Author Ashwin Sanghi takes you on a virtual food walk of the city in the 1970s, from Marine Drive to Matunga, from five-star coffee shops to udupis
We all have memories of food — good, bad and ugly. The flavour, the aroma, the texture not only remind us of what we ate but also the place where we ate it, the people who were around us, and the very nature of that moment. Food is the ultimate trigger of thoughts and emotions.
The Sialkot Saga uses Mumbai — then Bombay — as a backdrop for the life of one of the protagonists. When my editor was doing a final reading of the manuscript, she observed, “Ashwin, your life revolves around food.” It was said in jest, but the statement was true. My memories are intrinsically tied to restaurants, dishes, flavours and smells.
One of the passages in the story describes a business lunch at Gaylord in Churchgate. Some of the dishes that find mention include waldorf salad, baked Alaska and chicken stroganoff. I remember those dishes because my grandfather would order them when we would go there. But I also remember the channa bhatura and butter chicken which my college friends would relish at Gaylord in later years.
Somewhere else in the book is a mention of K Rustom’s, just a couple of minutes from Gaylord, which was a regular haunt of school kids. The most popular item was, and remains, their ice cream sandwich. I remember waiting at the shop’s counter in muggy summers, my mouth salivating like a puppy at the thought of vanilla ice cream sandwiched by wafer biscuits.
And then you have “memories” of a place even though you weren’t physically present. My parents would talk to me about The Other Room at the Ambassador Hotel (Marine Drive). In those days, the hotel was under the management of a Greek owner, Jack Voyantzis, who would often be seen in the lobby with a Havana cigar clenched between his teeth. The Other Room had a strict black tie dress code. A jazz quartet managed by Toni Pinto provided entertainment while diners dug into sirloin steak, lamb chops and braised ox tongue. It was well before my time, but remains in my head as a shared memory. I have heard about it from my parents and grandparents so many times that I almost feel I was there.
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The other places that I used to hear about were Bombelli’s (Churchgate), the Rendezvous (Apollo Bunder), Astoria’s Venice (Marine Drive) and Little Hut at the Ritz (Churchgate). Each one of them had their own signature dishes and they collectively represented, in my mind an older and more dignified age of the city.
At the other end of the spectrum were the Wardhi restaurants, the hunger eateries of Mahim that exclusively catered to those without any money in their pockets. I remember gazing out of the car window whenever we would pass by. A double or triple line of starving men would be waiting for their next meal outside the restaurants. Cars would pull up at the kerb, windows would be rolled down and cash would be paid to the restaurant managers who waited. The donation would feed the next row of growling stomachs with bubbling mutton curry from oversized vats.
Within the pages of The Sialkot Saga, a nameless Udupi restaurant crops up more than once. It remains nameless because I had so many good ones to choose from. It seemed unfair to name a particular one. I remember visiting several Udupi restaurants, but my favourites included Sharda Bhavan, Ram Ashray and Café Mysore (all in Matunga). If one wanted a decent south Indian meal within South Mumbai, though, Satkar at Churchgate was a decent option. I was always amazed by the speed, cleanliness and quality of these places.
Shree Thaker Bhojanalay in Kalbadevi is yet another restaurant that finds mention in my story. The finest Gujarati thaali in the city was to be had there. Each thaali included unlimited quantities of farsan, veggies, rotis, pulao, dal, kadhi, buttermilk and creamy shrikhand.
But two restaurants that defined Bombay of the 1970s-80s were the coffee shops at the Taj and Oberoi — the Shamiana, and Samarkand, respectively. Unlike restaurants that attempted to project a westernised image, the Shamiana menu boasted of items like pav bhaji, Goa fish curry and masala dosa. I still recall going there to drown my teenage sorrows in a coke float, Shamiana’s famous concoction of Coca-Cola and vanilla ice cream. Samarkand, on the other hand, served the most incredible makhanwala as well as a to-die-for Sultana ice cream roll.
There’s an old Spanish proverb that says it’s the belly that rules the mind. It’s absolutely true.
Sanghi is the bestselling author of The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna Key and The Sialkot Saga. He tweets as @ashwinsanghi
What: Sanghi’s new book, The Sialkot Saga, is in stores now.
Price: Rs 350
Shamiana at The Taj Mahal Palace