Category Archives: Eat

Stories from the plate.

Eating Banana fritters in Hoi An

On our first trip to Vietnam, my friend and I found slices of India everywhere. A popular Hindi TV show played on tiny screens in markets, hosts shared notes about their favourite Bollywood movies, and we had in depth discussions about why Indians don’t win global beauty pageants anymore.

At the end of our ten-day trip, we chanced upon a fried street snack that satiated our craving for home food. The Banana Fritters (chuối chiên) were as brown as our skin, and as sweet as they were cheap. The golden brown banana fritter was sticky, speckled with sesame seeds, crispy on the outside and oozing with sweetness on the inside. It was the perfect morning treat, a sweeter version of the fried snacks we eat on Mumbai’s crowded streets when in need of a quick and filling meal.

We discovered it, much like the best things in life, by accident. It was our last day in Hoi An, that heritage town of cobbled paths, ancient shopfronts and lanterns swaying in the wind. We had guzzled cheap beer, munched on grilled meat on the streets and loaded up on cheap trinkets at the night market. We were on the hunt for an authentic eating experience.

A crowd led us to it.

They were gathered around a small cart so, we went to investigate. This curiosity is an innate Indian thing – we see a group of people gathered around something, and we will instantly gravitate towards it. People were engrossed in watching something. A closer look revealed a street cart, and the people around it were brimming with desire.


We heard the sound first, the heavy sizzle that signifies something has been dunked into a pan full of hot oil. It soon relapsed into a melody of crackles and hissing. A young woman stood behind the cart peeling bananas and slicing them into perfect halves. The bananas, swaying in the wind above her head, were no ordinary ones but small and stubby (called chuoi su or chuoi xiem). She dunked these slices into a mixture of rice flour, sugar, salt and water, before popping them into a pan of oil. When they attained
a golden brown colour, she held it aloft for a few seconds before placing it on a stand. As it stood there, dripping oil, us hungry hordes could only gaze at its delicious crunchiness, willing it to cool faster so we could get our hands on it.

banana fritter

There were also plates of crab fritters and sweet buns filled with mung bean and coconut but we only 
had eyes for that stick sweet snack. Money exchanged hands and soon, we were holding then in our hands, a flimsy napkin protecting us from the heat.

We were soon busy munching on the fritter, enjoying the noisy eating process and savouring the ensuing sugar rush. It was a high that lasted us till lunchtime, and one that was more intoxicating than the local beer.

The piece was first published in Roads and Kingdoms, here.

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A taste of the North East in Kalina

In the morning, the suburb of Kalina is a quiet place. A few shop shutters go up, a straggle of people return from daily Mass, and stray dogs start riffling through the piles of garbage being swept from the street. 

Near the St Roque Grotto, a small two storey space starts to come to life. As part of his morning ritual, Yaomi Awungshi, 36 is having tea and breakfast with his family. In some time, the plates and cups are cleared and the place is open for business.  

The business being Thotrin Café, the suburb’s newest, and what they call the city’s only, North Eastern restaurant. “We serve food from typically cooked in our homes, and from other states,” says Awungshi.

“This area has a lot of families from the North East. We wanted to offer them the tastes of home,” chimes in his cousin Worsem Zimik, 34. Awungshi and Zimik both belong to the Tangkhul tribe – they identify as Nagas but geographically, their home is in Manipur. The menu features Naga tribal dishes and some from other North Eastern states too.

Food stories

The restaurant launched three months back. It is a small space with just four tables. There’s a blue ceiling, few potted plants, and a full length motivational poster covering the door to the kitchen.

“You can call us and request any dish and we will make it,” says Awungshi proudly, adding that recipes are sourced from family and friends. On the menu are dishes like the Manipuri salad shingju, oxtail soup, thukpa, mayang pai manak – a meaty potato mash made with King Chilli and fermented river fish; steamed chicken with bamboo shot and shiitake mushrooms; thesui – fermented soyabean, ngari – fermented river fish with King Chilli, and even escargot. They also serve pork and beef items but that’s off the menu – they don’t want to alienate customers. Dishes are of substantial portions, cheap (the most expensive dish is Rs 220) and meant for sharing.

