Mumbai: The city that never stops eating

Did you ever wonder what keeps this city on its feet? Look out into the street and you’d find your answer there. Mumbai is a metro which knows no boundaries, doesn’t sleep and yes, also doesn’t stop eating. Other cities in India have a few favourites among it street foods, but the sheer nature of Mumbai, makes it cross boundaries, innovate and adapt every kind of street food in the city or the world for its people.

Here you will find succulent kebabs right next to a Jain paav bhaji stall, with people from every community jostling for a taste of both. Deciding what to eat and where, remains a challenge for foodies like me especially when the choices are so varied, each more irresistibly delicious than the other.

So this weekend, my husband and I – decided to do justice to my cravings for street food and took up the challenge to live off an entire day – 3 meals, snacks and beverages – on street food. Since we stay in Borivali, the hub of the Gujarati population in the Western Suburbs, what better way to start the day with piping hot fafda jalebi. We had to stand in almost a mile long line at Sriram Farsan at Sai Baba Nagar in Borivali for our rightful share of crunchy fafda with hot jalebi and papaya chatni.

Mumbai has other options for breakfast usually available at railway stations are upma (which is spicy to salty and has a sprinkling of healthy vegetables) or for the sweet-toothed, sheera (which is of course sweet but also has a sprinkling of dry fruits). Both options are healthy as well as affordable for the daily wage worker or the commuter who missed his breakfast at home. The best such option for upma and sheera can be found at Dadar Station at Mama Kane. An authentic Maharashtrian breakfast place, it serves everything from kande pohe to misal paav. Misal paav is a spicy menagerie of lentils and farsan doused in spicy curry and eaten with the favourite bread of the city – paav, while pohe is beaten rice with groundnuts, coconut, and potatoes and tempered with coriander, mustard and kadi patta. Both options can pull you out of your deepest slumber and give you the required jumpstart for the day.

We, however, chose to go to Churchgate for our bun maska and chai kick – a hot favourite with office commuters for breakfast. This is Mumbai’s version ofLondon’s bagel only simpler, sweeter and goes well with tea, which is even sweeter. The street vendor outside of Churchgate station smothers the sweet fruit bun with almost half a slab of butter to make the classic bun maska. Eat it with hot sweet chai and you can spring to work with a sugar rush.

Since we were not quite done with a breakfast of fafda jalebi and bun maska, we went off to especially eat the Kheema Ghotala at Café Mondegaar, which serves Indian and International breakfast till 11.30 am. Kheema Gotala at Mondy’s is a yummy meal that simply melts in your mouth. The spices were of just the right quantity, the kheema was succulent and the egg and kheema mixture couldn’t be distinguished. This is a typical Iranian breakfast option and not as popular as other non-veg breakfasts like omelette paav, egg bhurji and kheema paav.

These options are usually not served till 10 am in Mumbai and form part of the brunch menu and rightly so because they are not as light as other breakfast meals served.  These also form part of the early dinner menu for most Mumbaikars probably because they are more filling in nature. These meals are usually best served at old Iranian joints – such as Stadium Restaurant at Churchgate, Military Café at Flora Fountain and Lucky Restaurant at Bandra station signal. However I would argue that Colaba’sOlympiarestaurant probably whips the best kheema paav in town.

On our way to lunch at Khau Galli in Marine Lines from Colaba we munched on Mumbai’s ‘timepass’ – a variety of peanuts (mungphali), roasted channa, Masala channa, channa jor garam/chapta channa.  Another popular ‘timepass’ is corn or bhutta but is usually eaten in the evening when you are strolling leisurely alongMarine Drive…with your beloved. But we were on a mission here.

Moving on, we were ready for lunch and the city is not short of options. From the Zunka Bhakar opposite Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (originally called Victoria Terminus) and BMC Headquarters, to toast sandwiches to paav bhaji – the options are limitless. Indianized Chinese food carts, Rice plate and Biryani carts are found around every office hub area.  However some of the best of these lunch (and sometimes dinner) options can be found at Khau Galli at Nariman Point.  Sujata Chanda, an avid street foodie who we met at Khau Galli , in between mouthfuls of paav bhaji said “Mumbai street food for me is paav bhaji at Khau Galli at Marine Lines. It is so yummy; it literally melts in my mouth – with extra dollops of butter to go with the spicy bhaji. The ganna (sugarcane) juice to wash it all down works out really well. This is something you cannot miss if you are in Mumbai.” At Khau Galli, I filled up on paav bhaji, of course after such a rave review, and the husband worked up an appetite enough to have paav bhaji AND egg bhurji which is also a popular lunch option at Khau Galli.

