Bicycle Tales

about Yari Rd, Versova, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India 2 comments:

Yesterday's ride, to a neighbourhood I had not visited in a while, threw up some interesting spots. Huffing away at my trusty bicycle, I ended up after a while at Yari Road, that part of Mumbai where Kolis still proudly live in villages and drying fish competes with filmstars for attention. Its also the new cool street for restaurants populated in generous numbers by PYTs and Shahid Kapoor clones.

The first place that caught my eye was a bright purple wall that announced its new-age credentials by casually blending and being too cool to spell – Chaicoffi

I seem to remember it being a Barista in the past; the new avatar was … well … a new avatar of a coffee shop, mixing desi beats into the very hip and fancy cofeeshop.  Cutting Chai, Brun Maska, Keema Pao, Sev Puri all happily cohabitated with Quattro Frommagi Pizza, Cafe Latte, Marzipan Carrot Cake.


I ordered a masala chai and a cous cous upma (just the kind of arty farty thing most restaurants mess up royally). A properly desi-hip khullar chai (namebranded sugar pouches on the side) landed up, along with the most lip-smackingly delicious upma I've had in a while. Cous cous it was, but it came loaded with curryleaf and rai, peanuts and tomato bits – as upma as you could want it. Cous cous is not very far from semolina (both are broken wheat) expect that the texture was basmati rather than sushi rice. And yes, the masala chai was nice too. Pleasant seating, lots of eye candy, nice chai, great snacks – no wonder the place is packing it in. No wi-fi or power points, though

My exploration continued down the road, deep into the heart of the koli village that still looks like it lives in the nineteenth century. Narrow lanes (some would challenge bicycles) and colourful houses of occasional vintage makes for a nice ride. Those gobi balls that Mumbai's fishing communities seemed to have snatched from the Chinese were to be found here and there, but I stuck to my goodbye resolution and avoided them (deep fried, after all). All of a sudden, I was in front of an incongruous sign.

I have this theory that the Bengalis will inherit the earth (the bible called us meek, but that's another story) and this is living proof. The Kolkata roll has hit deep, deep in the heart of the unbelievers. I have no idea who Hingla Devi is (maybe some celestial variant of Hangla) but she's clearly committed to the Kolkata roll. Unfortunately, it was closed on account of it being Sunday evening (run by bongs, after all) so a taste test will have to wait. Its on the way to the ferry, so all you can try it at your leisure.

More rolling was to follow. A few more turns of the pedal later, I was back in Bandra, and back in front of a sign that combined Kolkata and Roll with the yellow colour.

Bong Bong is a brand new eatery just off Shiv Sagar, on your right if you're headed to Pali Naka. The Bangalicious shop offered rolls, rolls and more rolls – not to mention biriyani that smelled like the real thing, kassa, chaap and other promised goodies that may have promise too. Still in full goodboy mode, I had to avoid Foursquare's hot tip, the aloo roll, not to mention the real options - mutton and chicken. This left me with just a tiny corner of the menu – a paneer double-egg roll.


While waiting for my roll, I ruminated on how the new rash of bong restaurants seemed to ignore entirely both mustard and fish. A few minutes later, I was biting into a fat generous sized roll, properly wrapped in paper. Its hard to make much of a taste judgement when all you have to work with is paneer, but based on a superior paratha and the spicy tawa-tossed onions I would hazard that the mutton would be worth trying.

My last stop of the day was Kailash Parbat, newly opened three steps from Bong Bong. It still has Mumbai's best pani puris (before some smartass comments, I was at Tarabaug last week and sorely disappointed). Yes it comes on a do-it-yourself plate but the water is Mumbai's best - spicy, tangy, tasty, quite unlike the usual green drainwater that the average guy peddles. The sweet chutney is loaded with tamarind and chillies, putting in the right amount can at least put you on Kolkata Mail, if not actually get you there.

All in all, a fruitful bicycle ride.

