The working man's food trail in Mumbai's Fort

Mangalorean fare at Harish Lunch Home, Fort on the Sodexo CXO Food walk
How important is food to you when you are out at work?

I recently met up with with some friends of mine who share a common career trajectory with me. 

All of us had started our careers in advertising and market research agencies in Kolkata and then moved to Mumbai and agencies here.

We caught up with each other during my recent book reading at the APB Cook Studio where the theme was Kolkata and its food. Interestingly, the first topic that came up was food at work in Kolkata. We all reminisced about how good the food at work used to be in Kolkata, how seriously food was taken there and about how canteens there would serve multi-course meals.

We compared this with the uninspiring food (according to us) that we got in the canteens of all the agencies that we had worked in at Mumbai.

We all agreed that this is probably because eating in corporate Mumbai is seen as something to be fitted in somewhere in time sheets. It was not really given much thought to by most. We could be wrong of course and I would love to know if you feel differently on this and does what you eat while you are at work matter to you in the first place? 

I'd be surprised if you are a regular reader of Finely Chopped and if it doesn't.

The CBDs for foodies in Mumbai

Most of the offices that I worked out of in Mumbai were in places such as Dadar Tulsi Pipe road in the early 2000s and Chinchpokli and Andheri east  in the late 2000s, which hardly had any decent eating joints around them.

There were two exceptions. One was Nariman Point when I worked in an agency based at the Nirmal Building there. In the early 2000s there were a lot of street food joints opposite the building (Rajesh juicewallah, dosawallah, pav bhaaji wallah, Mafco and 'Air India' stall) and also a place called Bay Bites by the sea (where I had my first taste of the Parsi Kashmiri pulao dal and which is now shut) and then Status where one could get affordable and very tasty food and even the Oberoi shopping arcade shop for ham and cheese sandwiches which didn't break you back. 

Nariman Point is where I met my then future wife and these humble eateries (the Oberoi arcade shop was 'humble' compared to its restaurants) nourished the roots of our relationship.

The other was at Fort where I worked a few years later out of an office at Laxmi Building. Those 6 months were the ones where I had eaten some of the best lunches during my corporate career in Mumbai. Which is why Fort is where I have conducted the most number of food walks. It is one of my favourite places to eat in Mumbai and I just love the variety of food on offer there and the number of new dishes that I have come across while eating in at Fort.

An extract from the Fort section of my book, The Travelling Belly

Of Being Fort enchanted

I was at Fort a couple of Saturday back conducting a food trail based on my book, The Travelling Belly. This was for the Sodexo CXO Food Walk. The walk was hosted by Sodexo and had corporate head honchos joining in.

Let me tell you where we ate and you will understand my point about how folks who work at Fort are lucky enough to get some good and economical food options. The eateries that we went to also represent the diversity of Mumbai's immigrant culture which, according to Kunal Vijayakar, impacted and shaped the Mumbai's eating out culture. 

Ideal Corner....Parsi food

Raspberry, dhansak, akoori and lagn nu custard
Parsi 'sweet nothings' at Ideal Corner

We started our walk with some Parsi food. This was apt as the restaurant revolution in Mumbai was started by the Iranis about two hundred years back after all. 

We went to Ideal Corner, which is on the lane parallel to The Bombay Store. It is a relatively 'new' place as far as Irani restaurants are concerned, but the food here always hits the spot. It's owner, Parvez Patel, ran a motorcycle shop earlier here. Thankfully for us foodies, he converted it into a restaurant sometime back and Ideal Corner today is one of my favourite Parsi restaurants in town as it is of many food loving friends of mine. 

It has a daily special menu and then there are some dishes which are there through the week. The good news is that it is open at night too now. I used to come here to eat at least once a week during the lunch time when I worked at Fort. 

During the walk we had akoori (the Parsi curried and spiced scrambled eggs), the Sunday afternoon Parsi household staple of dhansak (both mutton and vegetarian) and washed it all down with raspberry drinks and then had some lagan nu custard at the end.