After so much food in the tummy, I would have loved to have a quick afternoon snooze, but we decided to explore some more food locations in and around Churchgate. Mumbai has managed to incorporate some international cuisines its street food menu. The hugely popular Indianized Chinese still tickles a lot of office goers palate, while for the more adventurous options like Lebanese shawrma is also available – Piccadilly’s at Colaba might have been the first few shops in Mumbai to offer the Lebanese shawrma. Rolls also have their Indian versions. The Tibbs Frankie outlet at Churchgate station and at Akbarallys is not only yummy but also easy on the pocket as a lunch option.

For those still ravenously hungry after eating all this, the city has some more bite sized, on the go food. The king of all street food and the favourite amongst most thorough bred Mumbaikars is the vada pav. Mumbaikars eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner and there is vada paav wala at almost every nook of the city. The best vada pavs can be had at Nitin Patil’s Vada Pav stall in IC Colony Borivali as well as Ashok Vada Paav near Dadar’sKirtiCollege.

Ashok Satam Vada Paav Stall, on the Flora Fountain side of the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) Fort was within easy reach, so we helped ourselves to some of that. We savoured the poor man’s burger, this little piece of spiced potato happiness dipped in batter eaten between two sides of a paav spiced with sweet and spicy chutney and accompanied by garlic flakes chutney and a fried chilly. This can be accompanied by Mumbai’s tapri chai – extremely sweet tea found at almost every nook and usually next to a vada paav vendor.

The humble paav takes on a different role in the dabeli which is also a popular evening snack. Stuffed with spiced mash potatoes, peanuts and in some cases even pomegranate and laced with ‘nylon’ sev, this spicy treat is best eaten at Garodia Nagar in Ghatkophar.

Various chaats make up for a quick bite for hungry train travelers and those returning from a hard day’s work at office. Most of these stalls serve bhel puri, sev puri and paani puri – strategically placed around railway stations – like those around Churchgate subways. Simple popped rice spiced with lime, chilli, onion, coriander and tomato with a sprinkling of peanuts usually forms an evening snack for Mumbaikars who want to eat on the go and also as ‘timepass’. Some of these stalls are even stationed at popular shopping and commuter junctions like Bandra and Dadar. A few such popular locations for paani puri are Elco Arcade in Bandra, MM Mithaiwala at Malad and Sriram Farsan at Borivali.

We decided to drop in at Andheri on our way back from our food expedition since we were told that LokhandwalaGardensserves healthy street food options – like fruit plates, vegetable juices and soups. The green gourd (lauki) juice and palak soup that we had purely to experiment, were actually quite good and did away with our misconception that healthy food isn’t as tasty…

For dinner, we were torn between going to north Mumbai for a light Gujarati street food meal or hog on street mughlai in South Mumbai, knowing the best late night food can be had at Bade Miyan, famous for its Kebabs, Rolls and Baida Roti.  This street stall in one of the back roads of the Taj Mahal Hotel and Palace in Colaba probably has as many patriots as the restaurants in the Taj and probably of the same socio economic background! A lot of patrons at Bade Miyan come to savour these delicacies in their luxury cars. Kebabs are also famous at Ayubs, on the street behind Rhythm House, Kala Ghoda, open only in the evenings.

Since we were already half way home we opted for dinner at Borivali – outside Indraprastha shopping centre which is the hub for street food eaters. Masala Rice Papad is an innovation created in Borivali – roasted and buttered Rice papads are topped with fine cut salad with a sprinkling of cheese and eaten hot. This is almost the poor man’s pizza and healthier option. While my husband feasted on Masala Rice Papad, I opted for a toasted vegetable sandwich which is a good and healthy option to finish of the street food expedition. You can wash this down with ganne ka juice (sugarcane juice) or feast on a gola (ice candy).

The cherry on the cake of our food expedition was a visit to the Ghanta Paanwala at Borivali. He is the famous paanwala who made it to the Guinness book of world records for the largest collection of bells. Ghanta Paanwala dishes out over 125 varieties of paan, including the Chappan Bhog which has over 56 ingredients. We feasted on his speciality – Chocolate paan. Chocolate paan contains chocolate syrup, kesar, gulkand (rose jam) and cashew, dipped in khus syrup, almonds and raisins. It became the perfect sweet ending to theMumbai street food expedition.

Back home from my street food expedition, I couldn’t help but think that there are so many options I haven’t tried, so many places yet to visit and so much more to eat. This is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, giving me a glimpse of the diversity that exists in this maximum city, leaving me hungry for more.

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