Kunal Vijayakar reminisces about growing up at Chowpatty and its culinary treasures. Before the veg pizza joints took over
I grew up in Chowpatty. Not Girgaum Chowpatty, just Chowpatty. Chowpatty is not a generic term for a beach, but means four creeks. Hence, “Dadar Chowpatty” and “Juhu Chowpatty” are inaccurate. There is only one Chowpatty. But I did grow up in Chowpatty with a clear view of the sea, and Girgaum was two bus-stops away.
A Mumbai borough which had till then stood still in time while the rest of the city had modernised. Home to the iconic Khotachiwadi, that is still fighting that daily battle against glass and granite. In where, once stood the iconic eatery Anant Ashram.
I studied at the Sir JJ School of Art, and I’d often walk back home to Chowpatty, with a friend, Nandu, through Girgaum. We had our reasons. We were too spoilt to take a bus, too broke to take a cab, and we could smoke with little chance of being caught if we took the inside lanes. Nandu himself lived at the end of Girgaum in Kandewadi (Khadilkar Road) and his house was a pit-stop for tea, poha and sabudana wada ordered from Prakash. Prakash Dugdha Mandir is not technically in Girgaum but on a parallel road, opposite the Phadke Wadi Ganpati Temple. They say it opened in 1947 and is older than its famous cousin Prakash at Gokhale Road (Dadar). Hardly five people fit inside, but they make the best sabudana wada, which is served with a coconut chutney that tastes of cucumber, kothimbir wadi, and the nectar-like saffron-infused piyush.
The road through Girgaum starts at Princess Street near Parsi Dairy Farm and ends at Nana Chowk. This was once the terra firma of the Maharashtrian community. It housed one of Mumbai’s oldest wooden houses, owned by the Zaobas, and a palace owned by the Sunkersetts. Unfortunately, the Maharashtrians have moved to Dombivli and Thane. But where there were Maharashtrians, there was sure to be Maharashtrian food. Some still remain.
As you go past Bhai Jiwanji Lane, Nowroji Street, Zaoba Wadi, Gora Ram Temple and Suresh Vitthal Hall (they housed 82 per cent of my family), you find B Tambe, now Sujata Upahar Griha, which is over 100 years old. Here, I dive into a “taat” or thali. The Marathmola Taat consists of a simple meal of varan bhaat, amti, chapati, koshimbir (salad), one suki bhaji and patal (gravy) bhaji and, if you are rich enough, shrikhand. It’s done Maharashtrian Brahmin style, and is homely, especially during mango season when they serve fresh payari aamras and pooris.
Ahead, in the Thakurdwar lane is Vinay Lunch Home, but I’m going to skip it as everyone knows about it. But Kolhapuri chivda at Mangal Wadi is another 100-year-old institution. If you’re fasting, it’s the place to be. You get god-prescribed food which includes farali usal and thalipeeth, sweet sheera with bananas, pooris made of rajgira (amaranth), usal with peanuts, suran (yam) bhaji and ratala (sweet potato) bhaji. When in season, they make olya kajuchi usal, a curry made with tender cashews.
As you reach the flaming red-painted Portuguese Church, there are two places to check out. One, a small farsan wala named Jamnagri (on the corner of Benham Hall Lane; renowned for his kachoris). I’ve been taking its kachoris home for 40 years, and the taste hasn’t changed. The same crisp, small, deep-fried balls of dough filled with a sweet, sour and spicy pooran, served with a dry raw papaya and green chilli salad.
I want to end this Girgaum journey with some meat and seafood. It will never compare to Anant Ashram, but Shree Ram Boarding House on Raja Ram Mohan Roy Road is a quarter joint with great Malwani food. Paplet fry, surmai fry, bombil fry, mori (shark) fry and jhavala (tiny dry shrimp) is fiery hot and irresistible. Or their small crab masala, or kombdi vade washed down with sol kadi is a great way of ending this walk.
The Maharashtrians may have deserted Girgaum. Veg pizza joints have taken over shops that sold traditional dhotis. But Girgaum still feels like home.
Author and TV show host Vijayakar is “always hungry”. He tweets as @kunalvijayakar