In the city that doesn’t sleep, it’s only the restaurants that go to bed early. But like any metropolis worth its traffic, there’s always a good meal to be found in the city’s underbelly. Fly-by-night stalls and cleverly managed restaurant kitchens are a midnight snack-hunter’s best friends.
Jaydeep Mukherjee commands the kitchens at South Mumbai’s posh Indigo Deli, but don’t be surprised if you find him gorging on bhurji pao outside Andheri station. "Suresh’s special bhurji pao can be found bang outside Andheri station on the Western side," he mentions. "It opens only at 11 pm and it’s such consistently good food that I eat there at least once a week." For vegetarians, Mukherjee recommends paneer bhurji or the vegetable pulao.
"Right next to Suresh is Salim Bhai, who serves such delectable kheema that it’s worth making a midnight trip there just for the food," grins Mukherjee. "His tawa stall is always preparing some bheja fry or kaleji, and people either stand next to the stall and eat it hot or wait in their cars for their order to be brought to them." These stalls operate till the wee hours of the morning, perfect for late night revellers who need to chase down their last beer with some meat.
Another haunt for those with a little more loose change in their pocket is the Sea Princess coffee shop. Before the nightclub Trilogy opened in its premises, the hotel had only the coffee shop, where you could tank up on more beers in case the party had cheated you out of your last order. Cheap enough to attract students, corporates and Bollywood strugglers alike, it also offers you a midnight sea view. The best part is the manner of conversations you’re likely to hear from the next table, from producers arguing about increasing budgets to struggling starlets swapping casting couch memories.
Midnight snack food preferences usually veer towards non-vegetarian fare like bhurji pao, kebabs, Chinese food with suspect origins (found opposite CST station and Dhobi Talao), but there are enough vegetarian options to keep everyone happy. The BPO industry in Malad has also given birth to a late night ‘khao gali’ near the Mindspace grounds. "The crowd is usually made up of Mindspace employees and assorted drunks," says frequent visitor Monish Moorthy, who used to work near the area. "The food available is easy on the stomach, Udipi offerings like idlis and dosas, sandwiches and pav bhaji for the hungry midnight snackers."
Ghatkopar in the central suburbs may not strike you as the most exciting midnight haunt, but advertising professional Ganapathy Ramachandran insists that the vegetarian hotdog at Jebi Sagar is worth trying out. "The place comes alive post 12 am and they only have two dishes on the menu – tawa pulao and pav bhaji. But what’s interesting is a variation of pav bhaji called hotdog pao, which has pieces of potato, tomato and onion, topped with some spice."
On the road to Ghatkopar station right after Sindhu Wadi, the stall has four tables inside and four outside. "The crowd is mostly locals, you’ll find a lot of Gujarati and Marwadi Jains who stop by before heading home."
From the north of the city to its southern counterpart, Bademiya, situated in the back alleys of Colaba, is an institution famous enough to stimulate public concern when US President Barack Obama’s visit forced it to shut shop for a few days. Another hole-in-the-wall joint, Bharat Dairy and Juice Centre can be found near Bhavan’s College, Marine Drive. Another well-known restaurant that dishes out enough chelo kebabs to earn itself a world record is Zaffran. The place operates legitimately under the license of a coffee shop within a hotel, set in the Bengali quarter of CST area near Crawford Market, and is almost always packed with a great mix of young and older regulars.
"I’ve been going there as long as I can remember, but over the last five years, my visits have become more frequent," says Stuart D’Costa, bassist of popular city band Something Relevant. He waxes eloquent about the chelo kebab, saying, "It’s legendary. It costs about Rs.200 and is made of mutton or chicken with crushed seaweed as seasoning." According to D’costa, Zaffran is a classy joint where you’re likely to bump into a friend no matter how late it is. He gushes, "I like it because it’s fast and serves everything on the menu, even if it’s 3 am. They serve soul food, the kind that you know isn’t good for you because it’s oily but you just cant stop eating because it’s so delicious."
Stay awake if only to go here
Zaffran, CST — The juicy chelo kebab served all night is enough to tempt any meat-lover.
Bademiya, Colaba — After a night out at Pollyester’s or Red Light, this is the place to be if you’re looking for some after-hour mingling alongside fluffy paneer bhurji and chicken tikka rolls.
Sea Princess Hotel, Juhu — You can keep the beer flowing, even inside the coffee shop. Now thanks to Trilogy, don’t be surprised to find yourself stuffing your face next to some soap star.
Jebi Sagar, Ghatkopar — For those on the central side, vegetarian food served hot all night might be more convenient than a long drive to Bademiya.
Sigri, Bandra — In a quiet lane off Waterfield Road, the silent stall dishes out kebabs and rolls spicy enough to make your eyes water.