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Exploring Mumbai’s neighborhoods through food – Girgaum food walk

April 1, 2014
Flora Fountain, Mumbai, India

Flora Fountain, Mumbai, India

Hi folks! On a recent trip to Mumbai, India, I had the good fortune of joining a fellow foodie on a food walk. I had never really done a food walk before so I must thank Ebrahim for graciously walking me through some of Mumbai’s oldest lanes, and introducing me to a few family restaurants, where I tasted some of the most delicious traditional Maharashtrain food. Read on as Ebrahim shares his knowledge on one of Mumbai’s best kept secrets, and the places we visited. Note that Mumbai and Bombay are used interchangeably throughout this post :) (Google Maps links included!)

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The Mumbai skyline - seen from Marine Drive

The Mumbai skyline – seen from Marine Drive

In a city with rapidly expanding culinary horizons, there lies many a neighborhood which is symbolic of bygone times, where social, religious and culinary norms are defined by the population that lives and works there. We still cling, with nostalgia, to some of these culinary treasures, such as Irani cafes in parts of South Bombay, or the ravenous meat feasts in the traditional Muslim bazaars around Mohammed Ali Road. Girgaum (or Girgaon) is one of these forgotten neighborhoods, that doesn’t seem to be on any heritage trail or foodie wall, and yet its most poignant legacy is that it is one the most culturally and ethnically diverse areas in Bombay. So when Sabera Kapasi asked me for a food walk, I couldn’t help but think of Girgaum as one of the first neighborhoods to explore.

Girgaum food walk

Girgaum food walk

Girgaum Food walk map (click for a map of the foodwalk with place-marks)

In what was formerly outside the walled city (Fort), in the late 19th century, Girgaum was settled by the Portuguese converts sharing doors with the local koli fishermen who already lived there. Many businessmen, including Gujaratis, Jains, Parsis and Marwaris, as well as various Maharashtrian and Konkani communities settled here over time, and have left their indelible mark over the area. Girgaum is quite closely associated with India’s independence movement; the festival most dear to Mumbaikars  – Ganesh Chaturthi –  was started at a chawl in this area, by one of India’s leading founders Lokmanya Tilak, as a way to unite citizens against the British rule and instill nationalistic fervor. Post independence, the area was settled by Gujaratis, making the southeast corner of Girgaum (Thakurdwar-Kalbadevi) the premier “gujju” hub in the city. This hodge-podge of cultures made this the perfect place for our culinary exploration.

Jalebi

Jalebi

We start our tour with a plate of jalebi, fafra and papaya chutney (or papaya nu athanu) at Pancharatna jalebi house (in the bylane behind what was once Roxy theater). This shop is right at the entrance of Mumbai’s diamond market, dominated by Gujarati businessmen, many from the city of Surat, Gujarat (part of Kutch region). This explains how this quintessential Surti snack combination of sweet, spicy, savory and sour flavors, made it big in a city that still loves its vada-pav and kheema-pao for breakfast. Growing up, I’ve been on multiple tours of Kutch and the first thing we’d long for at the end of an overnight train journey from Bombay was this umami-inducing combination with hot chai. The reason Pancharatna excels, is the turnout is big enough for them to be doling out fresh batches of Jalebis during breakfast time (8AM-10.30AM). When we had them, they were crisp yet dripping with syrup and with a saffron hue about them. It is pure bliss when it hits your mouth!

Surti Khamani

Surti Khamani

Next stop is the savory Surti (as being from Surat) – sev khamani – around the corner. The guy who runs the little shop, operates out of a small table stand with a plastic cover. Non-gujaratis are usually surprised at how simple the dish is. It is made with fresh khaman – a snack made using chickpea flour – pulverized by hand into a breadcrumb like consistency and then tossed up with fresh garlic, coriander and topped with sev – fried chickpea flour strands. The result is velvety soft khaman with crunchy bits of sev and a freshness imparted from a dash of nimbu(lime) and coriander leaves. For Rs. 5 (as of Feb 2014) , it’s a working man’s breakfast and yet another “perfect-with-chai” dish. Having had the real deal in Surat, I’d say this comes pretty close.

