A Mumbai Food Walk down the lost lanes of Bhendi Bazar with Anita Kapoor & a feature in the Mint Lounge article on food bloggers
With winter getting over and me getting busy with work during the week I have decided to take a break from the food walks for a bit.
I had to regretfully decline a few requests for walks recently but I couldn’t say no to Anita Kapoor. We used to watch Anita’s show Go Asia on TLC and quite liked it. I particularly enjoyed her Mumbai show where she showed a young side of the city so different from the usual dabbawallah, Dharavi and Dhobighats that Western crews shooting in Mumbai can’t seem to get enough of. I connected with Anita on twitter after the Mumbai show and we became ‘twitter friends’ since then. So when Anita DM’d me on twitter saying that she was coming Mumbai on a holiday for her birthday and was very keen to do a Finely Chopped Walk I decided that it was the proverbial moment for Rambo to come out of the monastery and do one more walk. What made this even more special was this was the first time that Anita would be spending her birthday in Mumbai, a city she once lived in, since she was six.
We discussed two or three options and then zeroed in on Bohri Mohall or Bhendi Bazar.
It was nice to get back to Bohri Mohalla. Bohri Mohalla, is of course, where Simon Majumdar first sowed the seeds of the Finely Chopped Walks in my head. Bohri Mohalla is where I did my first Finely Chopped Walk. Bohri Mohalla is also where I did a walk during Ramzan that got so popular that I had to repeat it a week later. Bohri Mohalla is where the kind shop owners and restaurant owners have adopted me as one of their own and have always welcome me back with the warmest of smiles. Plus, when I started my walks the idea was to simulate a walk with friends and as the evening passed I realised that there was no simulation required this time.
Come Monday and I headed to Bohri Mohalla after work coordinating routes and timings with Anita on the way. She later told me that she spent the earlier part of her birthday with the folks at the Magic Bus, an NGO she supports.
Bohri Mohalla was more crowded than usual and there was a lot of traffic on the roads. That’s when I found out through Anita that we had landed on the 38th day of the 40 day prayers which were being offered after the recent sad demise of the Bohri spiritual leader Dr Sydena Mohammed Burhanuddin.
Anita and I managed to connect despite the chaos and as I saw her cross the frenetic traffic I realised that this is one lady who doesn’t have to be handled with kid gloves. She was quite comfortable navigating the busy streets.
“When I told my friends that I was coming to Bohri Mohalla they were a bit apprehensive” said Anita when we met.
Actually I was not surprised to hear this. Bhendi Bazar or Bohri Mohalla is the land that Mumbai forgot. As the city expanded Bhendi Bazar became the part of the city that Mumbai crossed over while sailing down the JJ Flyover to reach the city’s Southern Pinnacle. What Anaggh on twitter calls the Jurassic Park. If folks head below JJ to eat during Ramzan, it is to the Minara Masjid lane at Mohammed Ali Road. It took me fourteen years in Mumbai to discover Bohri Mohalla and I owe this to Kurush Dalal, the archaeologist caterer.
So what did Anita and I eat on her birthday at Bhendi Bazar?
Our first stop was Valibhai Payawallah for the bara handi. I went there first as the food here often gets over early. We were given a warm welcome by the uncle and his team at Valibhai. We settled for a many-hued serving of paya or goat’s trotter with a half roti which uncle made specially for me. The symphony of flavours as always won us over.
‘This is the sort of food I seek’ said Anita, ‘you will never get this in a hotel. This to me is the flavour of Mumbai’
Well the barahandi, as Kurush had explained, was a poor man’s way to use to slow cooking to make discarded cuts of meat delectable.
We stepped out and saw folks making nimbu pani in drums by the side of the lane. Anita went and asked if she could take a picture. She always did that before taking a picture. We were told that the drink was being made for the devotees who were coming from all over the world to offer their prayers to the departed spiritual leader. Suddenly the gentleman who explained this to us asked if we would like to see the tomb and we immediately said yes.
I felt very privileged as he took us into the Raudat Tehera or the holy tomb. We covered our heads with handkerchiefs and walked in past the rows of devotees sitting and reading from their prayer books. There was a sense of peace inside which is hard to describe but yet so soothing. Our host took us inside and showed us the inscriptions of the holy Quran in gold and jewels on the marbled walls of the tomb. He explained that this was the only place apparently where the entire Quran was inscribed on the walls and that they were all lit up be a gleaming grand chandelier which was made in Austria. He then helped us cross the queue and pay our respects to the departed leader where we followed what the others were doing and touched our heads to the tomb.
As we stepped out I realised that I had never felt so special or so welcome in Bohri Mohalla, a place where I have always felt at home, as I did this time.
It was time to switch back from the spiritual to the celestial and Anita and I headed to Haji Tikka’s Barbeque corner. First on were a plate of charcoal smoked khiri (cow’s udder) kebabs. I approvingly looked on as Anita dug into them with gusto. This is a woman who loves to eat with no hang ups.
Next on were some beef koftas mopped up with parathas. Both of us were held in a spell by the moistness of the mince and the incredible flavours of ginger and chilli bursting through the juicy meat.
“I want some biryani” said Anita and off we went to the lane of pulao sellers where we had a carefully weighed out plate of mutton pulao which had the most subtly flavoured rice and tender chunks of beef. Fodder for an intense conversation on the origins of the biryani and how it was the Indian avatar of the Persian Pulao. Notes I had picked up from Lizzie Colingham’s excellent book ‘Curry’. I don’t remember the name of the shop though. It was possibly called Yasin and is the first shop on the lane.
Our last food stop came up. Chacha’s India Hotel. Brain and kidneys were over though so we settled for a plate of mutton (beef again) bhuna, the moistness of which and the robustness of whose masalas, made Anita exclaim that was the best dish that she had in an evening of great eats.
We of course still had place for dessert even though we were full and we walked down to Taj Ice Creams. “Best ice creams in Mumbai” I said as I looked up from my mango ice cream.
“I agree” said Anita with a mouth full of her favourite sitafal ice cream.
As we headed down the dark though not deserted lanes of Bohri Mohalla to go our respective ways Anita said “you know, whenever I have made plans and met someone through twitter or social media I have always had a great time”.
I couldn’t agree more.