I never took a break-box to school. By break-box, I mean tiffin box or whatever they call it nowadays. I didn’t need to. My school canteen was like a mini version of Bandra’s famous J Hearsch & Co. These were the days before pizzas, burgers and Chinese food became school canteen staples.
The St Mary’s canteen (the school in Mazgaon) was run by a burly, sweaty man called Simon. At first glance, Simon looked more like a dock-worker on a ship that had just chugged in for repairs. You would need the reverie of JK Rowling to imagine Simon could produce food. But produce food he did. Hot kheema pav, cutlets stuffed in buns, beef curry and rice with a big fried papad on top. Those were the basics. And all this served hot for breakfast, and lunch. Why then would I want to eat sausages packed in the morning, which, by noon, felt like you were biting on rubber tubes. All I needed was fifty paise for Simon’s bun-chop and I was a satisfied boy without an annoying break-box.
That does not mean that I was against all home-packed food. If it was a long drive or a trip up the ghats to Mahabaleshwar, food had be packed and taken along. We looked forward to that. And my grandmother was the virtuoso of food-on-the-run. The normal tuck was yellow Sookha Aloo, spiced with green chillies, curry leaves, and dry methi wrapped in large, deep-fried pooris. Or Mutton Roti Rolls. She made them with dry mutton masala, sautéed with onions, garnished with green chillies and rolled in rotis. Her rolls were illustrious. Thirty-five years later, I can still taste them.
And as I hallucinate about her rolls, I can’t help but convince myself that it must have been a mother or a grandmother exactly like her, whose home-made rolls were the provenance of all the famous kebab rolls, including the Kolkata roll and the inimitable Tibb’s Frankie Roll.
Rolls. How I just love mutton rolls. I still remember Tibb’s Frankie when it first opened at Breach Candy. I think it cost a rupee or so, and was served in a cardboard box. Ostensibly, a gentleman called Amarjit Singh Tibb convinced his wife, Surinder, to cook mutton masala in a thick onion gravy, sprinkle it with spices, chopped onion, green chilli, vinegar, and wrap it in an egg-fried paratha. Forty seven years later, the Frankie still tastes exactly like it did. Everyone has tried making it at home, but it just isn’t the same. Plagiarists have served it and called it ‘franking roll’, ‘franky’ and ‘frankeee’. They can call it ‘Sinatra’ for all I care, but they never get the taste right.
Of course, no Bengali living in Mumbai will ever agree with me. They will all swear by the Kolkata Roll. I remember stumbling out of the nightclub on the ground floor at The Park Hotel, Kolkata, many years ago. With around 600ml of booze in me and, doubtlessly, rejected by either the Sarkar sisters or the Banerjee twins, or was it the Ganguly triplets, I swayed left onto Park Street, feeling very predatory, and straight into a Kolkata Roll. I now know it's called Hot Kathi Rolls Kolkata.
The Kolkata Roll is mutton kebabs done on a tandoor, and then sizzled in oil with chopped onion, spices and chillies. Some even douse the toss-up with tomato ketchup. It’s then rolled into the most luscious egg-fried paratha. The parathas of a Kolkata Roll have an inherent sweetness, which, with the smoky mutton kababs, the crunchy onions and spirited sauce, tastes unbelievably ‘bhalo’ (good).
In Mumbai, the Kolkata Roll, or a version of it, is available at Hangla’s at Bandra (not bad), Lazeez Express at Mahim (pretty good), and something called Bhima Calcutta Roll, in Andheri (haven’t tried yet).
Though the guys who have made a king’s fortune selling rolls is Bade Miyan behind the Taj. How? I have no idea, because the only time those rolls are palatable is when you can’t taste them. But they are legendary, as are the ones made by Ayub’s at Fort, Kakori House and Amritsar-da-Dhaba, near Khar Telephone Exchange, where the rolls can be stuffed with the choicest of offals if you like.
Okay, now coming to vegetarian rolls. The kind stuffed with paneer and potatoes. Hell, why am I wasting my time?
Author and TV show host Vijayakar is “always hungry”. Follow him on Twitter @kunalvijayakar