Bandra local, Jai Hind at Pali Naka

Mangalorean prawn masala with neer dosa at Jai Hind

I am always at a loss when people want me to suggest places to try out ‘local Mumbai food’ in Bandra, specifically Bandra West.

I make the distinction because Bandra east  on the other side of the highway is a Maharashtrian residential area. There you will find restaurants like Sadichcha (the local favourite) and Highway Gomantak (more famous across the city) for coastal seafood. There is Ameya for Maharashtrian vegetarian food at Bandra east. Then there is Mr Kamble selling poha and upma in the morning and Sree Krishna for lovely vada pav.

Bandra West is a different story though. It’s a place for trendy modern restaurants such as SaltWater CafĂ© and Fatty Bao and Smoke House Deli. None of them are really inexpensive places and once you are inside them, you could be anywhere in the world. They are the face of modern Mumbai.

Bandra West has a big Goan and East India base but there are hardly any restaurants where you can get their food. You could check out the the Goan fish and prawn curries and poato chops and puffs and roast chickens at Candies (self service only) and the pork sorpotel which you have to order for a day in advance. You could go to Lucky on SV Road for some Muslim Irani fare. You do have quite a few Parsis living in Bandra and their food is represented by a tiny 4 table restaurant called Snack Shack at Pali Naka.

                                              Watch the Lucky video on The Finely Chopped on YouTube

What about local Maharashtrian food

There’s hardly any at Bandra West. There is a little milk dairy beside Janta Bar at Pali Naka which advertises missal pav and ussal pav. They have a couple of benches to sit at but I have not been there. The road side stalls opposite the Bandra post office offer missal and ussal but I am sticking to 'restaurants' or at least sit down places in this post. The dairy beside Janta barely qualifies.

There is also the family run Saayba, near Lucky, where you get Gomantak or coastal Goan food. I used to be a regular there at one point but now not so much. I normally get my fill of Gomantak, or its cousin Malvani (coastal Maharashtrian), fare at restaurants outside of Bandra.

The issue of where to go for local food in Bandra popped up recently when I recently met Priya Deshingkar who had come to India last week from Brighton in the UK. Priya was in town to give a keynote lecture on migration at the TISS. Curiously, she had actually studied Zoology and then environmental sciences before becoming an academic in the area of migration! A topic which I find of interest being a migrant myself and having studied sociology in college. 

Priya Deshingkar or Deccan Tiffin

Priya is a Maharashtrian who was born in the UK has lived in Delhi and in Hyderabad in india, studied in the US,  and lives in the UK now.

She lives to cook and apparently cooked for large parties at home even when in college. This training has led to her holding Indian food pop ups in Brighton, to catering to parties there and even to selling her own line of masalas. You can read more about this on her website, Deccan Tiffin

Priya tells me that she is trying to present traditional Indian food that she has grown up on and  that too without taking ‘short cuts’ (something I am guilty of) in the kitchen.

People who are not afraid of trying different things in life fascinate and inspire me.

Priya and I met up for lunch on Easter Sunday. She had gone to Sunny in Chembur for a Keralite dinner the night before. From our conversations, it was evident that she wanted to go to local places and was not really on the look out for wild mushroom risottos or Peking duck or fish and chips!

I was wondering where to meet Priya for lunch when I suddenly thought of Jai Hind at Bandra's Pali Naka. I had ordered some delicious prawn masala a few nights back from Jai Hind and that triggered off this thought.
With Priya at Jai Hind

Jai Hind is the name of a chain of seafood restaurants across Mumbai. It is owned by Mangalorean folks from the Shetty community as far as I know. I had first heard of Jai Hind from a former colleague whose husband used to work at Ogilvy Advertising when Ogilvy was based at Kamla Mills.The Ogilvy folks used to call in for food from the Jai Hind opposite Kamla Mills at Lower Parel. 

K and I used to go to the Kamla Mills Jai Hind quite bit after we got married and were excited when they later opened at Bandra’s Pali Naka in the mid 2000s. The Pali Naka outlet is a rather simple, non-airconditioned one and opens on to the road with no door in between. Later, a small air-conditioned Jai Hind opened at Bandra's Hill Road too.

We went to the Pali Naka Jai Hind pretty often when it was new. We would also  call in for food from there and I would even go to Jai Hind to buy rotis before Banu, became our cook and made rotis for us.
We’ve not eaten at the Pali Naka Jai Hind of late as I go to places like Malvani Aswad, Sadichcha, Sindhudurg or Kshirsagar for coastal seafood when I feel like it and K is not too fond of this genre of food.

Jai Hind was empty, when we walked in on Sunday afternoon. Possibly because of the long Easter weekend. It began to fill up soon after we sat down. It didn’t feel too hot inside though it was a sunny afternoon and though the place is not air-conditioned.

Jai Hind, Pali Naka, Bandra W

The service was efficient though not with a smile. I remembered the wait staff from the time the Jai Hind Pali Naka opened. They requested, or rather asked, us to hurry up while placing our order as they said it takes them a while to get the food ready. Though, once the food came, we were not hurried by the staff even though the place was no longer empty.
While they have Punjabi (!), Goan and Malvani (coastal Maharashtrian) food on offer, including thalis, we decided to go for Mangalorean dishes as the chain is said to be (I am not sure of this ) owned by a Mangalorean family. We also chose a la carte fare so that we could try out 2 or 3 dishes. We both decided to go for a limited number of dishes and savour them rather than order too many dishes.

