Category Archives: Where to go

Porto & Poie: Comfort food 

What happens when you put three Goans together in a room? They start talking about feni, sausages, argue about whether South Goa is better than North Goa and within minutes, discover a common friend.

It’s what happened to Goan friend and I when we visited the city’s newest restaurant, Porto & Poie in Juhu, and met Chef Gracian de Souza. A Bombay boy, Gracian has spent many holidays in north Goa though he considers the South better and within minutes, was talking about the best place to get rosary sausages. 

In the recent past, Goan food has become the flavour of the season. Diners are talking about serradura and caldinha with an enthusiasm that Goans would find hard to understand. In fact, the table near us kept talking about the highlights of the other two places and how nothing can beat food eaten in a Goan home.

I agree. But, if seeking a comforting fish-curry-rice with a little brinjal pickle by the side, Porto & Poie is a good option. 

The 110-seater space is situated above Grandmama’s Café in Juhu. A curving staircase (there’s also an elevator) leads to an al fresco section, which is taken up by an open bar. There’s blue everywhere, possibly to make up for the lack of the sea that is part of a Goan experience. Azulejo tiles decorate the underside of a bar and the lamps outdoor, blue and white porcelain plates pepper the ceiling in the enclosed area, and a similar colour scheme gives the upholstery a soothing touch. Inside are faux laterite stone arches and blown up photographs (by Goan photographer Vince Costa) of marketplaces in Goa and Portugal.

Porto & Poie is Gracian’s labour of love, a realisation of the dream he had of creating a place ‘to call my own’. Having worked as a chef and consultant for nearly two decades, he finally got the chance to return to his roots. “This is my home now,” he says with a laugh. “I spend all my time here!”

As we settle in, he comes by with three shot glasses filled with a blood red drink. “This is ginjinha, a Portuguese local liqueur made by fermenting cherries with sugar and alcohol. I experimented with this a lot since I wanted to get the flavours right and I think I have,” he says. We sip on the drink, basking in the strong but sweet flavours of wine, rum and spices. It’s the perfect start for a meal we are promised, features traditional Goan and Portuguese food, done his way. The recipes and dishes are based on his memories of eating this food as a child, and his trips to Portugal to understand the country’s cuisine.    

We focus on the Goan dishes, some of which has Portuguese influences. The first dish is Portuguese style hand folded prawn rissois. The crescent-shaped, prawn-filled snack is creamy and cheesy with a crispy outer crust and a touch of green chilli. Slow cooked Tenderloin Chilli with Green Peppers and Goan Spices is a fancier version of the beef chilli we’ve eaten at carts in Panjim – it’s too spicy but the meat is cooked perfectly.

A staple order at any Goan restaurant we visit, the Classic Goan chorizo pav is good but we’ve had better. The pav here is replaced poee – specially brought in from Goa every day. The 48-hour Marinated Salted Tongue is tender with extra virgin olive oil adding a different layer of flavour. The surprise for us is the only vegetarian dish we order – the Mushroom & Tendli Tonnak. Heaped with roasted coconut and spices, it is a twist on the tradition cowpeas preparation, with mushroom and tendli adding different textures to the dish.    

The food would’ve been perfect with feni or even coconut rum but since they’re not available, I opt for the Vagator Rave from the restaurant’s tiki cocktail section. The drink has enough cashew to hint at feni, and a sweetness from pineapple and sugarcane juice. Calm Chapora looks good on paper – a mix of bourbon, curry leaves, pumpkin and sea salt – but the bourbon overpowers everything else and the curry leaves are there just for decoration.  


Vagator Rave, Bombil and Tendli pickles, Marinated Tongue.