The diners streaming in and out of the place include family and friends from nearby, Catholics from all across Kalina and Vakola, and members of the community who come from as far as Mira Road and Borivli. “We get a lot of students too. They come to study at the Kalina University and so, settle down here. They often don’t have the time to cook or look for specific ingredients. This was our way of helping them,” says Zimik. When he first came to the city to study law 15 years back, there was no place to buy homemade food or ingredients so he started cooking himself. “We have airhostesses who are regulars who always gush about the food and say it tastes like home.”

Zimik, who had to abandon his dream of becoming a lawyer due to financial reason, has worked in the hotel industry for over a decade. He is currently an operations manager at AB Celestial, Mahim. He believes the time is ripe for the city’s diners to ‘indulge in their love for regional food by trying out our food’. He would know. One of his work stints was at King Chilli, the Chindian fusion restaurant down the street from Thotrin. There, customers could order off-the-menu Manipuri food items like Khaiko Kasathei (a dry fish salad) and Harsa Kasathei (chicken salad with onion, lime juice and King chilli) and Alangsa, a beef offal stew-like dish. The dishes, once only eaten by members of the community, are no popular with anyone looking for a taste of the North Eastern cuisine.  

The right ingredients  

The popularity of the King chilli (or bhut jolokia as its popularly called) these days means it is easier to source. For other ingredients specific to the region, people turn to small community stores that source their wares from the North East.  The Kalina Masjid lane has two such stores selling foodstuff, vegetables, breads and sweets specific to the Manipuri and Naga community. Think fermented fish and bamboo shoots.  

Thotrin gets its produce from the store sharing its name, which Awungshi started three years back. He  gets his produce from home, thrice a week, and the pickles, fried items and bread all made by the family.  The small space is packed with clear packets of fresh vegetables – mustard leaves, Indian bean root, white pepper, aiyang thei (Naga eggplant), fermented bamboo shoots, and dried King chilli.

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Fresh vegetables and dried fish comes in every week from Nagaland

The fish comes in pickled form or a dried version (usually done over heated charcoal) and packed within small woven bamboo baskets. There’s a rack from which hang pickled sweet red plums, packets of meat masala, and tins of fish and meat pickle. Two small refrigerators nearby hold vegetable salads and pork pickle. The dry food stack has strips of dried beef intestines, fried beef and pork, chewy doughnuts sprinkled with coconut, crispy rice cakes and a sweet puri-like bread made from black rice. “When we opened, on the first day itself we had 100 customers!” laughs Awungshi. “That’s when we knew we were right in starting the place. It was that time we had the idea to open the restaurant too.”

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The vegetable rack at Thotrin store

Both places are open through the week. Sunday afternoon is the only time you will find them shut – it’s because the family goes to church. People from the Tangkhul tribe are largely Protestant and go to a small hall within the Air India complex at Kalina for afternoon (and English) services. And after church, they are usually joined by a small group of people who come to get a bite to eat at the restaurant.   

The brothers look at Thotrin as a space that brings the community together, a social hangout spot. “We want to take this food and the restaurant all across Mumbai,” says Zimik with a smile. “We want to make it famous.”

Thotrin Café is situated opposite St Roque Grotto, Kalina Kurla Cross Road, Santacruz East; open from 9.30 pm to 11 pm; call 077382 30296

 

 

Worth the Mani

I am at a table with three strangers. We don’t talk; our mouths are busy shoveling down idlis, wadas and upma. The only sounds we make come from the cracking of a crisp dosa, and the slurp of hot filter coffee.