Aunty Esme's Potato Chop


Sunanda's mother Aunty Esme briefly tempted me off my diet with the most sinful combination of all that is not allowed; potatoes, meat and deep fry. With superhuman exercise of  will, I restricted myself to just half but the drool covered the entire floor. The object of temptation was something that landed up from foreign shores, but became distinctively Indian – in this case East Indian.

Its the Potato Chop.

The actual item is rather simple, a mashed potato shell filled with mince of some kind, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. A great potato chop is a perfect balance of the fatty smooth goodness of the potato contrasted with the crunch of the outer crust and the chewy, spicy flavour-burst of the mince inside. Maybe it was all that self control, but yesterday's potato chops were the best I've had in a while. The potatoes seemed more luscious, the mince juicier, the crumbed outer more perfect.


I find the naming of "potato chop" quite amusing. The East Indians of Mumbai as well as those Indians who actually live in the east – Bengalis – have both adopted this form enthusiastically if in slightly different ways. The East Indians focus on the humble shell of mashed potato while the Bengalis highlight the fancier filling – mutton chops, or prawn or veggie. Both communities inherited the name from a fundamental misconception; when the British mems taught their desi cooks the popular breaded veal chop, the cooks got the dish right but the terminology wrong. The "chop" the mems referred to was a cut of pork or veal; the desi cooks applied it to the form rather than the substance - any potato encased crumb-fried stuffed savoury, even vegetarian, became "chops". They should properly be called croquettes.

There aren't that many places to buy a Potato Chop in Bandra. An old lady sits on the Chimbhai side of St. Andrews Church at around 7pm selling a range of them, as does a man on D'Monte Road (if you can find him or the road). Kalpana Snacks in a Bandra bylane behind St. Peters Church makes some, Mikneil tucked away in a tiny nook on St. Pauls Road will have them, A1 Bakery has a passable imitation, Bandra club will sell passable ones if you can get someone to take you, Bandra Fest and Christmas Fair will have some stalls – that's it.

Basically, make sure to be on Aunty Esme's right side. Because its worth it.

Indian Accents

about Friends Colony, New Delhi 2 comments:

Its always wonderful to find a hidden find, tucked away in hard to reach places but still worth reaching. One such was Indian Accent, a restaurant folded carefully into a nook in a gated community of quiet lanes and expensive bungalows. The Manor Hotel that houses the restaurant is itself a silent, comforting place with kurta-clad staff, cozy lawns  and understated decor. How did I find it? Embarassingly enough, like half of India I read Vir Sanghvi. And BBC's new Good Food Magazine. And the Times Food Award.

I and fellow culinary explorer Atul headed into the recesses of Friends Colony; it took us a few wrong turns before we were settled into the dying minutes of lunch service. Napkins on lap, cellphones on tablecloth, we sat down to the serious business of studying the menu. Too late for the tasting menu, a la carte it was going to be.

I liked the name, it seemed to imply that the food was like your global desi – hugo boss suits and frequent flier miles, but with a desi tang to his drawl. As expected, tne menu  married traditionals like punjabu kadhi and misti doi wth exotics like zuchini and cannoli, added dollops of presentation and served it all coursewise.

We got ordering out of the way and settled down to the salivating when the blue cheese mini naans landed; Chefs bites - all very Michelin star, thank you very much. Excellent. The amuse bouche came out a few minutes later – a classic dahi sev puri but dressed up to party, perched singly in fancy crockery atop a bed of sev.


So far so good. While we discussed life and the universe, the starters we had ordered landed up on two beautiful black stone plates. First, foie gras-stuffed gilawati kabab with a strawberry chilli chutney that had sounded horribly promising on the menu.


As you can see, it looked much better than Tunde Miyan's gilawatis. Biting into it, however, wasn't as satisfyng – the base kabab, though good, was nowhere near Tunde Miya's and the foie gras that was supposed to have lifted it to seventh heaven seemed to have slunk away to sulk in a corner; the spices had completely overpowered it. A bit of a waste, that foie. The other starter was another matter – baby brinjals topped with pine nuts, salad greens and kesar yoghurt was wonderful.

