It’s almost poetic to watch rich, golden butter melt on hot corn, seep through the crevices, slide over the yellow pearls. Every monsoon, the city is lined with pop-up corn shops that have been passed down generations, and just like that, disappear with the clouds.
“Having hot bhutta in the windy rain has become part of Mumbai’s food tradition,” says Vijay Gupta, a second-generation corn-seller in Matunga. “Traditionally, corn was available in India only during the monsoon. Even now, although sweet corn grows around the year, it is cheapest in this season, when it is abundant. Many fruit-vendors double as corn-sellers in the monsoon to make extra money.”
What would you like, then? Spicy or sweet? A cheesy sauce or a tangy bhel? Head out for a rainy walk, and follow our trail of the city’s most popular steaming bhutta stalls, and grab one that satiates your palate.
Cheesy corn bhel
With a mix of date-coriander and garlic chutneys, this 46-year-old street stall serves up a spicy corn bhel, topped with oodles of grated cheese.
The Gupta Bhel Centre runs a monsoon corn business on a Matunga pavement, and attracts patrons from as far as Palghar.
“My father started the corn business in 1970 to make some extra money,” says Vijay Gupta, owner of the stall. “Following him, I set up an umbrella in the first week of June too, and make corn dishes under it until the end of September.”
Gupta started helping his father at the stall when he was seven, peeling the husk off. Since then, he has fed generations of corn-lovers.
In addition to the relatively new items such as the cheesy corn bhel, Gupta’s stall sells buttery sweet corn (Rs 30) and white corn (Rs 40).
Matunga-based homemaker Hetal Khona, 30, visits almost every day in the monsoon. “His smile and hospitality bring me back,” she says. “Besides, he is generous with butter, and makes sure that everything is masaledar and tasty.”
WHERE: Opposite Noble Chemist, Five Gardens Junction, Matunga Central
WHEN: Daily, 2.30 pm to 8.30 pm
It takes four women four hours each day to grind and mix spices in perfect measures — a secret recipe that is rubbed across the bhutta at a Charni Road stall.
“It’s a family recipe, we don’t share it with anyone,” says Mohammad Khan, 28, a third-generation corn-seller. “The women in our family make it at home.”
Khan sells buttered corn for Rs 30 and corn bhel for Rs 50. When the smokey corn is mixed with cheese, the special masala and sev for the bhel, almost tastes like a sweet-and-spicy Indian pizza.
“I sell 100 to 150 ears of corn a day, but business has dropped since the diamond market was based here,” says Khan. “The 26/11 attacks at Nariman House disturbed profits too, since hawkers from the adjoining Khau Galli were vacated.’
Nevertheless, he gets clients from as far as Borivli and Mulund, and is often invited to cater for parties and weddings not just in Mumbai, but in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh too. “I have served bhutta at Nita Ambani’s parties too,” he says.
One of his fans is 28-year-old chartered accountant Dhaval Goradia, from Bhuleshwar. “My wife and I make frequent trips here in the monsoon. The corn is perfectly roasted and the masala is lip-smacking.”
WHERE: Outside Roxy theatre, Charni Road
TIME: Monday to Saturday, noon to 9 pm; Sundays, 3 pm to 9 pm
Back to basics
Seven years ago, catering to demand from office-goers for healthy snacks, the Royal Sandwich stall at Nariman Point introduced corn dishes. What pulls patrons in, says 28-year-old owner Asif Ali, is that their recipe has stuck to the basics — good quality corn, lemon, masala and butter.
“I don’t like to dilute flavours. People who want quality bhutta in the old style are frequent visitors,” says Ali, who sells 150 ears of American corn on weekends, and about 250 over the weekend.
The focus is on customisation, he adds. “Everyone has a preference, and I pay attention to their requests. Some want it spicy, some without masala, and some, almost burnt,” he says.
Butter corn is available for Rs 40, and corn without butter for Rs 30.
“The corn is soft and of a good quality, and Ali is generous with butter and masala,” says Radha Jhaveri, 22, an intern with a bank in the locality.
WHERE: Royal Sandwich, opposite Status restaurant, Nariman Point
WHEN: Monday to Friday, 4 pm to 9 pm
Sweet corn, 19 ways
Baby corn and olives, schezwan sauce, mushroom and Maggi — at Cuffe Parade, Manoj Pasta quirks up the humble corn a few notches.
“People in Mumbai love to try new things,” says Sonu Gupta, 22, owner of the stall. “My father started the stall 35 years ago selling just desi corn, but in 2003, we added all kinds of pasta and corn dishes to the menu. We have clients who have tried all our dishes and keep coming back for more.”
Some quirky offerings include the corn Maggi with cheese, sautéed American corn Chinese bhel and sautéed American corn with Singapore mushroom and paneer.
The stall is also well-known for its cheesy pasta, a range of Maggi and khichiya papad options. “We can serve so much variety from a roadside stall because most of the preparation is finished at home. Here, we only mix ingredients on a tawa to serve hot.”
Prices vary from Rs 40 to Rs 250.
“All the dishes here are inventive, super cheesy and spicy — they make the perfect monsoon snack,” sats Neha Mehta, 35, a marketing executive and Marine Drive resident. “My husband and I have tried all the corn items on the menu, and my favourite is the one with baby corn and olives.”
WHERE: Opposite World Trade Centre, Near Jolly Maker Apartments 2, Cuffe Parade
WHEN: 5 pm to 11.30 pm every day.