Our main course is focused on fish. Amsol (or kokum) is typically used to flavour Goan curries and here it does its job in the Classic Goan fish Curry (Rs 500). The curry doesn’t have coconut but garners flavour from the many spices and tirphal (Goan peppercorn). The Grilled Prawn Caldinho is a creamy, soupy stew with drumsticks and radish. In both dishes, the fish, prawns, and kingfish, are fried separately and then placed in the curries. It feels like we are eating two different dishes – a fried fish and a curry but, the fish is fresh and fried perfectly. Is it tasty? Yes. Will I order it again? Probably not. I prefer keeping those two dishes separate.      

Dessert is the bebinca, the layered cake that’s as easy to polish off as it is tedious to prepare. Like the ingredients and the bread, this dish is brought in from Goa and doesn’t have the lightness associated with homemade bebinca. 

How does Porto & Poie measure up one the Goan food scale? I’m not impressed with all the dishes and find the prices a bit steep but, Gracian’s food has soul. It reflects his love and respect for the cuisine. He makes people feel at home. And, that’s enough. 

After all, only a Goan can create a true Goan culinary experience.

Porto & Poie is located above Royal Garden Hotel, Juhu Tara Road, Mumbai 400049; timings: 6pm to 1.30am (all week); call 2660 2955


[This review was first published in The Hindu: With Heart and Soul, on February 17, 2018]




Harkat Studios: A co-working oasis

A stray cat stares at me imperiously as I pick my way around her. Her amber eyes follow me as I enter Harkat Studios, the city’s hippest and possibly coolest co-working space cum performance venue. Once I’m in, the cat stretches and goes to sleep.

Harkat, I soon learn, has that effect on people. It makes everyone feel at home.  

The co-working studio has been in the news ever since it opened its doors in the tree-lined, quiet locale of Aram Nagar in Andheri. The founders, Micheala Strobel (or Mika) and Karan Talwar knew they wanted a space that was quiet, green and welcoming. Indeed, walking on the gravel path to reach the studio, past bungalows shaded by a green canopy and breathing in the quiet, it’s hard to believe this is Mumbai.   




The outdoor section has its own library and a canopy of trees.

Harkat has an outdoor and indoor space. The outside is a courtyard, now shaded because of the monsoon, with benches and potted plants. Inside, it is one big room, leading off into a narrow green room, and a kitchenette and bathrooms.

It’s been designed as a living room and it certainly feels that way. The all white space has splashes of colour, from the painted repurposed furniture, yellow girders, framed posters, and rugs. CDs hang from the ceiling, competing for attention with low-hung bulbs. 



I spy little nooks everywhere, different seating zones to cater to every kind of freelancer. A sturdy centre table can be used for a business meeting; side retractable panels on one side of the wall for those who want privacy; mattresses and a painted trunk for those who like sitting on the floor. My favourite is the individual desk, painted in bright colours.

It’s fully equipped for work and my freelancer’s eye is appreciative of the plug points, the printer, the strong Wifi signal and that necessary writer’s fuel, chai (there’s kombucha for those drinking healthy). Another creative working staple, silence, is available in plenty – it is the first thing that attracts me to the place. “We did all this ourselves,” says Mika, her arm sweeping across the room. She points to a table, painted blue with glass on top. “This was a discarded window frame. We got it in Behram Baug and painted it. It was a team-building activity,” she says.



What started out as a bookshelf n contains fascinating set of odds and ends. Photos courtesy: Harkat Studios

The coolest thing here, apart from a vintage typewriter, is the bookshelf. That Harkat staple is visible in almost every picture of the space; an unmoving background to the proceedings. For once, it’s not the books that fascinate me as much as the other knick knacks. “It was originally supposed to be moveable. But once we started putting in the shelves, and added in the books and other things, it became impossible to move,” says Karan. Now, it’s like an open treasure box, scattered with a kaleidoscope, vintage camera, a matryoshka doll, a tie, trophy, painted bottles, paintbrushes and candles. It’s not the prettiest sight; it looks like an elongated stepladder, draped with fairy lights. But, it certainly is compelling. It fits right in; all the furniture here is repurposed or salvaged antique. I run my hands down the wood, trying to imagine where it came from and the stories it must hold. It’s kitschy without being over the top. “The fact that we had no money proved to be a big advantage,” chuckles Karan. “It ensured nothing here is stark or perfect. Everything has rough edges”.

