Taste Of Mumbai: Chaat, Udipi, Irani Or Seafood, Take Your Pick

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Vada Pao, image by totalvag.in

From street food, to small eateries, to Udipi restaurants, to Irani cafes to the plush 5 course restaurants, Mumbai has everything.  Put five Mumbaikars in a room and ask them what is Mumbai’s favourite food? Chances are that you will be close to initiating a 3rd world war in that room.  Food in Mumbai, like its culture, is a mish-mash of sorts. So in this food trail (at the risk of inciting another debate) I will try to define some favourite Mumbai food items and recommend some places to try!

Panipuriwala, image by magicalmumbai.blogspot.in
Panipuriwala, image by magicalmumbai.blogspot.in

The Chaatwalas
Everyone in Mumbai has a favourite Bhelpuriwala, Paanipuriwala,Pav Bhajiwala and many more ‘walas’ (or ‘walis’ if u may!). Despite the ‘No Hawkers allowed’ signboards, there is no street in Mumbai that does not have a ‘chaat’ serving hawker. These are the guys who are kings and queens of multi-tasking. And with razor sharp memories, mind you! Despite some 20-odd people breathing down their necks (literally), they remember who gave which order and customise it according to the individual quirks. So you will get your favourite sev puri customised with your preference of onions, red chutney, green chutney, sev – all at breakneck speed! These guys add to the khatta-meetha experience of Mumbai!

Recommended chaatwalas

  1. Any stalls at Juhu beach – Much better than their Chowpatty counterparts!
  2. Any stalls at Khau Galli near VT station
  3. Vitthal Bhelpuri – One of the few places to chat over ‘chaat’ in an A/C setting  (sorry, I just had to use the chat-chaat joke!)
  4. Elco chaat corner, Hill road – It’s a sin to not mention it!
  5. Shiv Sagar – Perfect locations, perfect pav bhaji
  6. The paanipuri-wala who stands outside Indraprastha Shopping center, Borivali west – Have practically grown up eating there!
Cafe Mysore, image by Sandeep Shrinivasa, flickr
Cafe Mysore, image by Sandeep Shrinivasa, flickr

The Udipis
I am not really into statistics and research.  But I can safely vouch that the density of Udipi hotels in Mumbai is far greater than in Udipi itself. Readers are welcome to research it and prove/disprove it! If you thought that the chaat-walas are the only ones who make food at lightening speed – try sitting in an Udipi restaurants in the lunch hour, order what you wish to eat and read a newspaper. Chances are that by the time you have finished reading the first paragraph, a waiter will hurriedly serve your order and slip away as you sit in amazement. And the food will be fresh, piping hot and delicious!

These hotels have a clear mission – cheap, fresh food at low rates, targeted at people who want to eat food and leave quickly to go about their work. These joints work in tandem with the sleep cycle of an average Mumbaikar. Most places open at 7/8 am. And remain open until midnight. They can be credited with keeping the energy levels of Mumbaikar high at any given point in time and at any given place! The menu is generous with a range of Idlis, Dosas, Juices, Milkshakes, Rice items etc.

Recommended Udipi hotels

  • Café Mysore, Matunga circle- for its awesome Mysore Masala, Bisebele bhaat and pineapple sheera!
  • Café Madras – for idlis that put  marshmellows to shame
  • Shiv Sagar – Deserves a mention for its dosas too!
  • Hotel Satkaar, Opp. Churchgate station – quick, comfortable and yummy
  • Manis lunch home- for the buzz and the sambhar
  • Cafe Bean Garu – for it’s quirky twists to South Indian food
Gypsy, Shivaji Park, image by Gypsy
Gypsy, Shivaji Park, image by Gypsy

(Indian) Chinese food
There was an Indian who went to a restaurant in China and asked for Triple Schezwan noodles.The Chinese waiter gave him a puzzled look.  And the Indian gave back an even more puzzled look. After all, that is one of the most  expensive items in a Chinese restaurant in Mumbai. The Indian invited the Chinese waiter to come to Mumbai to sample this Chinese dish sometime! #TrueStory

Such is the popularity of Chinese food in Mumbai. I am told that authentic Chinese food is also spicy – but doesn’t depend only on chilli sauce, vinegar and soy sauce, as the ‘Indian Chinese’ restaurants too. And the irony of it all is that the Udipi restaurants again have the distinction of serving up some lip smacking Indian Chinese food!

Of course, with Mumbaikars becoming more well heeled and knowledgeable, there are some restaurants claiming to serve authentic Chinese food. I haven’t yet sampled food in China – so can’t really comment on their authenticity. But then the few times I have been to these restaurants – I have sensed some Indian influence in their cooking. I guess they can’t risk profits in lieu of authenticity.

But it’s not just in restaurants that one can find the Oriental influence. Many streets in Mumbai have maroon coloured ‘redis’ serving up some hot ‘n’ spicy Chinese, just the way Mumbaikars like it! There is also a queer innovation, the ‘Chinese bhel ‘; I have never been able to complete a full serving of it. It’s time the popular food shows cover and acknowledge this new cuisine of Indian- Chinese food. You may like it or you may hate it, but you definitely can’t ignore it.

