By Lachman Balani
MUMBAI: Flying into Mumbai, my mind automatically switched to the taste-bud tantalizing street food that would be in store for me as I envisioned all the mouth-watering pav-bhaaji (buttered dinner roll type bread topped with cooked mixed vegetables) and Mumbai’s fabled bhel puri that I would be wolfing down (yeah you tend to wolf down the spicy streats first and then savour the 2nd round)!
And, of course, after the images of vegetarian ‘nashta’ (breakfast/snack ) the mind jets invariably to the legendary master ‘Bademiya’ (Big Boss) and his famous street meat like chicken tikka, boti kababs(skewered marinated boneless lamb pieces cooked on the barbeque), sheekh kababs(spiced up minced meat on skewers cooked on the barbeque), spiced barbequed udders, kidneys and livers! Oh such manna!
Bademiya attracts even the rich and famous who come in their Benzes, BMWs, Audis and other luxury cars and is situated on the street just behind the plush Taj Palace Hotel, the one that was under siege for three days five years ago, in Colaba in SoBo (short for South or Sophisticated Bombay).
Sure enough, all this awaited me and more!
Dhai vada, sev batata puris, pani puris, masala dosa, chili pakora, khati roll, baida ghotala, chicken lollipops, the die-hard Tibb’s Frankie (mutton, chicken or veggies rolled in an egg naan), fresh coconut water, freshly squeezed fruit juices and milk shakes made with freshly crushed fruit, thick lassi, kulfi (Indian ice-cream)… you name it! ‘Dhukh door’ food (food that quashes all your sorrows)!
However, what grabbed me was the crazy variety of new streats such as shawarma, italian pasta (yeah you read right, penne with alfredo sauce and veggies or chicken served to you by a guy making it right in front of your eyes on the streets of amchi Mumbai and costing as much as Rs 100 depending on the ingredients- imagine Rs 100 for a street dish in India!), pizza and Toronto’s most ubiquitous street meat- hot dogs!
Hot dogs come in all styles from the Manhattan to the Oye Balle Balle! It is basically the same hot dog with different toppings and sauces. The Balle Balle – a hot favourite with everyone comes with chillies, onions and makhani mayonnaise (butter chicken sauce mixed with mayo). There is also Chinese, Mexican and several other types including those with olives and capers. Mumbai, as is typical, has taken the hot dog experience to a whole new level! Can you imagine Chinese, Indian or Thai toppings on a hot dog in Toronto? Yeah, you’re right, keep on imagining, it isn’t going to happen anytime soon!
Yes, foreign food on the streets of Mumbai! In the old days the only foreign food was Indian Chinese Hakka food (if you can really call that foreign- it’s so ingrained into the Indian culture). Nowadays food is from all over the map catering to locals. It is really amazing! In the underground passage leading to Churchgate station there is even a Wimpy’s where the hustling and bustling crowds stop for a burger on the run!
At the Khopoli rest stop on the way to Pune, alongside the puris, gol-guppas, chole-batura and other Indian goodies, there are equally crowded KFCs, McDonalds and Subways (each one has changed their offerings to suit the Indian palate- for instance McDonald’s has McAloo – a burger bun filled with potatoes and no meat for the vegetarians)! Bubble drinks and smoothies vie with lassi and tea. The whole street food scene has transformed!
The only constant at the stops on the way to Pune are the perennially favourite Lonavla Maganlal Chikki (brittle) stands. There is nothing that competes with their peanut, almond, cashew nut and other brittles. No turron from Spain nor Sindhi pista vado. It’s Maganlal all the way! Even enterprising salespeople jump on the trains from Mumbai to Pune hawking Manganlal chiki. Total monopoly!
Despite the efforts of the West to introduce homogeneity into the diets of the people around the globe, Mumbai has accepted their inroads but has adapted their food into something more heterogeneous and international with generous dollops of India added on!
Many wondrous new variations of food have been born right here in the gullies of this great city of Mumbai, the city that truly never sleeps where one can still find biryani at many street joints at 4- 5 am in the morning!
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