St. Theresa’s church

We leave the surti khamani guy and walk past Central cinema entering the crossroad that is dominated by the St. Teresa’s Portuguese church. The fascinating red colored church which is supposed to have an awesome interior (never been inside despite having lived close to it for most of my life), was once the focal point of Girgaum chowpatty, since that is where the beach originally was.

Heading right into the main road through Thakurdwar, we enter Panshikar Upwas gruh. For those unfamiliar with the Upwas (fasting) concept, its a day of self-control to honor the god you wish to please/pray to as a means of offering to them. Upwas dishes form a cuisine in and of  itself. Followed by most  Hindus, each day marks devotion to the god associated to it. The day we went on was Monday, which is the day of the fast for Lord Shiva.

Farali patties

Farali patties

Panshikar specialises in Maharashtrian upvas cuisine. Over the years, I’ve had some amazing farali patties in the area and these, it turns out aren’t the best but the second best. When done correctly, they should have a crunchy-sweet-spicy inner filing from the cashews, peanuts and raisins. This stuffing is covered in a nice crusty potato envelope and is most likely served with a spicy green chutney. Panshikar has a lot of other upvas favorites that should definitely not be missed, including the piyush (a cross breed between lassi and Amul spiced milk ), the farali misal and sabudana khichdi (a dish made with tapioca pearls).

Thali peeth

Thali peeth

Next stop is Bi-Tambe, or atleast that’s what is used to be called until it got bought over by its current owners (now Sujata Uphar Gruh). This place has the reputation of being the oldest continuously operated restaurant in south Bombay – and by most accounts, has been operational for 200 years. It certainly doesn’t beat Casa Botin in Madrid, but for a culture that did not dine out until very recently, they have managed to stay in business and done a good job at it. Growing up, this used to be the go-to destination for Thaalipeeth with fresh loni (fresh white hand-churned butter). Thaalipeeth is paratha-like, but made from a unique, multi-grain flour blend that gives it that yummy crunchy texture. Bi-Tambe’s version is heavy on cumin-coriander-onion and comes with heaps of butter that is mandatory with this treat. Being a uphar-gruh (lunch house), their main focus is lunch thaalis (plates), with mains that change daily.

Sitaphal (custard apple) basundi

Sitaphal (custard apple) basundi

To end this awesome food walk, I had to convince Sabera to share a Sitafal basundi. Since both of us are expats living in the States, the one fruit we miss more than anything else is Sitafal-or custard apple. In the 90s, the number one dessert on people’s minds was the Sitafal Cream sold at Noorani cafe in Haji Ali. These guys have taken that dish and morphed it into a fusion basundi topped with pistachios … Heaven!

The resulting food coma lasted for days :)

Some of the things we couldn’t do:

1. Anant-Ashram – the famous Malvani joint that has run into family issues and only serves takeout now

2. Kolhapuri Chivda – another upvas joint famous for their fusion sabudana-poha vada

3. Amrakhand – next to Majestic Cinema – is a wholesaler for loni and amrakhand

4. Ghoogras and Farsan at Go Go snacks

5. Crystal for cheap college eats

6. Walk the heritage trail through khotachiwadi and gaiwadi (shown in green on the map)

Eager to learn more about Mumbai’s forgotten neighborhoods? Click here for a very well-written article on Girgaum by CNN.

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Guest Post by Ebrahim Bandookwala

Learn more about him here.

Spinach Parmesan Quinoa

November 24, 2013
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Spinach Parmesan Quinoa

Hello foodies! Summer is over :(, Fall sped by here in MN, and it’s officially Winter here. Can’t believe it will be Thanksgiving later this week! Many of you must be frantically preparing for Thanksgiving cooking and family visiting. I wanted to share with you a simple, healthy and light recipe to serve either as a side during your Thanksgiving meal, or as a tummy-friendly meal by itself, for the night after eating, drinking and midnight shopping. (I know I’ll do that last bit with much gusto this year).

