuries of perfection.
So here’s what we will do.
Meet at around 8.30 pm. By 8.30 the eateries would have begun to open after a day of fasting. The Ramzan crowds grow post 10.00 pm so starting at 8.30 pm gives us a bit of a head start versus the crowds.
We could probably start off with ice creams. Ice creams that are made in a process that has remained unchanged for 120 years. A formula which ensures that the cream is omnipresent in this ice cream unlike in modern pretenders. If you are a health nut, and if fruits are your thing, then you will be happy to find that every single bite is packed with fresh fruits here. With ice creams we wash away the weariness of having travelled from various parts of Mumbai to reach the Mohalla and energise ourselves for the evening ahead.
What follows next include live demos of how tava fries are made – bheja (brains), gurda (kidneys) – ideas on how to cook these at home. Then chicken rolls…Karachi not Kolkata style. And then ‘Burma’ roti. What we call Moghlai Paratha in Kolkata. Martabak in Singapore and Malaysia. From the kitchen we would move down to benches for a ‘sit down’ meal. Plates and pieces of bread will be shared…that’s what community eating is all about.
The vegetarian option here is fried potatoes… the tava is common though
We then head to the kebab corner and stand by the coals and photograph as our kebabs are barbequed. My favourite, and that of all the folks I connect with, is the khiri (udder) kebabs. We could also try some beef koftas. If you really must then you could ask me to order a fried chicken. Chances are those that love the khiri won’t ask for it. I think they serve some paneer tikkas too.
Appetisers and anitpastis done we head for the mains. Baara Handis. Slow cooked meat. Cuts of beef and goat. Alchemised here over a century of cooking perfection. Served with a mix of daal broths cooked over six hours in the simmering handis. Topped with ‘josh’ or the fat that the meat gave out when cooked. They plate it with nihari…the soft marrow…and bits of coriander to give the textural and visual contrast. Many of us feel that this is one of the best meat experiences that we have had in absolute terms with no qualifiers. For cutlery you get huge, freshly tandoored rotis, which once fed armies…today it feeds what Soumik call’ food commandos’. The queues get pretty long during Ramzan so patience would be required and will be rewarded.
Pic: Jyotika Purwar
There’s always a fair bit of flexibility to the Finely Chopped Walks so don’t be surprised if the menu above gets interrupted with the odd pulao stop or gurda channa stop. This is not a walk for those who squeamish about what they eat and where they eat. This a walk for those who relish their meals with a sense of adventure and are hungry for new culinary discoveries.
Ramzan also coincides with the monsoons in Mumbai so chances are that the roads would be squishy and it might rain too so be prepared to walk from kebab stall to tava fry shop with an umbrella keeping your dinner dry.
The Mohalla is likely to be more crowded that usual on a Ramzan Saturday. We will respect the sentiments of devotees who congregate at the restaurants after their evening prayers and will try to ensure that we don’t get in the way. The idea is for everyone to have a great time and at Bohri Mohalla that means a very tasty time too.
Date: 27th July, 2013, Saturday
Timing: 8.30 pm to 11.30 pm
Start Point: Bohri Mohalla, Bhendi Bazar annexe
Things to get: Camera, reasonably smart phone, hand sanitizer, wearing denim helps as serviettes are far and few, an umbrella, a big appetite.
Words that will help: Baadhe = beef, chhote = mutton
Planned food stops: 4 to 5
Inclusions: A sampling menu of dishes that I am fond of here. We will space out the food to make sure that you bat till the end of the innings. Bottled water included. Not soft drinks. Eating will be at the participant’s risk. No responsibilities on the food. The ‘walk’ will cover essentially 2,3 lanes. But then it’s a food walk
Cost: Rs 2000 (two thousand) per head
Bohri Mohalla is waiting for you.
Pics are from the first Finely Chopped Walk at Bohri Mohalla
To get an idea of what’s on store go to the middle of this video clip of the segment that I hosted on Mumbai for Street Foods International on the Travel Channel USA. It features Bohri Mohalla.
Or take a look at some of the blog posts on Finely Chopped on Bohri Mohalla:
Other Mumbai Ramzan posts: