I got addicted to pan-tomate on a trip to Barcelona. I have, since then, been trying to recreate it in Mumbai, with little success.
Pan tomate is one of those incredibly comforting classics – simple to the point of idiocy but magical nevertheless. I figured it would be easy to recreate it for Sunanda, who spent plenty of time in Spain growing up and is equally addicted. Crusty bread, crushed tomatoes, salt and olive oil – how hard can it be? Tomatoes are everywhere, oilve oil (even Spanish origin, if you're so inclined) is is everwhere, salt is everywhere, crusty bread is…
There, to repurpose Shakespeare, was the rub. Mumbai, the land of A1 pao and Wibs sandwich was sadly, sadly short of hard crust bread. I tried various kinds of breads but none quite fit the bill; squashing tomatoes on one of these usually produced a pulpy bread-tomato-alien-spawn mess hardly geared to impress anyone. Mumbai does sport a few tapas places but they all seem equally keen to steer away from it. I was thus in a bit of a fix there, till genius sparkled.
What I needed, it seems, was a mundane pinch of Mumbai's history.
I'm talking, of course, about the brun pao.
Along with amul butter (and sometimes mafco jelly) brun pao has been the sidekick of cutting chais ever since Iranis started setting out bentwood chairs for their patrons. Irani cafes, Parsi bakeries, all have long histories of this uniquely Mumbai creation that's not quite like any European bread you've come across. Its a little harder to get today than it used to be, but far from impossible. In Bandra, Sunanda loves the brun at A1 Bakery; I prefer the marginally chewier ones from South Mumbai. The most iconic is Yazdani's but Sassanian, Kayani and many others make mean ones too.
Today, some distance into a rather nice keema ghotala breakfast at Edward, I noticed the counter receiving a delivery of brun and ordered the obligatory brun-maska-chai. One bite, and the thought popped up and hit me on the head - this was it, the crusty-outside-chewy-inside pan I had been looking for my tomate. At two rupees a piece, the price of experimentation was rather low.
Back home, I acted. The olive oil came from Spain (via Nature's Basket), the tomatoes from across the road, French coarse-grained sea salt was involved, the pepper of provenance unknown. I sliced the brun, (toasted it ever so lightly too), crushed a fresh tomato into the surface, drizzled some olive oil of the nicest kind, sprinkled some sea salt and a dash of pepper and I was ready to impress. The results, freshly captured on a thousand-dollar camera were, as you can see, spectacular, and the girl was suitably impressed.