DSC_1413

I recently came across this easy recipe when I was wandering the internets (yes, I said internets.) and stumbled across this amazing blog called Lisa’s Dinnertime Dish. I made some edits to the recipe to make it a little more spicy, tangy, and creamy – I added some chili powder and some lemon juice to suit my tastes. Because I like my quinoa a little creamier, and instead of adding more cheese, I cooked the grain with a mixture of chicken stock and 2% milk.What I also love about this recipe is that it is a perfect meal for one person. 1 cup of quinoa is perfect for dinner tonight, and a work lunch box tomorrow.

I encourage you to please check out Lisa’s recipe and follow her recipe as is. Hope you like it as much as I did!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock + 1/2 cup 2% milk – warm the mixture slightly
  • 2 cups chopped baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese or any other cheese of your choice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste

DSC_1415

Method:

  • In a saucepan, heat the olive oil, and add the minced shallots and garlic
  • When soft, add the quinoa and mix well. Then, add the stock + milk mixture, season with salt, pepper and chili powder, and allow to cook on medium heat, with a lid on the saucepan. Cook for 15 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked through
  • Add the chopped spinach, cheese, lemon juice, and mix well
  • Serve immediately! You could serve it with a side of leftover Thanksgiving Turkey and / or leftover vegetables / sides

On friendships… and food

October 3, 2013
Jenn of The Whole Kitchen and me finally meeting in person in Chicago

Jenn of The Whole Kitchen and me finally meeting in person in Chicago

Life (and the internet) have amazing ways of making like-minded people meet. Thanks to some savvy online networking and an eagerness and openness to meet and learn from new people, I’ve made many friends online, most of whom I’ve met in person soon after an online conversation, and some who continue to be amazing virtual friends. On a recent trip to Chicago, I had the pleasure of meeting the amazing Jenn Sutherland of The Whole Kitchen. (Jenn’s blog is AWESOME and a LOT of fun to read! PS. don’t miss her husband Mark’s posts!)

Jenn and I have been virtual friends for many years since our first interaction on Brazen Careerist. As a new professional in the US, I devoured everything shared on the professional networking site. On one forum, I “met” Jenn, visited her blog, started commenting on her posts, and we soon developed a friendship over food and Indian cooking. When we met a couple weeks ago, we knew so much about each other already!

Jenn's sweet dog - Flash

Jenn’s sweet dog – Flash

Like Jenn’s dogs. I had been seeing pictures of them on Instagram, and reading about them on her blog, and I finally met them too! Not forgetting our true loves – food – Jenn and I also cooked together. We discussed what we should make before I flied out to Chi-town and she wanted to learn how to make dosa. (I forgot to take a pic of the final product!)

Dosa is a thin crêpe made with a fermented rice and lentil batter, and hails from the southern region of India. Show me the Curry has a great recipe here, that Jenn followed. We also made a delish coconut chutney and some spiced potato stuffing to go with it. The chutney recipe is similar to this one from an earlier post. We made small modifications such as adding less water and more coconut. To give the chutney a south-indian twist, we finished it off with a temper of fried curry leaves and whole urad dal lentils.

An earlier post on Potato curry has an easy recipe here.

Coconut chutney

Coconut chutney

Spiced potato dosa stuffing

Spiced potato dosa stuffing

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet Jenn, her husband Mark, Flash and Miracle. And also so very happy I had the fortune of cooking with her! Can’t wait to meet you again Jenn and cook up more amazing things!!

Iron Chef “Honey”

August 18, 2013
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DSC_1345

It’s time to recap one more Iron Chef cooking competition. (For previous Iron Chef recaps, see here) This time, our secret ingredient was “Honey”. I must say that everyone took the competition to a whole new level, and seriously brought out the big guns. Everyone was much more competitive, the presentation was truly Iron Chef level, and the best of all, the food was delicious!

Another big highlight from this competition was the effort people put in naming their dishes. A big miss from my side, everyone took the time to come up with interesting names for their dishes. Sameera, my sister, won again (she won Iron Chef Vinegar as well) and gets to keep the prized trophy spoon. Competitive that I am, I must admit I was a little disappointed given the amount of effort I put in.

I will be sharing the recipe for the winning entry in a separate post. Linked below are recipes I used for my dishes where I made a few modifications to amp up the Honey.