Pradeep Gomantak... Goan Hindu food

The Bombay duck fry, mutton vade thalis, surmai fry, prawn curry thali and sol kadi
are good picks at Pradeep Gomantak. Also try the curry made with chicken innards

Located opposite Ideal Corner is Pradeep Gomantak. It is one of the few places serving Gomantak (Goan Hindu) food here. The other such place here that I have heard of is Sandeep Gomantak. I haven't come across any Malvani joints here either. Most Malvani (coastal Maharashtrian) and Gomantak (Hindu Goan) restaurants in Mumbai are located in areas such as Girgaum, Parel, Dadar and Bandra East where the mill workers of Mumbai lived and worked.

I don't like to bring in religion or caste dynamics into food discussions, but have used 'Hindu' as a appendix to help classify the fare here. My understanding is that Goan Christians use vinegar more frequently than the Goan Hindus, including in fish curries. To an outsider, it would be hard to distinguish between Malvani and Gomantak restaurant food. Both see a heavy use of coconut and seafood forms the core of the fare, though chicken and mutton dishes are popular too. Most of the restaurants in this genre offer affordable food made with fresh produce and the popular ones are packed at meal times 

Pradeep Gomantak is a good example of a classic Gomantak joint. You will recognise it during lunch time by the queues that form outside. It is a small and simple place where you have to share tables and is not air-conditioned. You get excellent seafood thalis there as we all as mutton and chicken ones too. The Bombay duck fry and surmai fry and prawn masalas and mutton sukhas are good picks here and do have the sol kadi with your meal.

The food is flavourful. The produce used is fresh. The prices are economical with all thalis being priced within Rs 200.

It's always full house at Pradeep Gomantak
Pradeep Gomantak is also one of the few restaurants in Fort where I have seen a lady sit at the counter. That's Manisha, whose father had started the restaurant. This time I saw her charming little daughter giving her company too. I am told that some of the original Malvani and Gomantak places in Mumbai were messes run by 'maushis' and were meant to feed immigrants who had left their wives and mothers at home seeking work in the mills of Mumbai.

That's Manisha who's always there at the counter at Pradeep
And is a hands on restaurateur

Harish Lunch Home - Mangalorean food

Lep fish at Harish Lunch Home

Harish Lunch Home is located at the end of the Pradeep Gomantak lane and in the same lane as the Strand Book Store lane and is sandwiched between Meher cold drinks and Swagath (great dosa and coffee here). You can recognise it by the crowds inside and would not need these directions to find it though. It is quite the local favourite at Fort after all.

Harish Lunch Home, founded in 1974, is a Mangalorean run place, as are most of the more famous seafood joints of Fort - Trishna, Mahesh, Apurva and Excellensea. Unlike the other, Harish has maintained the spartan spirit which once characterised the Mangalorean 'Lunch Homes' of Fort. They haven't added an air-conditioned section here. Nor have they added vegetarian dishes for that matter. The menu is limited but each dish is made with a lot of care. Once again, the produce used is fresh and the prices economical (hardly anything costs more than Rs 250 here). You won't find super expensive crabs thrust in your face here as you would in the more glitzy Mangalorean joints. 

They serve alcohol too so you can have some beer or something stronger, if you have had a bad day at work, with you your fish fry. The Bombay duck here is coated in a red masala which makes it different from Pradeep's and is more spicy. They also serve a fish called lep, a form of flatfish, which I have rarely found in restaurants. Another interesting dish here is the chicken liver and gizzard curry. You can have these with neer dosa. Interestingly, the neer dosa has jeera embedded in it. I have not come across this before. When I asked them, the restaurant owners didn't claim it to be their own innovation. It adds an interesting crunch to the soft neer dosas.

Do try out the kodi roti here where a flavour packed, coconut based spicy chicken curry is served on crisp, rice based roti. This is quite a celebratory dish among Mangaloreans. Eating this is a very interesting experience as you can see the texture of the roti change from crisp to delightfully soggy as it soaks in the flavour of the curry.

