September 2007


Saucy cooked me lunch.

“So, what would you like, Indian or Chinese?” he asked.

“Indian,” I replied.

“Chinese it is, then!” Saucy said.

Chinese food isn’t on my radar, but this was an excellent correction to that problem.  I enjoyed it so much I was soon eating seconds and then thirds.  Saucy improvised a wonderful dish of bell peppers and mushrooms that was my favorite.

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Starting from that, in the top right corner, there’s rice, hot chilli sauce, chicken in black bean sauce with a touch of ginger, shrimp with hoisin and noodles. 

I piled everything onto my plate without much regard for presentation.  I was eager.

I’m sorry that this is the kind of food you won’t get to taste if you visit Mumbai unless, like me, you’re very lucky.

Saucy’s wife made us this dessert, a kheer touched with a bit of Iranian saffron.  It was lovely.

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I hope someday I’ll get to eat here again…

I truly believed for at least a week that I would be able to share with you reasonably organized posts on the different foods I was eating.

Organization will not be the case, though. 

There’s too much variety, and too much to do and see and eat.  So this post may actually be the most comprehensive (though it’s NOT) look at one grouping of food.

The Konkani coast is the westernmost district in Maharashtra and has tremendous seafood.  Here in Mumbai there are several restaurants offering the cuisine.

Perhaps my favorite meal was at Sindhudurg Hotel in Dadar neighborhood. 

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Above is clams masala with a thick but tender bread made from rice.  The sauce is full of grated coconut and spices and when my bread was gone I ate it with my spoon.  Below is crab in a sauce full of red chillis, flavorful but not too hot, truly delicious.  Next to it is a fish (surmai) fry, dredged in chilli powder and rawa (cream of wheat).  The lime pickle you see in back was great.

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For dessert we had a couple gulab jamuns.  The menu offered kharwas, a sweet made from the first milk of a nursing cow.  I wanted to taste this (just once in my life, it deprives the calf of sustenance as a friend pointed out) but it wasn’t available.

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My other favorite meals were at Mahesh Lunch Home in the Fort neighborhood.  I seem to like surmai quite a bit.  Here it is cooked as a gassi, though a Mangalorean expert will have to chime in to provide further definition.

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The drink you can see in back is Sol Kadi, a salty beverage made sour with the dark pink kokum fruit.  I’ve seen it dried in Portland, but I don’t know anything about the fresh fruit. 

This is my server Rajiv showing me dinner.

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We chatted for quite a while and I’m not lying when I say I had great service here.  I love your restaurant, Rajiv.

The crab is a major dish, turned into this.

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That’s garlic!  With butter and red chilli, a little dab is an amazing complement to the *sweet* crab meat.  This is a must-have dish if you visit Mumbai!

At Apoorva Restaurant I got my first taste of Bombay Duck. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombay_duck) Here it is fried to a crispy crisp.

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I also had squid sukke at Apoorva.  I don’t know if it was so incredibly tough because it was cooked poorly or if that is the nature of the product/dish here.  (Anyone?)  I prefer tender squid for sure, though the flavor was good.

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Goa also comprises a part of the Konkani coast (and remember the cuisines change everywhere you go).  I had this lipsmacking surmai curry at New Martin’s. 

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At New Martin’s I also strayed a bit from my seafood binge and ate this Goan Sausage Fry.  Oh how I wish you could still get Goan Sausages in Portland, but that lasted only for a Summer before the authorities stopped the trade.

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Though I’m not into puddings so much, this one was pretty good–made with dried apricots.  I didn’t eat the cherry.

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The last seafood restaurant I tried was Ankur.  Here’s a snap of their condiment tray.

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I ate fish tikka from the tandoor (boneless bites of pomfret fish) and prawns coondapur (a masala blend from coondapur area in Karnataka state.) 

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This last photo isn’t the best but you should see it anyway.  It’s a neer tella, or rice pancake, very soft and moist, steamy and good.

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The Maharashtra Martini at the Taj President bar ‘Winks’ deserves a post of its own.

This is a fantastic drink, as fantastic as it sounds unlikely:  Chivas, curry leaf, coffee bean, caramel, lime and pineapple.  It comes together in progressive layers of aroma and flavor, one ceding delicately to the next.

It’s not sweet.  Rather, the caramel is a subtle note and the fruit sugar is balanced by the sour lime and the liquor.  The fresh pineapple gives a great body to the drink, under an amazing aroma of curry leaf and coffee bean. 