Harkat’s biggest asset is its ability to transform from a laidback co-working space to a performance venue. On most days, it’s a co-working space with people huddled over their laptops, nursing mugs of unlimited coffee and chai. On performance days, held over the weekends, it undergoes a quick 20-minute transformation. All the furniture is moved outside or lined against the walls. The kind of performance – a writing workshop, a film screening, a comedy special –determines the stage area, the décor and whether chairs will need to be borrowed from upstairs. Harkat can comfortable hold about 50 people, 75 if they’re squeezed in together. On Sundays, the outdoor area turns into a vegetable market, selling organic produce.

Hovering in the background and ensuring that everything is on track is a person Mika calls the ‘life of Harkat’, the office boy Ram. It’s not uncommon to hear someone call out his name, several times in the day, asking for his help.

Lunch at the co-working space is communal affair and often, after eating, people curl up on the mattresses and take a nap. “Everyone feels at home here. People come here to work or just to make some tea/coffee and chat with others. It’s a neighbourhood hang out,” says Mika. 

As I sink into a plush yellow armchair, sipping on water from a wine bottle (‘no free wine here’), I can’t help but agree. Harkat is comfortable enough for me to work and for a break, I can curl up with a good book or just take a nap.    

Harkat Studios is located at Bungalow No. 75, JP Road, Aram Nagar Part 2, Versova, Andheri West.The co-working plans start from Rs 300 (a day) to Rs 7,500 (for a desk). Log on to   

Smoker’s Corner bookstore: Stories in the dust

A leering Shah Rukh Khan greets me as I enter the foyer of Botawala Chambers in Fort, Mumbai. The buzz from outside – vehicles honking, people gossiping at the cigarette store on the corner and pedestrians walking – instantly recedes. At the same time, the temperature appears to drop a degree. This, of course, has nothing to do with the actor or the women he shares a magazine cover with.

I’m at Smoker’s Corner Bookstore – a place that gets its name from the sailors who used to come by and stock up on tobacco and cigarettes at the tobacconist just outside the building. Now, they’re just ordinary people smoking around the corner. If I breathe in deeply enough, I can smell the cigarette smoke beyond the mustiness.


The bookstore has no space – barring the stairs and a rickety chair – to sit and read.

This used to be a library but, there’s no board pointing out the name of the place or offering titles at discount; there’s no one to welcome us into the space; and there’s no
registry of what’s available. It’s just a collection of dusty wooden shelves and stands decorating the lobby of the building and two small rooms at the side. It appears as if someone just took a collection of books and hastily laid them out on shelves and stands. It’s hot and stuffy.

It wasn’t always this way.

The book Zero Point Bombay: In and Around Horniman Circle shares a note about the origin of the 
bookstore. In 1954, the proprietor Suleman Botawala took over the tobacco shop and filled it with books, turning it into a library. Botawala was pursuing his passion for books and reading, and over the years, built up a steady clientele of readers. He passed away in 2009 and since then, the place has lost its sheen and presumably, given the empty shelves, its customers.

The available books number to less than a 1,000 and are a motley collection. They’re scattered across two wooden stands in the middle, glass shelves hugging the walls, and two little rooms (alcoves) on the side. Some of them are tied with thread, to keep their pages together and to keep them from falling off the stands.

My favourite part about visiting this bookstore is I never know what I will find, what treasure I can take back home for a mere Rs 50. Finding that one book, however, necessitates my walking through all the sections, combing through the titles. The fashion and news magazines are the only issues up to date editions; everything else is older than me, and secondhand. There’s a selection of picture books on the royal family (back when Lady Diana was alive and part of it); fairytales for children; a Dr Who collection; Bible studies; magazines with advice on enameling, raising a child, and being a good granny; and unusual self help books such as How to Eat Worms.

