Tag Archives: Restaurants in Mumbai

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.

vegetables

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

 

 

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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.

dosa

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

Sushegad Gomantak: 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.

Talking Mexico with Scott Linquist

Deadly bullrings, pristine beaches, lush tropical forests and lively streets: Chef Scott Linquist has explored Mexico inside out. He’s seen much of what’s there to see and he has, of course, eaten all that’s there to eat. Now, in his most recent stint as a partner at XICO, a Mexican eatery that launched in September in Mumbai’s Kamala Mills, he has curated a menu that ventures beyond tacos and burritos.

Chef Scott Linquist_1

Linquist has years of experience to back his offerings. He was the executive chef at Dos Caminos, New York’s fine dine Mexican restaurant, for nine years, and is also chef and partner at Miami’s quick-service taco shop and speakeasy tequila bar chain, Coyo Taco.

In a culinary career spanning three decades, the Los-Angeles born has made countless trips to Mexico, some of them month-long and each undertaken to hunt down the best of Mexican food. He has cooked a whole pig in Yucatán, downed mezcal or ‘the mother of tequila’ in Oaxaca and gorged on sea urchin tostados in Baja California. His most cherished souvenirs over the years, then, have been the dishes he has added to his menus, inspired from the street food sampled and meals shared with Mexican in their homes.

“Mexican cuisine is very interesting. Unfortunately, it is poorly represented outside of its original location,” says Linquist, 51. Most people even in the U.S.A., he rues, have only ever seen the food eaten along the border town, which is typically roasted and grilled meats, and tortilla, cheese and beans. “I want more and more people to go beyond that and try the food that the locals there eat,” he adds. “Not the Tex-Mex version.” 

Here, he talks about his trips to Mexico and the special bond he shares with that country and especially its food.

You have been to Mexico more times than you can remember. What is the place like and what is its cuisine like?

I’ve been travelling to Mexico for over 20 years now. I go at least thrice a year, and I have been to all the regions, cities and villages that are significant from a food perspective. The food there varies according to region. In Yucatán, home to indigenous Maya people and located in south-eastern Mexico, the climate is tropical and the food has Mayan influences, while the small state of Oaxaca has Zapotec, and even a few Spanish and French influences. Oaxaca is also the culinary mecca—it is where mezcal, ‘the mother of tequila’ that’s distilled from the local agave plant, comes from. Oaxaca is also popular for its mole sauces. Every time I visit, I try to share a meal with locals in their homes—that’s where you find the best of Mexican food.

You have not only eaten on Mexico’s streets, you have also cooked there. What’s that one Mexican dish you had the most fun experimenting with?

This one was not on the streets, but I had great fun cooking cochinita pibil in the Yucatán jungle. It’s a traditional Mexican dish with Mayan roots, which involves roasting a whole pig in a hole in the ground. The meat is marinated with citrus, garlic, spices, and achiote (the orange red condiment that gives the meat its colour). The pig is then wrapped in banana leaf and laid in the ground for 12 hours beside coals. The resultant sweet and smoky dish is incredible, one of the best I’ve tasted. It’s served with hot habanero chilli and chilled serveza (beer).

When it comes to weird foods, Mexico is no China. But it does have its share of bizarre foods. What all have you tried?  

I have one food philosophy: I’ll eat almost anything at least once in my life. I’ve caught and savoured sea urchins and eaten roe. Mexicans also eat a lot of insects. In Oaxaca, for instance, they also relish chapulines. This dish is essentially grasshoppers toasted over wood fire, and then some chillies, lime and salt is tossed over it. It is eaten as a snack with mezcal, or inside tacos. I’ve also tried gusano, a fat caterpillar that’s roasted till it turns crispy. It has an oozing and gooey centre. But to be honest, I didn’t like the texture. I prefer escamoles instead. Larvae from a giant ant, they look like maggots and are cooked with chilli, garlic, and butter, and are eaten with tortillas. They’re simply delicious.

What have been some of your most memorable meals there?

There are just so many of them. But my first choice will be the tacos served at El Villamelón. Located across the street from Monumental Plaza de Toros México, one of the world’s largest bullrings, this 56-year-old restobar cooks the bull that’s slaughtered in the ring. The dish is called Taco Campechano, which has cecina (beef jerky), longaniza (sausage), and chicharrón (pork rinds), and is served on a corn tortilla. This is a heavy and flavourful meat dish, full of different layers and textures. Definitely the most delicious tacos I have ever had.

Another tasty or rather unique dish I tried was Lamb Barbacoa, in this small town called Zaachila, about 14 kilometres from Oaxaca. Zaachila is known for its Thursday market. Vendors from nearby villages flock to this open-air market to sell flowers, fruit, vegetables, pots and such knick-knacks. But on Sunday, if you’re there when the cooks at La Capilla restaurant remove the steaming roasted lamb, coated with avocado and enveloped in banana leaves, from the brick and dirt pit where it’s left to roast for a day—it’s a sight to behold. They chop up everything, the bones, the insides, and the meat together and you can make yourself tacos using tortillas and condiments. This is served with a consommé made of vegetables and meat juices.

 

 

You have led culinary tours in Mexico. How did it feel to familiarise a bunch of tourists to a cuisine you feel so passionately about?

Let me tell how it started. In 2002, when I started the Dos Caminos, we had a research and development budget. Since I was the corporate chef, I started to pick good chefs to take them with me to Mexico. We would fly down for six to 10 days and explore different regions and their specific dishes. Soon, other chefs, interested in learning about Mexican food, started to call saying they’d like to join. A year later, a culinary tour group approached me. I thought why not, and so I started taking people to restaurants and to people’s homes. Together, we’d make mole sauce, cheese and tortillas. I did it for a few years and then stopped once my workload increased. I do intend to start again, though.

The thing is Mexico has a bad reputation… because of corruption, the drug culture. But besides food, there’s still a lot to see and do there. There’s culture and history, and the people are fabulous.

Do you think culinary tours help countries pin their cuisines on the global food map?

Culinary tourism is becoming a big deal. Maybe not so much in the U.S.A. because we don’t really have a food culture but it is indeed prevalent in most European and Asian countries. Food is a really important part of the culture of most places. Not everyone wants to just see the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal. Most want to get down and dirty, go into the backstreets and eat the food that locals eat. On my first visit to Mumbai, I visited this tiny stall near the Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba and tried goat brains and kidneys. Now I’ve eaten brain before but it’s always been beef. This, though, was tastier.

The story first appeared in National Geographic Traveller, India