A waiter hovers by, ready to refill our bowls with ladles of fragrant sambhar. The thin and tangy vegetable stew coats the idlis (steamed lentil rice cakes) on my plate, giving them an orange tint. In another bowl, the soup-like rasam, made with tamarind juice, tomato, chillies, and spices, soaks through the medu wada (crisp fritters made with urad dal), softening them up.

I wipe both dishes clean, resisting the urge to lick my fingers as many around me do. Someone near me gives a satisfied burp. Nobody bats an eyelid. At Mani’s Lunch Home in Chembur, table etiquette and manners are secondary to enjoying a good meal.

Rasam Vada

Rasam vada.

In Mumbai, there’s cheap and then there’s lunch home cheap. Mani’s Lunch Home, or Mani’s, falls in the latter category – nothing on their menu costs over Rs 150. The 80-year- old institution serves simple, homely, vegetarian South Indian food. Last year, it shut down its Matunga outlet and moved to the eastern suburbs of Chembur.

I visit the new digs for a late breakfast. It takes time getting used to the white walls, metals chairs and air-conditioned interiors. The old Mani’s felt like the dining room of a friend’s home, warm and inviting. Here, under the glare of white lights, the four of us sharing a table are extremely conscious of each other. We sit properly, without fidgeting.
Once our orders arrive though, all propriety is forgotten.

A flurry of waiters deposit plates of dosas the length of my arm, tiny containers of chutney, filter coffee in tumblers, fluffy idlis, crisp wadas and bowls of sambhar and rasam. There’s no cutlery so we use our hands and dig in. My Ghee Roast Dosa is paper thin and crumbles as I break into it, revealing a mound of masala’ (boiled potatoes with onion and tempered with mustard and curry leaves). In between bites, I pour the filter coffee from the stainless steel tumbler into the cup, cool it and take small sips. It is milky
and sweet enough to jolt me awake.

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Masala Dosa. Photo courtesy: Mani’s Lunch Home

Eating at a lunch home is a lesson in portion control. I barely wipe the last drop of sambhar from the plate, when a hand materialises out of nowhere and fills it up. After two rounds, I feebly wave the waiter away. He is understandably surprised. Whoever says no to extra, and free, servings?

By now, I am regretting all the food I’ve ordered. I can’t seem to finish all that I have ordered. My fellow diners have finished up, paid and left. They know their limits. They also know that you don’t waste time at a lunch home, you eat as quickly as you can and leave, making way for other hungry diners.

As I pay the bill, the owner KS Narayanaswamy walks over for feedback. I am full of praise but, he isn’t fooled. He saw me wave away second helpings. “You didn’t finish your paper dosa,” he says, accusingly. I sheepishly apologise, promising to return and do justice to everything I order.

This was part of my breakfast series for Roads & Kingdoms; read a full review of the place in Midday

A thali for your thoughts

Pennies are passé.

A thali filled with crispy fried fish, a thick curry the colour of the morning sky and a
colourful salad is worth a bagful of pennies. That is, if you are a Goan living in Bombay and starved of good fish.

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Tisreo Sukhe served with sol kadhi and cabbage.

On days when the craving for home food fills the mind and conjures up visions of a crunchy mussel fry, butter garlic prawns, or a vibrant mackerel stuffed with red masala, there’s only one thing to do. I go to Mahim, to the food-filled lane opposite Paradise cinema and walk into a tiny eatery called Sushegad Gomantak. There, I choose a spot among the five odd tables and settle in for a fishy feast.

But, before placing an order, there’s a system to follow. First is greeting Raju, a man with an easy smile who doubles up as cashier, waiter and delivery boy. This is followed by a discussion on fish – what’s cheap, what is good, what is special today and where did they buy it from. Once I tell him my order, he goes to the tiny kitchen at the back and relays it to his mother. 