As with any other old bookstore, I spy an assortment of romantic titles, with author’s names in embossed gold and postcard perfect pictures of fields and castles promising compelling love stories. There’s a nice nostalgia section for 90s kids like me with books on Destiny’s Child, Olsen twins, once upon a time Bond girl Halle Berry, and Reader’s Digest back issues.

As I go though the books, people walk past me, without a second glance. The place has become part of the wall, unseen by those who see it daily but rich in character for other like me. I try and imagine it as a buzzing place at one time, with readers crowding around shelves eager to pick up the latest sports magazine or bestseller. It’s difficult because Smoker’s Corner wears an air of neglect that’s hard to shake off.


Exposed wires, dusty books, creaking shelves – the place has a general air of neglect.

Suleman’s son Zubair now looks after the store, as a way of remembering his father. He isn’t around when I visit but the man at the counter, who makes notes of our purchases in a ledger, assures me he does spends time here.

I pick up a book called Foetal Attraction whose reviews call it ‘screamingly funny’, the diary of Anakin Skywalker (in case I ever do decide to start reading Star Wars), and mystery novel by the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard.

As we leave, my friend and I pause for a moment outside, trying to cool down. My friend lights up a cigarette. He is no sailor but this seems fitting tribute for a bookstore indirectly dedicated to smokers.



I picked up seven books for Rs 400 only. Photos courtesy: Danish Bagdadi.

Smoker’s Corner is situated at Botawala Chambers, Sir PM Road, Fort; call 2216 4060; closed on Sundays; prices start at Rs 30.

The story was written for and originally published in The City Story.

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.


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.


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]

Nipponzan Myohoji: A bit of Japan in Mumbai

On a busy, chaotic junction at Worli is where we found a moment of peace.  

Ignore the building and stores and instead, look for a small gate leading into a compound at the centre of which is a grey stricture. This is the Nipponzan Myohoji, a Japanese monastery built in 1956.  


Inside, the temple is one big wall. As you enter, the walls on both sides have clipping and notices (some dating back to when the temple was built). There are two wooden Japanese drums – these are beaten to the rhythm of devotees chanting Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. The hall has 10 carved stone pillars. The four walls in the centre have vegetable paintings depicting scenes from Buddha’s life. 


The inner sanctum. Pictures courtesy: Kartikeya Ramanathan

A six foot marble statue of Buddha lies in a smaller atrium inside the temple, along with other statues.  

Aside: History – In the 13th century, a Japanese monk Maha Bodhisattva Nicherin, made a prophecy that humanity’s salvation lay in India. In 1931, a follower of Nicherin, Nichidatsu Fuji arrived in India to fulfill that prophecy and with the help of Gandhian Jugal Kishore Birla, built a small temple; it was later converted into a dharmshala and school and a new temple was built. Fuji also met and impressed Mahatma Gandhi, and participated in the freedom movement. 



Read about Mumbai’s only Chinese temple, here 

Kwan Kung: A peek into Mumbai’s only Chinese temple

Seek and ye shall find, says the Bible.

It is after much searching that I finally found the city’s only Chinese temple. 

Kwan Kung Temple was built in 1919. Bombay was once home to a sizable Chinese community, See Yip Koon, who settled in Mazgaon in an area then called Chinatown. The Indo-Sine war of 1962 saw many of the community leave the city and country; today about a 1000 people remain. 

The area is completely residential with small buildings and bungalows crammed together. The only sign that the two-storey building houses the temple is a gate painted red and gold. There are no signboards or instructions anywhere around. 

On entering, we climb the wooden staircase to the first floor, where we meet the Tham family that looks after the temple. A perfunctory question about our intentions later, they hand us the keys. On to the second floor, passing by a mural of Fuk, Luk and Sau (the Chinese gods of blessing, longevity, and prosperity). There is Chinese calligraphy and paper lanterns all around. 