Main courses followed – a vegetarian option for me (a la goodboy diet) of stuffed zucchini flowers in punjabi Kadhi with ghee rice. Outstandingly presented, a well-executed sea of kadhi in which islands of zucchini flowers were anchored to a ghee rice tower. Quite nice, well executed individually and quite delicious as a combination.


Atul's peanut butter chicken with methi crisp was very satay. Wonderfuly tender chicken morsels, and the methi crisp did well when soaked in the chunky peanut sauce. Much more plainly presented was the side dish – a wild mushroom kulcha with truffle oil – that nevertheless packed immense flavour. It was a fusion that worked really well; we could easily have eaten a few more portions of it.


Then came the desserts. The first one we ordered was a Kashiphal cheesecake with basil something or the other. Kashiphal, it turns out, is the fancy name for a pumpkin (which for some reason North Indians also call Sitaphal – no wonder Mumbaikars don't like them). In any case, the cheesecake was well executed but hardly the stuff of dreams – a pumpkin by any other name and all that. Nice texture, nice punch from the basil swoosh on the plate but basically we needed more (goodboy diet be damned). Mishti doi cannoli with amaranth laddoo seemed promising, so we ordered it. It turned out to be a revelation; easily the best dish of the lunch. The mishti doi was as good as the best in Kolkata, the cannoli perfect and the combination could make a grown Bengali weep.

So here are my final impressions of Indian Accent. Expensive (five thousand for two, and not a drop to drink) but a very nice special occasion meal with exquisite preparations, lots of surprises and every once in a while a knockout dish. Nouvelle Indian is still evolving, but Indian Accent is as good a place as any to watch it evolve.

Maratha Mandir

about Dadasaheb Rege Marg, Dadar West, Mumbai 2 comments:

Back on the bicycle after ages (and still on my goodboy diet) I find myself speeding through the non-veg dens of Mahim towards safer vegetarian territory in the heart of Sena land - Dadar Shivaji Park - and a break at one of those rare places in Mumbai to serve Maharastrian food. Stuffed into a corner beside better-known, branch-in-dubai oriental sibling Gypsy Chinese is tiny Gypsy Corner.

Unlike the average misal-vada-poabhaji place that passes for Maharashtrian food in the city, Gypsy serves full meals with names properly ending in "chi" or "li" (nope, still no chinese). Malvan fish restraurants abound in Mumbai and Kolis have their Festivals but the Ghatis, prevented from lounging on the beach by the Western Ghats, have their own vegetable, mutton, chicken choices all spiced up with loads of coconut and some very nice local chillies. While Mumbai pretends that all of Kolhapur cooks only one kind of vegetable, the Marathas tickle their tastebuds with quite an array of dishes. Only four places in the city, as far as I know, allow you to indulge ala Shivaji - Purepur Kolhapur, Diva Maharashtracha, Aaswad and my current location - Gypsy. The last two are pure vegetarian and all are short walks from each other (though Purepur has a branch in Vile Parle and Diva Maharashtracha apparently in Andheri). Thane has some options, and there's the strip of roadside stalls between Kamala and Todi mills on Tulsi Pipe if you're willing to look past the beaten path.

Gypsy has a small but frequently changing menu with lots of exotic-sounding daily specials (I suspect they sound more pedestrian if you speak Marathi). This is the tale of me giving up the Sunday special batata patalchi bhaji (which violated my dietary sensibilities) in favour of bhareli vangi; it combined diet-friendliness with my love for brinjal. Three stuffed baby versions in a thick coconut gravy that just could not have been good for me soon landed up, accompanied by two fat gravy-soaking bhakris. The bhakris gave me a moment of guilt (partly rice, after all) but by the time my mind had played out the debate the bhakris were - well - gone. The man at the counter wanted to tempt me with a modak and tup (apparently that's a dollop of ghee on top) but I stood strong and hightailed it out of there.


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