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Made in India: Mumbai’s eateries offer quirky take on regional cuisine

We’re done blindly ordering pizza and pasta. From Tamil Kothu Roti to a bite-sized version of the Sindhi Dal Pakwan, Mumbai is celebrating traditional specialties.

morefromlifestyle Updated: Aug 08, 2015 16:31 IST
Meenakshi Iyer

Since it opened in February, The Bombay Canteen has emerged as the hottest restaurant in the city. Housed in Kamala Mills, Lower Parel, it attracts the who’s who of Mumbai — actors, cricketers, industrialists and models — who can’t get enough of its Goan Pulled Pork Vindaloo Tacos, Multi-Grain Khichdi or the Masala Chai Popsicles. Helmed by Chef Floyd Cardoz, who popularised Indian food abroad with Tabla in New York, the kitchen offers his quirky take on regional cuisine. Before The Bombay Canteen, ingredients such as colocasia (used in Arbi Tuk, a chaat-like preparation), snake gourd (stuffed with green peas, raisins and baked) and lotus stem were unheard of on restaurant menus.

At Bandra’s Monkey Bar, the city’s newest gastro-bar, Chef Manu Chandra serves a bite-sized version of the Dal Pakwan, a Sindhi breakfast staple. His Pandi Curry and Pita — a Coorgi pork preparation served with a side of pita bread, is a house favourite. In the same neighbourhood, at Chef Aloysius Dsilva’s quaint café, Villa Vandre, Homemade East Indian Sausage Fry features in the classic section of his menu alongside popular dishes like the Mutton Dhansak with Brown Rice and the Koli-style prawn curry.

At The Pantry in Kala Ghoda, breakfast is incomplete without the Lamb Kheema with mashed potatoes and pita. In fact, at the brewpub Doolally, which is steadily becoming a Bandra favourite, the newly introduced breakfast menu includes Radhaballabhi served with Alu Dom, a Bengali breakfast must-have.

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A look at the cover page image


CULINARY HOMECOMING

Whether it is a reinterpretation of a regional recipe or a complete makeover, chefs and restaurateurs are taking a page out of their grandmothers’ cookbooks to bring back lost glory to Indian food. “Gone are the days when restaurants serving Indian food were dull spaces with mouldy carpets and santoor playing in the background. We have realised that there’s enough potential in regional cuisine, and it can have the same kind of ‘wow’ factor as any other food,” says Chandra.

With unusual presentation and interesting stories behind their origin, chefs have managed to take food from various regions of the country and transformed it. Before The Bombay Canteen opened, its executive chef Thomas Zacharias took off on a 45-day tour across the length and breadth of the country looking for inspiration. “Our Tamil Kothu Roti (a popular street-side snack in Tamil Nadu) is inspired from my travels,” he says. So are dishes like Mandeli Fry from the coast of Konkan, Ammini’s Vegetable Ishtew from Kerala and Spicy Chettinad Chicken.

COMFORT ZONE

For years, the food and beverage industry remained obsessed with opening Chinese or continental restaurants. Until a decade ago, eating out was considered a luxury, and had to involve something out of the ordinary or, simply put, dishes that our mothers didn’t attempt at home. Spurred by the demand for regional fare, new restaurant owners are willing to experiment with food that most of us have grown up eating at home. With increasing exposure to local cuisine through the internet, television shows, and with the efforts of chefs who dared to put regional food back on the plate, a slow-but-steady shift in our preferences has begun to take shape. For instance, at Gonguura, a newly opened eatery in Juhu — the only restaurant in the city that dishes out home-style vegetarian Andhra food — simple dishes like Pulusu (vegetable gravy) and Iguru (sautéed vegetables) are celebrated in its vegetarian thali.

It has been started by first-time entrepreneur Srividya Mehta — an Andhraite married to a Marwari — when she failed to find good Andhra food in the city. “I would joke with friends that one day, I will open an Andhra restaurant in the city, and here I am,” says Mehta. Almost every weekend has been a full house at Gonguura since it opened last month.

The success of restaurants like Masala Library and Farzi Café in Delhi (soon to open in Mumbai), which have been lauded by customers and food critics alike. Both the restaurants — where weekend reservations have a waiting period of up to three weeks — have been instrumental in driving this change. As Zorawar Kalra, founder and managing director of Massive Restaurants, aptly puts it, “We made Indian food cool again. It is a deeply researched, sophisticated cuisine, with hundreds of ingredients and 20 different spices that go into a dish.”