The temple is essentially a large room, in different shades of crimson. It is dominated by a painting of the  Chinese god of justice and courage, Guan Gong (or Kwan Kung; in English Confucius). He is believed to be powerful and grants wishes. The altar is decorated with Chinese sayings and figurines and offerings; incense sticks and candles emit a faint glow of light and high above, hang three lanterns. A small area at the side has statues of three horses, which the caretaker of the temple explains are believed to be the horses the god rode.


The altar

It may be a small room but there is much to observe in the temple. A cupboard nearby has incense sticks, prayer pamphlets, paper money and moon blocks (wooden tools used to pray). On the floor is a carpet cut out in the shape of a tiger. One wall has a board covered with bamboo sheets containing numbers and Chinese script. On a small table lies a jar which contain fortune sticks containing numbers. On an earlier visit, a member of the Tham family, the caretakers, told me how they work.

“Devotees shake the jar till a stick falls out, the number on it is then matched with papers that line the wall to the left of the altar. Each paper is like a horoscope. They are interpreted by learned men who can tell devotees about his wish and what he should do in the future.” 

chinese 1.jpg

Fortune tellers

Offerings here include paper money and gold/ silver paper; fruits, red envelopes, which contain anything from money to rice. The offerings are collected, burnt and stored in a tub which when full is emptied into the sea. Once the prayers are over, devotees simultaneously beat a brass bell and hit a gong thrice. 


The ritual that signifies the end of prayer. Pictures courtesy: Kartikeya Ramanathan

The temple is a peaceful space and you can just sit there and enjoy the quiet, or look out from the balcony and observe the Chinese residents of the area interact with one another. 

Kwan Kung Temple is located at Wadi Bunder, Mazgaon. The temple is open throughout the day. On special occasions like the Chinese New Year, it remains open till 4 am. 


Zines from the underground

The Bhopal gas tragedy, Savitribai Phule, children from marginalised communities, street fashion, xeroxwallahs, the A-B-C  of  anarchy: think of a topic and you will probably find someone has created a zine on it. If you have time, head to a tiny library in Bandra and you can peruse through some of them.

The Underground Bookhouse, unlike its name isn’t underground but it certainly is hidden, deep at the back of a society near the Taj Mahal Tea House (look for the red gate).



The library, started by activists and artists Himanshu S and Aqui Thami (Bombay Underground Collective founders) is located in a garage and is actually just one room. It’s plainly furnished – one stack of shelves is stocked with books collected over the years (including classics, comic books, self-help books and the like) and the other – with zines curated from across the country and India. A little makeshift tarpaulin room nearby doubles up as an exhibition space and a drawing room for kids (from the Dharavi Art Room project) to gather and do their artwork. The outside wall of the room doubles up as an exhibition space too.



“We’ve been trying to set up a library and reading space – a place where people can come to look at quality work from across the country. So, we thought of putting up an exhibition of some of the zines we like,” says Himanshu. 

The duo recently organised the 1st Bombay Zine Fest to showcase independently published literature, comic books, poetry, journalism, and drawings. They have zines from England,  the USA, Australia, Spain. These include a Patti Smith fanzine, collaborative zines with women writers, a Safdar Hashmi zine, a DIY ‘how to’ guide, dialogues between couples, food, Bhagat Singh fan zine, and even one about women narrating stories about their periods. “We had put out a submission call in October. We have over 120 zines on a good range of personal and random pieces covering art, culture and activism. These zines include our own works, those from our collection and books we’ve found interesting,” adds Himanshu. 



The final plan is to create a library of zines from across India and the world. They’ve also put out a call for help, asking people to either host the fest or contribute towards hosting it in other cities.

The Underground Bookhouse is located at Garage No 5, Luisa Chs Ltd, St John Baptista Road, Bandra (W); Log on to Bombay Underground on Facebook; membership begins at Rs 1,500 for three months.