It sounds like a train wreck, but it’s absolutely perfect. 

I’ll be back to drink this again, and then I’ll write a little more about the rest of the place.

Here’s a post for you hardcore food types.  The rest of you will probably have to sit and wonder about those of us who enjoy these things.

Pav (a bun) Bhaji (a saute?  is that a good translation?) is one of Mumbai’s famous snack foods, especially on Chowpatty Beach.

It’s made of butter and a few other spices.

Saucy told me to have it made fresh and the cook kindly obliged, which was good for my health and better for taking pictures. 

First, a healthy dollop of butter was added to the maha tawa (big round griddle).  This is the tawa base, a sikri.

I’m afraid I can’t report on everything that was added.  Though I will mention a couple ingredients this chef didn’t use which have been discussed a bit on various websites:  cauliflower and masala.  I’m not a connoisseur of pav bhaji, so that tidbit should merely be regarded as an interesting footnote.

In any case, green bell peppers were sauteed with chopped onion and a pinch of what looked like fenugreek leaf–some sort of dried green herb. 

Then, a dollop of garlic ginger paste, and fresh chopped tomatoes. 

Some peeled and boiled potatoes are added.  Salt, chilli powder and peas.

Out comes the masher, and water to cook it down.

 

After about 8-10 minutes total cooking time, it looks like this.

While the bhaji is plated, the buns get a really sensuous butter massage.  In case you can’t tell, I love these pictures.

And there it is, finished with a spoonful of good, fresh butter to make it taste good. 

Bombay is a new city to me.  I’ve spent the last few days getting a hang of the geography and it’s been a breeze.

Literally.  The monsoon is late this year and every day the city is cleaned and cooled by Portland-esque downpours.  Like Portland too, Mumbai is full of greenery though of a botanical sort more fitting a warm, ocean front climate.

I haven’t posted yet on Bombay because I have a lot of ground to cover, much too much really to do anything more than give the crudest glimpse.  Certainly, that’s all I’m getting. 

I’ve decided that perhaps the best way to post about my food experience in the city is to roughly follow cuisines.  I’m concentrating on Konkani (this is the coastline district of Maharashtra state of which Mumbai is a part), Gujurati (just North of Maharashtra), Parsi (the Zoroastrian community here) and Muslim (it’s Ramazan remember, a time of holy fasting and nighttime feasting.)  I’ll throw in some snacks, Sindhi (my friends; hail from present day Pakistan) and if threats (um, promises) are kept some Chinese. 

 See?  Just 5 or 6 major cuisines to sample in my two weeks here.

Here are a few bits so far.

This is the entry to Crawford Market which covers some 60,000 square feet and sells everything from chocolate to puppies.  Old tram tracks are still visible outside, according to my local host Saucy (name changed to protect the guilty).  I daftly forgot to look.

And I spotted this on the marble doorsteps of the Fairyas Hotel.  I guess I’m in trouble.

Saucy sent me here (on Chowpatty Beach)

for kulfi, Indian style ice cream. 

I picked chikoo, my favorite flavor from last time.  What’s a chikoo?

This.

You can buy them in cans in Portland and you shouldn’t.  Ick.  I got a very expensive fresh variety from Zupan’s once, grown in Latin America, but it didn’t compare.  From the Konkan coast, the fruits are sweet and luscious.  The flesh reminds me of brown sugar almost, and they make sublime milkshakes which I haven’t had room for yet.

I did make room for a drink of Old Monk.  Very Old Vatted XXX Rum.  Tastes like butter(scotch).

And Saucy also sent me to this cool joint in Colaba.  He says it’s been around for at least 40 years and the owner hasn’t tried to do more than this alone.  It reminds me of the old school restaurants in Portland which died years back–currently in revival.  (Think Yaws, those of you old enough to know.)

I had Temtation (sic).  What can I say?  Just look and despair.

  

I had one more day here before hopping on the Rajdhani Express to Mumbai.

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Vini and I ate at Al Kauzer, a joint he likes and one which was also suggested by a friend of my friend Ash. 

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Oh yeah.  Effing great.  I’d forgotten Vini’s warning that the Kakori kebab can’t be picked up.  It’s so soft (creamy is not the right word) that it falls apart if you try to lift it.  Instead, it has to be rolled onto your plate.   Next to it are some Galauti kebabs, excellent as well, though the ergonomics of the the Kakori appealed to me more.  The other interesting thing about this meal was the strong flavor of dill in the chutney.  I know dill is used here, but only rarely I think, so if indeed there was dill in the chutney it would strike me as somewhat unique. 

