An evening in South Mumbai with two girls who like to call themselves the 'Sweet Seventies' ... Bangla Gastronomy, Soam Restaurant

The 'sweet seventies' at Soam.  I took the picture after
they had their first round of appetisers and before I had mine.
Hence the empty plates! My mother in law Pervin is in green
& my mother, Rekha, is in a purple Venkatgiri sari that I had
once got her from Hyderabad
This is a post on a trip to south Mumbai with my mother and my mother in law to the launch of Ananya Banerjee's new book, Bangla Gastronomy and a Gujarati dinner that we then had at Soam, which was followed by a trip to the Gateway Of India.

On reducing my carbon footprint in Mumbai


I love to travel no doubt as my recent Mangalore post would have told you, but I hate travelling when I am home in Mumbai these days.

Travelling within the city has become really tiresome with bad roads and endless traffic jams. Reaching anywhere takes ages. Unlike in my early years here, I do not take the local trains anymore. Plus the city is not as linear as it used to be where once upon a time everything of interest to me was located outside the stations of the Western Railway line. 

Thankfully I work from home and do not have to travel to work. I am fortunate enough to live in Bandra and get pretty much most of what I need over here. And with time, I have learnt to say no to events and gatherings which add no value to my life. Yes, I have burrowed myself into a cave you could say. As I grow older I value my time more and also with a weak back travel doesn't suit me always. I keep it confined to the essential and try to plan my travels, when needed, to make the most of them.

The flip-side of this is that my mother, who is visiting us right now, does not get to go out much beyond our corner of Bandra, but she has learnt to make peace with this to an extent and dotes on the park next door, the trees and plants there, and the friends that she has made. 

Or so I tell myself.

Welcoming Ananya Banerjee's new book, Bangla Gastronomy


Ananya Banerjee with the Sweet Seventies at the launch of the
Bangla Gastronomy


We did go on a bit of a south Mumbai expedition a few evenings back when I hired a driver for our car (I hate driving in Mumbai too) and headed out to the Crossword Book Store at Kemp's Corner one rainy evening. The occasion was the launch of Ananya Banerjee's second book, Bangla Gastronomy. I had bought 'both' the mummies along for this.  Mine and my mom in law, while K was at Cannes hunting among the Lions, but more on that at the end. 

The two moms had a ball of a time meeting our friends from the world of food who went up to both of them and said, "we've seen you on Facebook and read your stories." 

We've seen you on Facebook. Not all were in the picture but here you see from left to right:
Nagesh, Bhisham Mansukhani, Sameer Malkani, Antoine Lewis,
Sheetal Kakad, Rupa Nabar, Smita Hegde

During a quiz session conducted on the occasion (we are Bengali, we quiz and debate and don't do fashion shows), which was as chaotic as the average Durga Pujo planning committee meeting, my mother did jump up rather often as an eight year old to shout out answers, while I was trying to maintain a straight face on the stage. 

When food writer Antoine Lewis, a non-Bengali, tried gamely to conduct
a panel discussion and quiz among a group of Bengalis who though they
were at the Coffee House. Pic: Sameer Malkani

Both the mothers were girl-crushing on how well groomed Ananya looked. Ananaya and her husband, Robi, were the perfect hosts of course. I have often tried Ananya's food in the past and I have found her to be among the most proficient of the home chefs around, specially the Bengali ones, and I was glad that she had written the book and shared her recipes there. 

I find Ananya's story to be an interesting an relatable one though she's usually a lot better groomed than I am. She was forced to study law by her parents in Kolkata though she wanted to study art. She practised law for a couple of years and then like a good Bengali headstrong child said, 'chuck it' and decided to take up painting instead. A few years back her life and her creativity got a second wind when she decided to give expression to her love for food through her books, her YouTube videos and her home cheffing initiatives.

Yes, the worst the thing you can do to a headstrong Bengali is to tell us what to do. We won't!

Bangla Gastronomy is launched
Vicky Ratnani, Dolly Thakore, Anany Banerjee, Abhijeet

I later did a quick dekko through the copy of the book that we bought and found it to be one which offers an array of Bengali dishes with what seemed like easy to follow recipes on how to make them, accompanied by little anecdotes on why they were special to her. 

Each recipe has a picture of the finished dish, rare in Indian cookbooks, and can help demystify Bengali cooking for those who find it intimidating.