Gidwani’s Sindhi Kadi


THE ERA OF POP-UPS

About two years ago, a revolution of a different kind was brewing. Despite the city’s cosmopolitan nature, a large chunk of the population remained unaware of the food that communities around them ate. Enter pop-up restaurants and home chefs who allowed strangers in their homes to experience their food. The advent of this trend unlocked a whole new world of culinary secrets, which until now remained confined to our kitchens.

“People are now open to trying Bihari, Assamese, Bohri and Oriya cuisine, which were not popular earlier,” says author Ananya Banerjee, who organises Bengali food pop-ups at her Sewri residence. On the menu are dishes that she has learnt from her mother and perfected over the years.

Gitika Saikia, whose Assamese pop-ups have given the city a taste of North Eastern cuisine, says, “People have realised that there is so much more to explore on the regional front. With people moving to metros for career prospects, they miss their ghar ka khana.” Saikia quit a career in marketing to focus on her project, Gitika’s PakGhor. Her pop-ups are a blend of urban and tribal food that focus on indigenous ingredients like night jasmine flowers, bamboo shoot, pigeon meat and bhut jolokia chillies sourced from Assam.

Popularised by ventures like Small Fry Co, Meal Tango and Trekurious.com, pop-ups have become must-attend events over the weekend. “Both the trends — emphasis on regional fare and pop-ups — are the result of this new ‘foodie’ culture sweeping the world. People are generally becoming more adventurous with food and like to experiment,” says Rukmankan Sivaloganathan, co-founder and CEO of Trekurious.com, a Sri-Lanka based company that provides cultural experiences around the city. Most pop-up events listed on the website cost upwards of Rs 1,500 per person, which is close to how much you end up shelling at a trendy restaurant.


Surmai Thali


THE SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter also played a key role in popularising such events. “People started putting up photos of their personal experience at pop-ups on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, which gave us good visibility,” says Sneha Nair, who was one of the first few home-chefs to experiment with regional food pop-ups. Her Kerala Sadhya pop-up, called Poppaddum, has been held at offbeat spaces such as The Hive and Tangerine Arts Studio in Bandra, apart from regular weekend lunches at her Bandra residence.

This originality, coupled with interesting food, worked in favour of The Bohri Kitchen (TBK), a fairly recent but extremely popular food pop-up started seven months ago. Every weekend, Munaf Kapadia, a Google employee and his mother, Nafisa Kapadia, entertain a group of 12-15 food enthusiasts at their Colaba apartment and give them a sample of Bohri cuisine. Popular dishes on the menu include Smoked Mutton Keema Samosas, Mutton Biryani, Raan (marinated for over two days) and Sheer Khurma. “Consumers are bored of regular restaurant fare. In fact, I am willing to bet that what is today considered an experiment (that is going to someone’s house and paying for food) will soon be a standard practice,” says Kapadia, who recently tied up with the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Centre in Powai for a 10-day Ramzan feast at its Lake View Cafe.

With restaurant-quality food and by maintaining the authenticity of the regional cuisine they represent, pop-ups are giving stiff competition to bigger players. Taking a cue from this trend, Community, a recently launched space in Bandra promises to introduce a new home chef in its kitchen every few days.

As Chef Chandra puts it, “The trend will only get stronger from here on. You will see chefs who might have been trained in western cuisine, now moving to Indian cuisine and repackaging it to the same aesthetics that they have learnt.” He predicts that the positioning of Indian restaurants will match global tastes. So, the next time you eat out, ditch the pizza and opt for a Karari Roti instead.


Goan Prawn Curry


REGIONAL PLATTER

What: Laal Maas Pao (Rajasthani mutton in buttered pao), Goan Prawn Curry, Kori Roti with Mangalorean Chicken Gassi served on rice crisps
Where: Todi Mill Social, Mathuradas Mills Compound, Lower Parel
Call: 6511 0361

What: Tava Chicken Kothu Roti (served with spicy cabbage slaw, coconut gravy and fried egg)
Where:The Bombay Canteen, Kamala Mills, Lower Parel
Call: 6511 0361

What: Mutton Dhansak with brown rice and Koli Prawn Curry
Where: Villa Vandre, off Perry Cross Road, Pali Hill, Bandra (W)
Call: 6527 9009

What: Laal Maas Phulkas, Bhatkali Biryani Liti Chokha, Tikki Of Joy, Malabari keema samosa and Puli Kolambu (tamarind curry) served with Benne Dosa
Where: Monkey Bar, off Linking Road, Bandra (W)
Call: 3015 1853