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Vini deserves a photograph, too.  I’ve discovered that he’s quite a foodie himself, though his passion remains with the travel industry.  Sadly, I owe him a great deal of money so we probably won’t be seeing each other much anymore.  😉 

Before leaving for Mumbai I decided to pack it in  (meaning, pack food in my pie hole).  Ash’s friend also suggested Chaina Ram and Giani Ice Cream in Fatehpur Chowk, a lane at the opposite end of the Red Fort down Chandni Chowk.  My appetizer before breakfast was a refreshing glass of Rabri Falooda–ice cold noodles and soft nuts in a rich bath of cardamom scented thick, sweet milk.

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At Chaina Ram, a sweets shop, I breakfasted on potato-chickpea curry with puris and a fat, fresh hunk of spicy carrot pickle. 

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The breakfast was similar to the one I posted below at Kanha Sweets in Amritsar, but no, not the same.  The chickpeas were spiced differently (with less fenugreek leaf) and the yummy bit of pickle added a layer of flavor to the dish.  (Desis get the pickle in their chickpeas;  mine was served on the side, always thoughtful, if unnecessary in my case.) 

Then, after some respite beneath a fan, I went back to Bengali market for some Gol Gappe. 

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In my earlier post I asked if I was confused about Natthu’s Sweets serving chaat and it turns out, I was.  In Bengali Market, which is really not big enough to account for my ignorance, there are TWO divisions of the company.  I had only found the pastry shop.  A few doors down is their restaurant.  So, when I return I will have to try again to eat there.  On the other hand, I *did* enjoy these Gol Gappe from their neighbor across the street. 

But why stop eating after three snacks?  It’s Delhi after all. 

Vini and I walked a short block to South Indian Snacks Centre on Jantar Mantar Road. 

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The thing is, Vini illustrated for me here, there’s good food just about everywhere you go, and it’s certainly not limited to full service establishments.  This is a small crowd, says Vini.   And here’s my Mysore Masala Dosa, a dosa first layered with chutney before the potato filling is added. 

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Super. 

Since I hadn’t eaten enough Vini bought us a dal vada, a lentil fritter/cake, to split on the way back. 

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Maybe a little dry to my taste, but with good ginger flavor. A short while later I boarded my train on which were served the following courses:  snack, soup, dinner and breakfast.  No, I didn’t.  I couldn’t.

I ate full meals naturally, too. 

A Wazwan is the the famously indulgent Kashmiri meal, varying from a few courses to 36 to, I’ve heard, a hundred.  Over the course of a couple nights, I sampled the basic elements. 

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This is Rista, a lamb meatball in a thin spiced tomato sauce which I ate with soft Kashmiri rotis at Mugal Durbar restaurant.

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They were good. But not as tender as Bashir’s version.

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The meat from the lamb (not goat) is meticulously cleaned and then pounded with a gigungous mallet for 30 minutes until a uniform consistency.  Bashir gave me a taste of his Seekh Kebab, Rista and Gushtaba to take back to my hotel to heat.  Normally he would have served me, but allowances were made in consideration of Ramazan.  The Gushtaba is the finale of the wazwan, similar to Rista, but bathed in a lovely slightly sour yogurt sauce.  You should be able to sort out which is which. 

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This side view of a seekh kebab shows something Jyoti and Rauf Trambo (of Highland Journeys) observed:  the thin-ness of a good seekh kebab.   

And here are some of the other basic elements of a Wazwan, which the nice owner of the Grand Hotel allowed me to pick and choose from their tasting menu. 

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The first is methi (fenugreek leaf) maaz.  It’s a luscious stew of lamb’s intestines and perhaps stomach.  Don’t be a baby when you come to Kashmir–eat the methi maaz!  It’s quite good.

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I also enjoyed this glossy Tabak maaz, a bit of rib chop from near the belly I think.  It’s rather like unsmoked bacon made from lamb, with sweet fat lodged between lacquered slips of meat.   But for me, the Rogan Josh was the winner.  Damn good. 

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The tender, sweet lamb’s flesh in a succulent pool of spice, enriched by the gelatin and meat drippings.  I’ll need to put my chilis and mawal flowers and masala to good use if I make it past customs! The Grand Hotel’s Wazwan is served with a gesture to the vegetable kingdom, in case you incorrectly surmised that Kashmiris only eat meat.

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