Recommended places

  • Uncle’s Kitchen, Malad west – Cozy and Customised.
  • Gypsy , Shivaji Park – Perfect example of ‘Indian Chinese’ food restaurant!
  • Any Chinese stall on S.V road, Malad west.
  • Five Spice, Bandra/Andheri – Trying hard to shed the Indian influence, and getting there slowly.
  • Mainland China, Andheri- For the sheer effort to de-Indianise Chinese food in India.
Vadapao wala, image by magicalmumbai.blogspot.in
Vadapao wala, image by magicalmumbai.blogspot.in

The Frying pan delights
What goes best with some chai, especially on a wet, rainy day?  I can hear almost all saying ‘Vada-Pav’. In my 28 years, I am yet to meet anyone who has stayed for in Mumbai and  hasn’t tasted one. How wrong can one go with potatoes, spices and the frying pan? That the vada-pav is our humble answer to the Mcdonald’s and KFC’s, is oft repeated!

Like the chaatwalas, every gully in Mumbai has a vada-pav stall. And almost everyone has a favourite vendor. Along with the vada pav, most of them sell another sister-item, bhajji-pav. Equally yummy, this can be a good swap sometime with the vada pav.  Of all the food items, I think Mumbaikars share an emotional bond with vada pav; once you see it or smell it – you just have to go get it!

Recommended places

  • Your neighbourhood vada-pav stall – It is best to discover a good stall close to where you live, in case the urge strikes you at odd hours
  • Gajanan Vadapav, Thane- The chutney adds some magic to the otherwise usual vada
  • Jumbo Vada pav, multiple locations- For the sheer innovation, making vada pav more hygienic, and the lovely baked vada pav for the calorie conscious!
  • Ashok Vada Pav, Kirti college- For hot, cheap and popular appeal
Kooler and Company, Matunga. Image by Omkar Padwal
Koolar and Company, Matunga. Image by Omkar Padwal

Irani cafes
How can any Mumbai food article be complete without the mention of Irani cafes. They touch a chord with most Mumbaikars. These cafes, reminds Mumbai of her yesteryears with their ambience, atmosphere, food and even prices! They serve a large cross section of people- be it the daily wage earner, the stingy college goer, the awe-struck photographer, eager foodie – basically anyone who is hungry.  From the satiating bun-maska to kheema pav to more delectable Parse specialties such as Dhansak and custard; these cafes are a treat to the taste buds! It is indeed sad that many have closed down over the many years. Let’s encourage the few remaining in our own little way.

Recommended cafes

  • Brittania and Co., Ballard estate – Archetypal restaurant , the most holistic of them all!
  • Kayani and Co., Marine Lines- Fast losing its appeal, but visit for old times sake!
  • Army restaurant, Fort- Crowded and popular at any given time of the day!
  • Koolar &  Co., Matunga – Legend. Among college goers and rich businessmen alike!
Mahesh Lunch Home, Fort. Image by Mahesh Lunch Home
Mahesh Lunch Home, Fort. Image by Mahesh Lunch Home

Everything Fishy
I have a friend of mine who is from Delhi and keeps visiting Mumbai for work. Most people who come to Mumbai make it a point to visit a Siddhivinayak or Juhu beach before they return. But this friend just has to have sea-food before he heads back. And not just your grilled-fish-with lemon- butter sauce type of sea-food. But full on Malwani style as well! He complains of the lack of fresh sea food in Delhi (for obvious reasons!) and more importantly the style of preparation.

Sea food in Mumbai is heavily influenced by Konkan style preparations. A typical meal would mean tava fried Rawas/Pomfret followed by some Prawn curry with Bhakri or rice and gulped down with a drink rightfully called ‘soul’ sorry ‘ sol-kadhi’. But it’s not just Malvani style that we love. Most Indian influenced seafood restaurants offer Malvani, Manglorean, Kerela style preparations. No matter what the region, most Indian seafood preparations use a heavy dose of coconuts and spices. Of course, if you wish to have it the lemon-butter style, you will get it easily as well. We are in an obvious advantage when it comes to sea-food in Mumbai and we better exploit it to the fullest!

Recommended places

  • Mahesh Lunch home, multiple locations- Yea, it has gotten very commercialised, but the food remains good!
  • Trishna, Fort- This oldie is a goldie!
  • Highway Gomantak– Cheap, accessible, delicious!
  • Goa Portuguesa, Shivaji Park – For the mini-Goa food experience!
  • Gajalee , Vile Parle – Innovative, Fresh, Delectable; Current leader of the pack !

So which is your favourite?

Post By Guest Blogger, Aparna Amte (6 Posts)

Pursuing multiple careers, that of a freelance HR consultant, writer, photographer and food critic. An obsessive compulsive day dreamer. Wants to have the cake and eat it too (a dark chocolate one, please).

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Guest Blogger, Aparna Amte

Guest Blogger, Aparna Amte
Pursuing multiple careers, that of a freelance HR consultant, writer, photographer and food critic. An obsessive compulsive day dreamer. Wants to have the cake and eat it too (a dark chocolate one, please).
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