Sushegad’s kitchen is presided over by Savita maushi, a diminutive woman of 65, under whose strict supervision passes every dish that’s served to guests. She doesn’t step out of the kitchen, greeting new customers and regulars from inside. Speak to in her native Konkani and she will reluctantly leave her post and come out and talk to you. Savita grew up in the now tourist haven of Calangute where she learned to cook
from her mother. Her favourite fish used to be pomfret, plain fried or coated with masala. Today, cooking it daily has made it lose its charm and she prefers the bangda (mackeral). Savita moved to Mumbai when she as 13 and sharpened her cooking skills by feeding a family of 10 daily. This continued after her marriage.

The eatery is small, just five tables, a board describing all the fish in India and another with the day’s menu scrawled on it.

Ordering fish here is easy – just pick the kind of fish and decide if you prefer it fried or in a curry. It is helpful to know the local names of the fish – bangda (mackeral), muddoshi (lady fish), tisreo (shellfish), makli (squid), muddoshi (lady fish), tamoshi (red snapper), mandeli, xinanio (mussels) and mori (shark). There are thali options and a few chicken dishes too but everyone comes here for the fish.

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Eating the crab masala can get quite messy. 

Fish at Sushegad Gomantak is prepared quite simply. The cooking style here is Goan Hindu – heavy on the spices and coconut and no beef or pork. There is the sukhe, the dry version made by pounding together ginger, garlic, chillies, turmeric and lime. The curries have a few additional ingredients – coconuts, dried chillies and black pepper (kali miri), dhania (coriander), jeera (cumin), garlic, onions, green chillies and tamarind. Then there’s my favourite type of preparation – coated with a batter of rice flour and rava coated, lightly salted and plain fried. As with the chillies, pepper and tamarind, Savita  gets her oil from Goa too – she only uses khobraya cha tel (oil removed after drying coconuts in the sun). It is the oil that gives the fried fish its distinct flavour.

My staple order is fried xinanio (Rs 250), a tangy and spicy mori curry called ambotik (literally sour-sweet) (Rs 200), the very spicy and coconut-ty tisreo (Rs 200) and the juicy and up-to- your-elbow- messy crab masala (Rs 250). The only correct way to eat here is with your hands, making a mess and calming the fire in your mouth with the tangy and bright pink sol kadhi. Sometimes, I also order a crisp prawn cutlet (Rs 150), packed with onions and juicy shrimp. 

Every fish dish is a meal itself and is served with onions, a plain cabbage salad and a simple but delicious green chutney. If I’m feeling particularly, I will order the thali. 

The reason I come here alone or bring Goan friends along is because the food is good,
authentic and homely and just as in Goa, once the food is at the table, all talking ceases and attention rightfully shifts to the food.

The true taste of a good Goan meal: I always feel like taking a good, long siesta after eating.

Sushegad Gomantak is located on Lady Jamshedji Road, opposite Crown Bakery in Mahim; open from 11am to 11pm.

Snow Flake: a feel of Goa in Mumbai

In a neighbourhood rich in historic value, from the Art Deco building that is now Metro Multiplex to the ministry of sounds that is Furtados, you only discover Snowflake by accident. It is one of those places that time forgot.

On a visit to Kyani Restaurant down the road, I followed a line of cats sunning themselves on the road to find the entrance of what looked like someone’s home. As I would when faced with an open door back home in Goa, I entered and immediately felt as if I had stepped back in time. There’s a sense of calm and sepia-tinted nostalgia that envelope the place. The atmosphere is very laid back; staying too long can have soporific effects. Just ask the cats lazing around the doorstep.

 

The fans creak slowly. The chairs and tables are similar to what you would find at an Irani café: sturdy black wood and marble tops. There are half-empty showcases plastered with posters, old photos, plate souvenirs and other odds and ends. In one corner a blackboard states the menu; a white board has the day’s specials. Snowflake may appear rundown, but it has character. Everything has a sense of quiet pride to it.

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The whiteboard in the corner lists the day’s menu.