My entries:

Indian vegggie fritters topped with Honey-chili-garlic sauce

Honey-Rosemary Polenta topped with a spicy veggie stew and a chili-honey crème fraîche

(Addendum: TheKitchn has THE BEST post on how to make polenta if you have never made it before)

Honey-lemon-mint Margharita

See pics of all the entries below!

On India’s Independence Day

August 15, 2013

Hello lovelies! I know it’s been a really long time since I posted here. I have no excuses, but all I can say is that I’ve been upto a lot of craziness. For one example, see this video of a Bollywood flash mob I participated in :D. (I’m the girl in the sunglasses who falls shortly into the video… wann wannn…)

I will not be posting about food today, but I have a personal little bit to share about today, which is India’s 67th Independence day.

It’s strange how I feel on India’s Independence day today. As a kid, it was the prospect of hot jalebis and a longer morning prayer at school with the national anthem and a flag hoisting ceremony. Then we got to go home! In college, it didn’t mean anything at all. The daily routine of classes, long Mumbai commutes, the frustrations of the city and the general ignorance toward how the country was changing, didn’t make the day significant at all. When I started working, media opinion every Aug 15th reminded me how much progress the country had really made. And how much it hadn’t. NDTV journos waxed lyrical about the corruption, the lack of basic amenities for a significant chunk of the population, and the religious tensions. I absorbed it, understood it, but didn’t know how to react or what to do with that information.

Now, as an immigrant in the US, the patriotism weakly sparks back on August 15. Being in an environment where I have adapted to the local culture and ways of going about my life, including even the way I talk, it’s the one day I get to thump my chest and proudly feel “Indian”. It’s the day I celebrate my identity and my roots. Indian is who I am and always will be no matter how much I adapt to the country I’m in.

But I also think about the violence and rampant disrespect against women in India. I think about the politician that reportedly played a role in killing thousands of innocent civilians in Gujarat, rallying to make it to Prime Minister. I read about the economic growth. The infrastructure boom. The innovations in technology and automobiles. And all the leaps we’ve made in being a world leader in consulting and offshore technology services.

Sitting here, India is like a dream to me. It feels like this comforting, loving place I can go to and feel ‘myself’.  I feel like I know her, and then I don’t know her at all. But I know it’s a place that is the only place I can call home. Day to day, as I go through my struggles and joys of dealing with life, work and relationships in a foreign country, I forget where I’m from. Sometimes, it feels, I’m just another outsider trying to adjust to life here. Today is a reminder to me of who I really am and what I stand for. I wouldn’t call it patriotism. It’s a yearning for home that is very hard to describe.

Weekend dinner – Baked “stuffing” chicken

April 22, 2013
by
Baked "stuffing" chicken served with creamed corn and baked potatoes

Baked “stuffing” chicken served with creamed corn and baked potatoes

Recently one evening when I showed up as usual, unannounced, at my sister’s place, I proceeded to raid her awesome pantry on arrival, only to be stopped by the interesting assortment of ingredients she had out on the kitchen counter. A meal was in the process of being prepared. Some 60 minutes later, what my sister had on the table was the most delicious, comforting meal one could ask for in this Wintry Spring a.k.a. Winter Part II here in Minneapolis a.k.a Siberia.

All I could think of when I ate dinner was YUM. If you have friends coming over this weekend and want to make them an easy, comforting meal, serve this up. The meal pictured above consists of baked chicken and creamed corn, served with a side of baked, crispy potatoes.

I will be sharing the recipe for the baked “stuffing” chicken in this post. It’ll go really well served with a simple salad and a nice cocktail.