Girish and Bineet Salian
With the late Babu Salian looking on

Harish Lunch Home was founded by the late Babu Salian, who had come to Mumbai from Mangalore. Today his son, Girish Salian, and grandson, Bineet Salian, both Mumbai borns, run it.

Harish Lunch Home is packed during lunch hour thanks to its offer of tasty and lip-smacking food at economic prices and the father and son duo don't have plans to mess with a winning formula. They have a more 'fine dine' outlet at Ballard estate though I have not been there myself. 

Taste of Kerala - Malayali food

A Keralite banana leaf meal

You fold the banana leaf at the end to say 'when' or 'no more'

Apart from Mangalorean and Irani places, Fort has quite a few Keralite places too. Taste of Kerala, in its non-vegetarian avatar, is a more recent one. It used to be called Lalit earlier and they served vegetarian food then. Close to a decade back, the owners rebranded it to the Taste of Kerala and introduced non-vegetarian food too. They still serve Keralite vegetarian food along with the vegetarian sadya. Our late Jamshed uncle was a big fan of the place and I said a silent prayer in his memory when we walked in.

During our stop at the Taste of kerala, we tried out a sample of dishes from the sadya such as the pachhari and the pickles. We had the egg ghee roast, a breakfast favourite too, where egg is served in a thick masala. This dish combined pretty well with both appams as well as porotas. You can also get sukha (dry) buff meat here and if you don't want that, go for the mutton or goat meat. 
Egg roast at The Taste of kerala
The beauty of going out to eat in a group is that you get to try out new things based on the suggestions of others.

We tried out the polichattu on the recommendation of one of the participants of the walk. A Keralite dish normally made with a fish called karimeen which is not easy to find in Mumbai and is rare in kerala too these days I beleve. So we went for the pomfret version of polichattu at the Taste Of Kerala. Like the Parsi patrani machhi and the Bengali machher patoori, the fish is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed in a polichattu too. The the ground masala marinade consisting of onion, tomato, chillies and curry leaves added a lot of zest and flavour to the fish. The fish turned out to be one of the most glorious pomfret preparations that I've ever had and I just loved the juiciness of the fish here.

Suvodeep of Sodexo unveils the Polichattu

Not a pretty picture but a beautiful dish

We finished off the meal with payasam. Interestingly, the payasam here didn't have a prominent coconut flavour. Nor was it too sweet. The balance was just right.

What struck me about the places that we went to was that whilst they don't really spend much on marketing themselves, they are definitely proud about what they do and very hospitable too.

Seeing our group, the folks at Haresh Lunch Home earlier had got table cloths out specially for our tables. At Taste of Kerala, they insisted that we eat on banana leaves instead of regular plates as that would make the experience more special. They were proud of what they offered and that showed in the quality of food and service and the packed tables at all the restaurants.

The gang at the Sodexo CXO walk had former clients of mine from
my market research days and new friends from the world of food blogging
A happy confluence of two phases of my career

A food walk is fuelled by the enthusiasm of the participants and the the energy levels of the corporates on the walk was infectious. These were folks who clearly like to eat and were open to new discoveries. I am glad that thanks to Sodexo I got to share some of my favourite bites of Mumbai with them. 

It will be super cool if the participants go back to these places with their colleagues and teams to eat someday and encourage the newer worker bees of Mumbai to explore the city's heritage. I also hope that initiatives like these from Sodexo will help improve the importance given to food in corporate Mumbai.

Note: The walk was sponsored by Sodexo. The payments at the restaurants were made by using the Sodexo Meal card

We did a few live videos while out on the walk and do click on the links to get a feel of the restaurants and Fort:

Do check this links out to know more about what happened on the Sodexo CXO Walk

Parvez Patel of Ideal Corner and Suvodeep of Sodexo
The prices at Harish Lunch Home best exemplifies
what eating at Fort is all about

A Keralite meal in the heart of Mumbai
The taste of Kerala