This is a place that has seen better days. Once upon a time, I learn, Snowflake attracted a huge crowd. Mrs Vaz, one of the members of the Rebeiro family that runs the place, is my source for this information. The family is generally reluctant to talk, which is why it is rare to find information anywhere about Snowflake’s history. It started out as a bakery, selling cakes, snacks and ice cream to the many Goans in the area. The customers may have moved on to other parts of the city or abroad, but Snowflake is adamant that the menu will remain unchanged.

The food is simple, like the kind you will find in every Goan home. There are the staple pork dishes, beef (they had removed it from the menu for a brief period after the statewide beef ban before bringing it back), fish curries, pulao and cutlets. I have tasted it all. The sorpotel is my favourite. Tiny pieces of pork, fat, liver, skin and various other parts of the pig, jostle for space on the plate. The gravy is neither too thick nor too thin, and no, unlike in Goa, they don’t use pork blood when cooking it.

Another underrated fish dish is the ambotik, that sour and spicy curry that bursts into song in your mouth. The ambotik here is a lightly spiced, thin gravy made with shark (mori). Mix it with steamed rice and it is fish-curry-rice heaven. The Sausage pulao is pungent and packed with flavour, the vindaloo has chinks of soft pork pieces and fat, and the xacuti is redolent with the taste of coconut.

Thanks to the regulars, if you go to Snowflake too late in the afternoon or evening, you are likely to find some dishes sold out. Like the fish cutlets. These delicious morsels are flat, oval shaped and thin and come packed with minced fish coated in a rawa batter. I’ve eaten six at a go.

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The fish cutlets are a bestseller here.

The food here won’t leave a dent in your wallet – all the dishes are priced below Rs. 200. Snowflake may not be making profits, but they don’t seem too bothered by it. As with the Parsi establishments in the city, they have their fixed ways – they will shut at 9:55 p.m. every night irrespective of whether you are still eating, and the food is cooked in limited portions, no matter the demand. I try to visit whenever I am in the area, have taken all my friends there, and even told a few city chefs about it. It is my little way of giving back to a place that has given so many wonderful meals that taste like home.

Snow Flake is located at 18, Ribeiro Building, Ground Floor, 1st Dhobi Talao Lane, Mumbai 400 002; call 22014252. 

Note: This story was first published in The City Story

O’ Tenga: Assamese food, home-delivered

The first time I had Assamese food, it was at Gitika Saikia’s home. I relished the sour tenga, burned my tongue on a bhut jolokia pickle and watched, fascinated, as she cooked chicken in bamboo shoots. It was an afternoon, and meal, to remember. 

Recently, I had another such meal, courtesy the two month-old O’ Tenga. The newest delivery space dedicated to just Assamese food is run by by friends Priyangi Borthakur and Joyee Mahanta, out of the latter’s Andheri kitchen. “Ever since we moved here, we’ve always complained about the lack of Assamese restaurants, and how much we missed home food. A few months back, we decided to stop complaining and start something ourselves,” says Mahanta.

Team O' Tenga

Priyangi Borthakur and Joyee Mahanta

Their menu has it all. There’s khar – made by filtering water through the ashes of sun-dried banana peels; xaak bhaji – lightly seasoned green, leafy vegetables; dail – lentils; tenga – a light and tangy curry; pitika – mashed potatoes; besides fish, chicken and mutton dishes. “We’ve been experimenting with recipes for the last five months, trying out recipes from our mothers, grandmothers and aunts. Sometimes, we’ve tried out five different recipes for one dish before settling on what we liked best,” says Mahanta.

This attention to detail reflects in the food. On placing the order, am advised to start with the khar – it is alkaline and so settles the stomach, and end with the acidic/ tangy tenga. The Omita Khar (Rs 180) is like a warm, thick soup with a faint hit of ginger. Kosu Xaak Jalukia (Rs 125), on the other hand, is a light curry made with colocasia leaves and black pepper.