We started with a refreshing drink of sol kadi. This pungent yet cooling kokum berry based coastal drink is an acquired taste which I have take to right from the first time I tried it when I was new to Mumbai. It works both as an appetizer and as a post meal digestive.

Sol kadi, Jai Hind

We then had the bharela bombil or Bombay duck stuffed prawns that Jai Hind is legendary for. It is similar in essence to the chops of Kolkata or the croquettes of Catalonia. Crunchy bread crumb batter and then a soft jelly like Bombay duck coat (with soft hairy fish bones) packed with tiny, spicy shrimps. A rather operatic dish that I love every time that I try it. 

Stuffed Bombil, Jai Hind

Jai Hind is a small restaurant and there is a certain innocence to the dishes on offer. So one of the bharela bombil croquettes was visibly larger than the other.

We then had the Mangalorean prawn sukha masala which I had ordered home the other night (was delivered in less than 30 min that night). This is the dish that has made me think of taking Priya to Jai Hind! I noticed that the prawns that they sent home were nice and juicy and not overcooked. I really appreciated this. The prawns in this dish are tossed in a bed of desiccated coconut and house spices and curry leaves and mustard seeds and then served. The crushed spices and grated coconut bed gave a nice textural contrast to the succulent prawns. The dish gave pleasure on both the days that I tried it.  

I had the prawns with rotis at home.  I had it with the more traditional Mangalorean accompaniment of gossamer thin neer dosas in the restaurant and both combinations worked well for me. The latter is more kosher though in a manner of speaking.

Prawn masala, roti and sol kadi dinner at home from Jai Hind (about Rs 340)

Our last dish  on Sunday was a gassi, the archetypal Mangalorean curry. We had a surmai  (seer or kingfish) gassi as Priya said she prefers surmai to pomfret. 

A Twitter poll that I did put pomfret & surmai at par in fan following in Mumbai
Twitter polls are indicative and not statistically robust

The pomfret gassi is served with a whole baby pomfret. The surmai one had a large slice of surmai. The fish was once again (like the prawns) pleasantly juicy and not dry or over cooked. 

Call me a philistine  but I couldn’t discern much difference between the Mangalorean gassi curry at Jai Hind and the red fish curry served in Maharashtrian Malvani joints. The gassi was a bit thicker, slightly saltier and more flavourful than the restaurant Malvani curries that I have tried. Both are coconut milk based. The gassi gets its tanginess from tamarind while kokum berry is used for tartness in Mangalorean curries. We had the gassi with rice. They served basmati at Jai Hind and not the local ambe mor that you get in Malvani places.

Surmai gassi, Jai Hind

Priya wanted a vegetarian dish too but there was nothing visibly 'local' on the menu so we skipped this.

Satisfied with our meal, we headed to the Krispy Kreme outlet at Pali Naka to chat in air-conditioned comfort where K joined us over coffee.

How is Mangalorean food ‘local’ food you ask?

Well, actually all the famous seafood joints in Mumbai…Mahesh, Trishna, Apoorva, Bharat Excllensea and even Gajalee…are Mangalorean owned so you could say that Mangalorean seafood is a big part of Mumbai’s culinary culture. Plus trying out an immigrant cuisine seemed apt as I was having lunch with an academic who studies human migration. And I am an immigrant myself!

Most importantly, Priya enjoyed the meal and Jai Hind met the brief.

PS: 2 drinks, a bottle of water, an appetizer, 2 mains, a rice and plate of neer dosas cost us about Rs 1,000. There's no service charge, air-con, loo or valet parking. Jai Hind is located beside Punjab Sweets and 5 Spice at Bandra's Pali Naka

1 April 2016 Update

Adding this comment that has come in from an anonymous reader on the origins of Jai Hind:

I've been eating at JHLH since the past four years, and prefer it over Apurva, Mahesh and ilk, cause it's kinda light on the pocket and the quality's assured. Two years back, I got to know the JHLH story by the owner himself. "Jai Hind" started in the early 1960s as a vegetarian eatery on Sayani Rd, Dadar. Present day owners' (Harish & Girish) father Dasu Shetty started working as a dishwasher here. Over the span of two decades, he got promoted as the manager. In the 80's, the eatery's business got affected due to the downfall of the mill business. Coincidentally, the owner was also getting old and with the lack of enthusiasm shown by his family he sold the eatery to Shetty Sr at knock down rates. In early 2000s, Harish and Girish opened up first ever "Jai Hind Lunch Home" in Lower Parel. 

Also, I'd like to add. There are two major differences between Mangalorean & Malwani preparation -

1) Mangaloreans roast coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, peppercorns, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, grated coconut, red chillies, onions and garlic pods. Grind and make a thick paste. Malwani, on the contrary, use only coconut, red chillies, coriander seeds and onion (garlic's optional) for the thick paste. 

2) Malwani don't use coconut milk. Even the Saraswat Brahmins of Maharashtra don't use coconut milk in their fish preparation. Mangalorean, obviously, use coconut milk in the preparation. Hence, it is a bit thick in consistency.