Joining the two mummies, Ananya Banerjee & Pritha Sen for a launch pic

Following the Nano trail from Bengal to Gujarat


From Bengal we moved on to Gujarat, just as Ratan Tata once had to, as I took both the mummies and drove down to the Soam Restaurant at Babulnath. 

I have been asked since then about why I took a Bengali and a Parsi lady to a vegetarian restaurant

Well, before you begin writing the script for Baghban 2, let me point out that my mother only eats vegetarian food at night these day and that my mother in law turned vegetarian after my father in law passed away as he was fond of his meat and fish. A gesture of love and not a socio-religious diktat in her case. She does have eggs though. Mom in law had grown up in a family of simple means in Surat in any case where vegetarian food dominated the family diet even though they are Parsi. As for my mother, she's Bengali. Her choices are driven by the dictats of digestion. My father passed away when my mother was young but my grandparents were insistent that she lead a regular life and wear regular clothes (not whites) and eat regular food (not veg) so that my younger brother and I didn't feel unsettled and insecure and I think we've turned out fairly fine. 

My mother and my mother in law like to call themselves the 'Sweet Seventies.' I wonder which of the two come up with the term. Something tells me that it is my mother in law!

There eating styles are very different though and thankfully Soam had answers for both.

For my mother in law, it was sugarcane juice followed by cheese and spinach samosas. For her mains she had declared that she would have just bhajiyas and pakoras. Preferably alu. Her secret to a happy life is lots of cheese, potatoes and crunchy deep fried food. Some hot chocolate helps. I can't fault with that formula.




Monsoon pakora

All year round Bhajiya


My mother, on the other hand, is very disciplined about her health and which is why has most admirably been able to keep her diabetes under control. I ordered the delectable steamed rice flour crepes pankhi for her (this was the first time that I really enjoyed the dish) and then the baked gramflour and gourd batter cake, handvo, soft steamed white idlis, a ragi millet uthapa with just a drop of oil and a most soothing Gujarati kadi chawal with delectably flavoured coulcasia leaf steamed dumpling. She paired this with chhaas or unsweetened buttermilk and with no salt too. When she thought we weren't looking, she nibbled on the odd pakora and bhajiya too. 

These seventy year olds I tell you!

Millet upma

Kadhi chawal

Pankhi

Handvo

On growing up

I had stayed away from Soam for years as it is a vegetarian restaurant. Even though many of my non-vegetarian friends had suggested that I go there. I finally went to Soam a couple of years back and have fallen in love with it since then.

To start with, this happened as I grew more 'tolerant' of vegetarian food as I grew older and as my body began to ask for it and then of late I have learnt to appreciate it too!

Soam today is one of my favourite restaurants in Mumbai and let me tell you why. There is always a happy buzz there when you step in. It is clean, the colours of the decor are warm and the service even warmer. The toilet is clean too (!). Volume levels pleasant. 

The food speaks of the love of food being sent out from someones kitchen. Yet, is different from what we eat at home. The food is seasonal and fresh and through the menu I get to know so much about the world of the Gujaratis. The menu is an a la carte one and this is great as I find the frenetic frenzy of eating at a Gujarati thali place very unsettling. The food is light and wholesome, and the Bengali in my has to point out that it never gives me an angsty belly. I don't miss the meat. 

Above all, the food at Soam tastes delicious! 

And yet, they do is so quietly. You won't find the on Instagram every day or Twitter or Facebook, sermonising or gloating. They just go around doing their work quietly while people queue up and wait to eat.

With the Sweet Seventies at Soam

It's not India Gate!


On the spur of the moment I decided to take the girls and head to Colaba to the Gateway of India. I know my mother loves this and we were reasonably close that night and going there was much easier than coming just from Bandra just for it. 




My mother in law possibly has no fascination the for the Gateway but she loves going on drives. She loves Ola Pools, for example, as she gets to see many parts of the city while other passengers are being dropped. Something, K and I can't relate to as we just want to get over with our travels as quickly as we can. Goes to show the different ones frame of mind makes to how we look at the same situation.

We took the regulatory selfies at the Gateway which, as my most out of towners do, my mother called the 'India Gate' and headed back to our respective caves.



Post script: K was back a couple of nights later with a Cannes Lion for company doing us all proud!

This was the Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness.

I insisted on clicking a picture of K with the Lion
before she took him to her office.
Also read:

1. My first visit to Soam where I got to learn about Kathiawadi food
2. Getting to learn about faral food at Soam
3. Another family outing at Soam
4. My mother, Rekha Karmakar's blog, Tabulous Mom
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