The Koldil Bhaji (Rs 200) is made with banana flower – something I haven’t eaten before – and is a crunchy and dry preparation, with grated coconut adding in extra texture and depth. Dal gets a delicious upgrade in the Thekera Diya Mixed Dail (Rs 150), with mangosteen adding in lovely sour-sweet notes.

The duo sources many of the ingredients from home; they’ve even identified a woman who makes the water that is used in khar. “Besides elephant apple, we get lime, kajinemu (long green lemons), guti aloo (baby potatoes), jaggery, bamboo shoot, bhut jolokia and rice from home,” shares Mahanta.

O' Tenga Til diya Murgi Mangso

Til Diya Murgi Mangxo

These dishes all lead up to my find for the meal, the Til Diya Murgi Mangxo – tender chicken cooked in a comforting black sesame paste. The Pura Maas Pitika (Rs 120) was a tasty mash of grilled fish, potatoes, onions, coriander and chilli – soft, crunchy and smoky. The Aloo Pitika (Rs 50), meanwhile, had the slightest hint of mustard. I ate both these plain, but they are actually meant to be eaten with the Poita Bhaat (Rs 120), a fermented rice mixture with mustard oil and green chilli. 

O' Tenga Fish Meal with Payox

Ou-Tenga Bilhai Tenga with fish, Aloo Pitika and Payox. Photo credit: O’ Tenga

The meal ends with a surprise. The traditional Assamese rice pudding Payox was light on the sweetness, and had the added flavour from camphor. O’ Tenga may have just started but people are already jamming their phone lines for deliveries. With food this good, it’s no surprise.

Call 9833962210 (24 hours prior notice needed); Delivery restricted to Andheri (West); check O’ Tenga for more details 

Mag St Bread Co: Dough good

It was a thing of beauty: a round, bowl-like bread, heavy in weight but soft at the touch. It had lines carved into it, a weathered, beaten look and a dusting of flour – the white providing a stark contrast with the dark, caramel-ly crust. The hard shell revealed a softer, mildly sour bread inside. This was the Mag St Sourdough Loaf (Rs 350), one of the products of Mag St. Bread Co.

 

If you follow head baker Rachelle Andrade’s Instagram feed, you will know that this is one of their specialty products, one that she takes immense pride in baking.  

Mag St. Bread Co. (MSBC), the bakery arm of Magazine St Kitchen, launched their first retail space in November last year, at the entrance of Le Sutra hotel, next to the new Out of the Blue. I visited them soon after their launch. Spoilt for choice, I tried one of everything and walked out with paper bags filled with baked goodies and wishing I could go on a picnic. 

 

The Almond Croissant (Rs 125) was a sweet but delicious overdose of almonds, from the crunchy slivered nuts on the top to the frangipani spread on the inside. Of the four Pullman Loaves, the Brioche Pullman Loaf (Rs 150) was a soft, buttery bread with the darkest crust. It tasted good plain or just dipped into my evening tea.

From the Viennoiserie section, I tried the Cruffin with Vanilla Custard (Rs 125) and Kouign Amann (Rs 125). The Cruffin was a favourite, that hybrid of a croissant and muffin hybrid, stuffed with sweet, creamy custard and dusted with sugar. It was sweet, but not overpoweringly so. The Kouign Amann was a roundish crusty bread containing layers of butter and sugar folded in to create a melt in the mouth, crumbly texture and flavour. The Roasted Tomato Foccacia (Rs 70) had a hint of sourness from the roasted tomato and a faint garlicky aftertaste. Every mouthful was a fresh burst of tomatoes.

 

 Every ingredient used in the bread is locally sourced. The shelf life is 48 hours (not refrigerated) preferably wrapped in butter paper; the sweeter breads have a shorter shelf life. Give us this day our daily bread, indeed.

Mag St Bread Co is located at Out of the Blue, Union Park, Khar (W); open from 9 am to 1 am or till stocks run out; log on to www.facebook.com/MagStreetKitchen