Baked “stuffing” chicken (Recipe adapted from Campbell soup)

Baked Stuffing Chicken

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 4 boneless skinless Chicken breasts, washed, dried and cut in 3-4 pieces each
  • 2 cans of low-sodium cream of mushroom soup + 2% or Skim milk, or equivalent quantity of Bechamel sauce
  • Pepperidge Farms herb seasoned stuffing – 3 cups
  • Finely Chopped vegetables –  Celery (4-5 stalks), Green pepper (1/2), Red pepper (1/2), Leeks (1/2 of 1 stalk)
  • Finely chopped Garlic – 3-4 cloves (Increase if you love Garlic like moi!)
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf Parsley + some for garnishing
  • 2 cups low-sodium Chicken stock
  • Butter – Two 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil
  • Large cooking pan and large baking pan (at least 9″ x 11″)

Method:

  • Prepare the veggies: In a large pan, heat Olive oil and lightly cook all the vegetables and chopped garlic. After they get soft, add the stuffing. Mix well and then add the chicken stock. Turn off the heat and keep aside. The stock will get absorbed in the stuffing. Taste, and add salt only if needed.
  • Prepare the sauce: Prepare Bechamel / white sauce per your own recipe or you can use my recipe here. Alternatively, you can use condensed Cream of Mushroom soup
    • Remove contents of both cans of soup in a bowl. Dilute with 1/2 cup of skim or 2% milk. Mix well. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.

  • Prep a large baking pan with cooking spray. Place the stuffing mixture at the bottom, and place the raw chicken pieces on top. Then pour over the sauce and spread evenly. Add a splash of chicken stock on the top, place the 2 cubes of chicken, cover with foil, and bake in a 375F oven for 15 minutes
    • After 15 minutes, remove the foil, and cook for another 10 minutes. Check if the chicken is done, and serve!

Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake

February 9, 2013

Flourless chocolate cake

Fate has an interesting way to make people meet. And an interesting way to get you to do the things you swore you never would again. Like baking. After these two disastrous attempts at baking, I thought I should sign off of all baking altogether. Baking banana bread, which is the simplest most idiot-proof thing any bad baker (like yours truly) can put together, is the closest I felt I could get to being successful at the craft.

choc cake 2

But little did I know that this evil little thing called fate would get me all over again. Fate played me once after I swore I would’t study in an academic setting EVER again when I wrote my last MBA exam in India; I ended up pursuing one more Masters degree in the US. Ha.

And it happened again when I met someone at work, who is now also a good friend. A few months ago, I was introduced to someone who happens to be the talented blogger behind Healthy Life Happy Cook. Amanda’s blog is filled with yummy, healthy recipes, many of which I have to try myself. Much to my chagrin, when I was assigned dessert for Thanksgiving dinner last year, Amanda suggested I make this flourless espresso chocolate cake that she adapted from the blog Eating for England. Needless to say, I expressed my concerns about baking to her and she promised me this recipe was as idiot proof as it needed to be for a bad baker like me.

Choc. flourless cake

And she was so right – she gave me some great tips and suggestions, that helped me make this simple, luscious, dense, fudge-ey cake that was such a surprise when I bit into it. The cake was gone in a few minutes and my friends’ kids lapped it up with some Cool Whip. I used all dark chocolate chips as I love the slightly bitter taste of dark chocolate. Amanda’s recipe calls for half dark and half milk chocolate. Here’s the recipe! (from Amanda’s blog)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup good quality chocolate – you can use all milk chocolate but Amanda recommends 1/2 milk and 1/2 dark chocolate
  • 1.5 tablespoon espresso powder (I used Nescafe instant coffee)
  • 1/2 cup double dutch dark cocoa (unsweetened cocoa powder would be fine too)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Trace the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan on a piece of parchment paper. Cut out a circle. Spray the cake tin with cooking spray and place the parchment paper at the bottom. The spray will help the paper stick to the tin
  • Melt chocolate and butter in a bowl. I did this over a pan of boiling water because I have a messed up microwave, but you can do this easily in a microwave, in 30 second intervals. Mix the melted goodness together
  • Mix in sugar, and add the eggs. Then add all the dry ingredients – cocoa, salt, and instant coffee powder / espresso powder. Mix well.
  • Pour in the pan and bake for 30 minutes. Mine was done in about 25 minutes so check at around the 20 minute mark. A toothpick inserted through should come out clean
  • Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then gently invert it onto a plate, dust with powdered sugar and serve! It tasted the best when it was a little warm. I served it with Cool Whip at Thanksgiving, but you could also do vanilla ice-cream. Can’t wait to make this again!
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