Kaari Chawal


What: Cashew Gravy Raan, Patveliya Mutton Biryani and Kaari Chawal
Where: The Bohri Kitchen, Colaba
Call: 98194 47438

What: Fish Chops, Mangshor Ghugni and Kosha Mangsho
Where: The Howrah Mahabhog by Ananya Banerjee, Ashok Gardens, Sewri
Call: 99204 73331 or visit: trekurious.com

What: Kerala Sadhya and Kheema Idlis
Where: Poppaddum, Bandra (E)
Email: snehamnair@gmail.com


Kerala Sadhya


What: Silkworm Pupae Stir Fry, Red Ant Eggs and Khorisa (bamboo shoots) pickle
Where: Gitika’s PakGhor, Juhu
Email: gitikasaikia@gmail.com | Visit: trekurious.com

What: MLA Pesarattu served with upma and ginger chutney, Podi Annam, gun powder mixed with rice and ghee
Where: Gonguura, Juhu Versova Link Road, Andheri (W)
Call: 3015 0832

Malvani
What: Chaitanya — Kolambi (shellfish) Masala and Jackfruit Ice Cream
Where: 3, SK Bole Road, Near Siddhivinayak Temple, Dadar (W)
Call: 3015 0827



MLA Pesarattu


THE OLD FAVOURITES

Assamese
What: Bhogdoi — Chicken Jeera Zaluk and Rohu Fish Kaliya
Where: Assam Bhawan, first floor, opposite Centre One Mall, Vashi, Navi Mumbai
Call: 99305 03714

Bengali
What: Oh! Calcutta — Chingri Malai Curry and Maacher Paturi
Where: Melbourne Society, Shastri Nagar, Lokhandwala Complex, Andheri (W)
Call: 2636 4975

What: Bhojohari Manna — Mutton Dakbangla (with egg) and Kosha Mangsho
Where: 3 & 4, Reliable Business Centre, near Om Heera Panna Mall, Oshiwara, Andheri (W)
Call: 3015 1956

Gujarati
What: Shree Thaker Bhojanalay — Unlimited thali that comes with traditional fare like Puranpoli, Dal Bati and numerous curries.
Where: 31, Dadisheth Agyari Lane, off Kalbadevi Road, Marine Lines
Call: 2206 9916

What: Friends Union Joshi Club — Kesar Shrikhand, Gujarati thali
Where: 381, first floor, A Wing, Narottamwadi, Kalbadevi Road, Kalbadevi
Call: 2205 8089


Tikki of Joy




Konkani


What: Highway Gomantak — Surmai Curry thali with Tandalachi (rice) Bhakri


Where: 44/2179, Gandhi Nagar, Service Road, Bandra (E)


Call: 2640 9692



Goan


What: Goa Bhavan Canteen — Prawn Thali and Fish Curry Rice


Where: Gulmohar Cross Road, Near Fabindia, JVPD Scheme, Juhu


Call: 2620 5184

What: Fresh Catch — Bombil Fry, Fresh Catch Crab soup
Where: Lt Kotnis Marg, Near Fire Brigade, off LJ Road, Mahim (W)
Call: 3015 0807

Malayali
What: Sunny — Chicken Kurma with Appam
Where: Shop 43, Shell Colony Road, Chembur (E)
Call: 2522 3549

What: Udaya — Fish Moilee, Kozhi Porichathu
Where: Shrama Safalya Building, near Railway Station, Chembur (E)
Call: 2521 4628

Maharashtrian
What: Aswad — Thalipeeth, Missal Pav and Kothimbir Vadi
Where: LJ Road, Shivaji Park, Gadkari Chowk, Shivaji Park, Dadar
Call: 2445 1871

What: Ladu Samrat — Kothimbir Vadi and Aluvadi
Where: 1 & 2 Habib Terrace, Dr BA Road, Lalbaug, Parel
Call: 93236 10986

South Indian
What: Ramashray — Butter Idli Podi and filter coffee
Where: Bhandarkar Road, Matunga (E),
Call: 022 2410 2623

What: Mani’s Lunch Home — Neer Dosa and Mysore pak
Where: 153 C, Mahskar Building, near Ruia College, Matunga (E)
Call" 2412 7188

Photos (Cover and cover story): Sanjay Solanki, Mehr Singh, Sanjay Ramchandran, Satish Bate/HT, Istock image

(The writer tweets as @CultureCola)