From cool chaats in the summer to vada pav and steaming kebabs in the rain, Mumbai always has something to feed its hungry hordes, says Tanmaya Vyas
Whether your wallet is heavy or you are on a budget, Mumbai will never let you sleep hungry. There is gourmet food for those who want the lavish experience and street food for those choose the package deal of value for money and taste, with little concern for hygiene. Mumbai street food is a legit tourist attraction for visitors too. Cleanliness lovers may stay away from street food during the monsoon, but what is the rain for a true foodie if it can’t be enjoyed with the world-famous vada pav? There is something for everyone, from college students to families on an outing to regular office-goers in a rush.
The financial capital of India has a mammoth population to be fed. The city has absorbed many cultures, ethnicities and their cuisines too. Mumbai, which operates round the clock and rarely shuts down, is known for its ‘high-on-energy’ populace. Like every city, Mumbai too has created its signature food, welcomed a few dishes from far-away locations and somehow made these their own. Kebabs are not a dish innate to this city, but you can get some of the finest kebabs here.
Mumbai, erstwhile Bombay, was a place where Persians or Iranis settled centuries ago. They gifted the city with flavoursome Irani chai and decorated every nook and corner with Irani cafes. Typically located at street corners, Irani cafes offer delectable dishes such as Berry Pulao, Kheema Pao, Irani chai, Akuri Toast and Bun Maska. Over the decades, generations have spent leisurely hours savouring breakfast on Sunday morning or chai in the evening.
It is said that because corners were considered inauspicious for business, most Hindu restaurant owners moved out and these spaces were gladly taken over by Iranis whose businesses flourished. Britannia & Co near Fort, Koolers & Co in Matunga and Leopold Café at Colaba are some of the sought after Irani cafes in Mumbai. The first Irani café in India dates back to 1904 with Kyani & Co in this city. These cafés, working at their own pace, had stiff competition by Udupis, natives of South India. Udupi restaurants too mushroomed in Mumbai at a rapid pace. The healthy dosas, idlis and aromatic filter coffee were served at the click of a finger, making it a favourite with this fast-paced city.
Mumbai, the heartland for the textile mills, curated two of its signature dishes, Pav Bhaji and Vada Pav, to meet the requirements of mill workers who wanted quick food. In that sense, much before the term ‘Quick Service Restaurants’ came into existence, Mumbai had shown the way. Vada Pav, a high-on-carb savoury, is a combination of bread and deep fried potato, served with tangy chutneys. An absolute favourite even among celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, Vada Pav stalls are found at every nook and corner of the city. It is priced at a meagre `20-30, is filling and, more importantly, a true foodie will swear by the soul satisfaction it serves. Two of the most famous Vada Pav outlets are Ashok Vada Pav at Dadar and Aaram Vada Pav at Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, which is the oldest Vada Pav stall dating back almost 70 years. Misal Pav, originally from Kolhapur, found its cousin in Mumbai, Usal Pav, preferred by mill workers for being sumptuous and tasty.
Pav Bhaji is another dish that Mumbai can claim as its contribution in food history. A mash of vegetables in butter to be eaten with bread, accompanied by diced onions and a slice of lime...the caption might sound like a description of gourmet food, but this is actually a local and extremely popular Mumbai dish. While every stall has a typical style of making it, a few stand out for their originality. Both Cannon and Sardar Pav Bhaji, in the heart of the city, are known for the unique taste that the past two generations have enjoyed. There are also a few at Juhu Beach, which are available for those in the Western suburbs, who would not travel to Tardeo or CST.
The Holy month of Ramazan is observed across the nation and Iftaari dinners are a great attraction for non-Muslims too. Mohammad Ali Road comes alive during this time, with a variety of traditional dishes and some newly introduced ones that foodies, especially meat lovers, savour. The tender meat dishes of Nalli Nihari or Dabba Ghosht at Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Darbar at Grant Road is something that people swear by. If you prefer the buzz of a street rather than a restaurant, the entire Mohammad Ali Road Khau Galli is bustling with tiny stalls with heaps of kebabs, sweetmeats and tikkas arranged on skewers. The street comes to life during the Holy Month of Ramazan, particularly after 5 p.m. till almost dawn.
The Khau Galli does not disappoint a misplaced vegetarian either, as the sweets available are worth the hype. Be it the traditional creamy phirni at Suleiman Usman Mithaiwala or mewa Jalebis or Malpua, the Khau Galli is decorated with mountains of these delicacies. There is a Ramazan fest beyond this famous street too, in locations like Mahim Street and Bohri Mohalla. A popular hangout for night crawlers, Bade Miyan is open throughout the year. To wash down these delicacies, there is always sherbet at Imam Sherbetwala or falooda at Badshah.
With the growth of the city, the culture of street food has spread far and wide. Some favourites continue to hold their own—Guru Kripa in Sion for their samosa and Elco in Bandra for pani-puri have been go-to places, more so because of their popularity among celebrities. Going a little further, Juhu beach is always vibrant with people coming for Pav Bhaji, Bhel Puri, and other chaat. Of late Borivali in the far-fetched West and Ghatkopar’s Khau Galli on the Central line have become hot attractions. Ghatkopar’s Khau Galli is the opposite of Mohammad Ali Road’s Khau Galli in every sense. A haven for vegetarians, Ghatkopar’s Khau Galli offers Dosas in different sizes, combinations, and prices. As for Borivali, apart from the traditional street food that Mumbai is famous for, Borivali has its own versions like Cheese Vada Pav, dripping with molten cheese.
There is hardly a college-goer who does not have a liking for Frankie, a rip-off version of the Lebanese Pita bread wrap; easy on the pocket, this is befitting on-the-go food. Likewise, commuters on local trains relish Maharashtrain snacks like Kande Poha, Sabundana Khichadi and Upma. These stalls are found at every train station and are reasonably priced.
While many of these stalls are licensed and have been in operation for years, some struggle with BMC licenses and permissions; their popularity, however, remains undimmed. Now, with the growing culture of malls and upmarket restaurants in the city, even luxury food outlets have included popular street food items in their menus—though some might debate the authenticity of these, and the price.
Street food, many believe, is best savoured on the street. So before the monsoons hit the city in full force, and hygiene levels need to checked, go on a food trail and relish the variety on offer.