Power puff chants. Never underestimate the power of a good bake!

Veg puff at Hearsch Bakery

Let's hear it for the puff pastry

"I have got some veg puffs from Hearsch Bakery for you. They are my favourites. You must try them. Especially since you love food," said a gentleman who had come to our house for a Buddhist study meet yesterday morning. He had grown up in the Hearsch Bakery compound in Bandra and remembers the family run enterprise from a time when it just sold bread and pav. The Hearsch offer has expanded from then of course and they have puffs, rolls, noodles, cakes, biryani, chicken lollipops, burgers and what not. Every college-goer's dream menu you could say.

The puff was truly beautiful. The puff pastry was gloriously flaky. The vegetable filling inside - potatoes, beans, green peas that were a tad underdone - was draped in a slightly sweet, slightly spicy, slightly tart masala, that seemed identical to that in the peri peri veg samosa filling that I had tried at the House of Loyd in Juhu recently, and which I had loved. Both establishments are run by Goans and hence the similarity I guess.

"I love the chicken salad rolls there," I said. "And the chicken burgers."

The chicken salad rolls at Hearsch are hot dog bun-like buns which are stuffed with shredded boiled chicken. The chicken is smeared with a thick, sweet mayonnaise made in house, and have bits of lettuce in them. The mayonnaise lies at the heart of the dish and takes care of everything, including the occasionally stringy and dry texture of the chicken. I remember a time when they had changed the mayonnaise recipe. This is when I would often stop the car on the way to work in the mid 2000s and pick up a roll for breakfast. It seemed like the end of the world. I protested at the shop. As did the whole of Bandra you could say. Soon the old mayo was brought back. Order was restored in the world.

The gentleman's eyes lit up when he heard this. "I have to tell you a story then," he said.

"We had a dear friend who was suffering from cancer a few years back. I had gone to visit him with a couple of other friends at a hospital in Goregaon. He was terminal by then.  I took some veg puffs and chicken rolls from Hearsch for him."

"He had stopped eating at that point. Chemo had left him with no appetite," continued the gentleman. "However, he broke into a smile on seeing the chicken rolls. He told me that he loved these and he actually had half a roll in front of us. He looked up and told me that it tasted the same as he remembered it from 20 years back. He looked so happy."

"He passed away a few days later but the smile on his face after he had the roll that day was what I would like to remember him by," said our friend with a small smile on his own face.

When I took out the puffs in the kitchen before I brought it out to the hall after our study ended

Super foods

My initial plan was to write a post about how lovely the veg puffs were. Especially after I tasted them. And then write about how the puffs in the Goan run bakeries of Bandra are a wonderful Portuguese legacy of the suburb's past. About how I loved the mutton and the vegetarian puffs (pattice) at Candies. The chicken and the mutton puff at the American Express Bakery.  How I had learnt  from Mrs Carvalho of the American Express Bakery that  mutton puffs were called 'curry puffs' in India. That this explained why the filling in mutton puffs have a slightly 'Indian masala' feel to it versus the chicken puff where the chicken is baked in a light white/ Bechamel sauce and tastes more 'continental.' When I travelled to Malaysia, I saw that curry puffs featured prominently there too. As do samosas.

The moment I heard about the chicken roll story though, I knew that I had to tell you about that first. It reminded me of the final moments in the life of our dear Jamshed Uncle and really touched my heart. J was suffering from cancer too and had stopped eating towards the end. One day I took a ham sandwich, made by the chefs at the ITC Grand Central Hotel next to his hospital, for him. J actually had half a triangle of the sandwich much to our relief and smiled back at us. He loved the sandwich and the sandwich hugged him back.

Kolkata to Mumbai. An immigrant tale.

The first time I heard of Hearsch was 20 odd years back. I had just come to Mumbai and was a PGite then. There was this couple whose house I used to go at times to chant as a part of our Buddhist practise. They were senior to me and had taken me under their wing. One day they told me that I should try out the chicken roll at Hearsch for an economical and tasty weekend breakfast.

I went there the next weekend. Had the chicken roll. Was smitten.

I have remained a Hearsch loyalist over the years. This small neighbourhood bakery (located in a yard beside the Holy Family Hospital at Bandra) is a favourite of people all ages though its most ardent fans are early jobbers and collegians. My cousin from Kolkata for example, who had moved into Mumbai for a bit when he first started working, still dreams of Hearsch and its burgers and noodles and biryani, though he is now posted somewhere at Vidarbha.

And at home in Mumbai now

Sunday biryani lunch

I had the brilliant mutton biryani from Salz Biryani (run by former cricketer Salil Ankola) for lunch later in the day. The bell rang the moment I finished lunch. Turned out to be freshly made kulchas and chhole sent by the Grovers, our friends and fellow Soka Buddhists from down the road.

Seeing these made me suddenly smile to myself. It was a reminder of the fact that so much had changed in my life in the last 20 years.

I was a PGite in Mumbai when I had my first Hearsch Bakery breakfast. Waiting to return 'home' to Kolkata after my training.

And here I am today. In the same suburb of Bandra. The same Mumbai. It is just that this is 'home' now.

I could not have asked for anything better.

Kulche chhole from the Grover's made by the Monu Kulcha caterers from Chembur

Sunday turned out to be all about 'early days in Bandra' nostalgia for me. I went to another Soka gathering after lunch and saw that someone had brought the Punjab Sweet House samosas that I love.

I was introduced to these twenty years back in another such meeting in Bandra. At the house of the same couple who had introduced me to Hearsch!

Coincidentally, I had spoken about the Punjab Sweet House samosas in a podcast on samosas that I recoded a couple of days back on my channel, Radio Finely Chopped. I was too stuffed to eat these last evening but I took a picture for you.

Punjab Sweet House, Bandra, samosas

This morning I heated some of the kulchas from last evening on a tava and had them for breakfast with the channa. They had become nice and crisp after reheating and made for a lovely start for the day. I chased this with a nice espresso and then sat down to proof and edit this piece that I had begun the write yesterday.

From @thefinelychopped on Instagram

It is all about 'happiness in this world'

With my Soka Buddies and the plate of puffs

Since I spoke of Soka Buddhism a couple of times in this post, let me leave you with this video that the folks at The Tribal Box kindly shot with me at Candies, and where I spoke about my journey as a food blogger. Everything that I said in it is a reflection of what I have learnt through my Buddhist practise and is an attempt to apply its philosophy in daily life.

Hope you like it and thank you for all the support. A blogger/ writer is nothing without his/ her readers after all.

Also of interest:

1. Hearsch Bakery - breakfast and chicken roll
2. American Express Bakery
3. Jamshed Uncle
4. My love for puffs/ pattice which had started in Kolkata
5. Samosa podcast on Radio Finely Chopped