Wednesday 30 April 2014

My A-Z of Mumbai Food

I found that writing my 'A-Z of Mumbai Places' to be quite addictive.  So much so, that I thought I would challenge myself with an 'A-Z of Mumbai Food'.  The good thing about doing this in a city like Mumbai, is that it is OK to cheat slightly by mentioning recipes and ingredients brought to the city by centuries of itinerant workers. After all, Mumbai is a melting-pot of regional cuisines. 

I can at least honestly say that I have experienced all of these foods for myself and enjoyed every single one of them.  I hope that you too enjoy my list - I am sure that any Mumbaikars reading it will find the recommendations a bit basic. On the other hand - I would urge any expats on this page to try everything

A  Aloo Gobi
As Mr Jules and I are not vegetarians, we tend to order this as a side dish to a meat curry - a simple north Indian dish of potato and cauliflower cooked with typical spices.  It is also very nice as a simple veggie lunch when accompanied by a Roti (flat bread), and is easy for the inexperienced foreigner to cook themselves

B  Bhel Puri
Every street of Mumbai has its own Bhelwala - Bhel Puri is one of the most popular chaats sold in the city. A chaat is basically a savoury snack and there are more mentioned in this list.  Like the other chaats, it is the blend of crunchy sev, onions, potatoes, chutneys and papad that makes this so amazingly more-ish!

C  Chicken Berry Pulav
I have mentioned this dish in quite a few blogs, especially the one about Britannia restaurant from where this dish hails.  A Parsi dish, it is a heavenly mix of scented rice, chicken balls and the specially imported barberries from Iran. 

The legendary Chicken Berry Pulav at Britannia (with Lentil Dhansak to the left)
D  Dhansak
OK, so Parsi food is one of my favourite cuisines to be found in Bombay, so there are several dishes mentioned in this list.  Dhansak (which is actually a combination of Persian and Gujarati) is a sweet and sour mutton curry made with lentils and which accompanies caramelised brown rice beautifully.  Swati Snacks do a very nice veg version.  In Parsi homes, Dhansak is usually only eaten on Sundays - or on the fourth day after the death of a relative (as no meat is eaten in the three days prior).

E  Eggs Akuri
Yet another Parsi favourite, this is simply a spicy scrambled egg dish - mostly eaten for breakfast.  Eat it with Pav or Roti.  I have sampled it at the Parsi eaterie Ideal Corner in Fort and had it several times as a hotel breakfast.

F  Farsan
Farsan is the collective term given to snacks originating from Gujarat. I first encountered them not long after I arrived in Mumbai, when someone purchased a load from Punjabi Sweet House in Bandra and brought them to our home.  I next had them at Soam where the friendly restaurant owner took us through each different type - Dhokla, Khandvi, Ragla and Samosas (being Gujarati, these are all vegetarian). 

G  Gujarati Thali
If your eyes are bigger than your stomach, then this probably isn't the meal to try! My two best experiences have been at Rajdhani in Phoenix Mills (when my belly nearly popped!) and at MG House in Ahmedabad (where else should one try at Thali but in the Gujarati capital?).  A Thali is basically a large tray on which up to six smaller dishes are placed, which are then filled by the waiter with all sorts of vegetarian goodies.  In the spaces, you are provided with rice, breads, pickles and dessert.  The Thali is repeatedly topped up until you say STOP!

Gujarati style Thali

H  Hyderabadi Biryani
My kingdom for a chicken biryani!  And the most famous of them...the Hyderabadi biryani.  Biryani is a baked rice dish made with rice, yoghurt, onions, spices, lemon and coriander leaves (to name but a few).  Usually lamb is used but I prefer chicken as does our driver Peter, who I am sure eats chicken biryani every single lunchtime!  Biryani was invented when the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb conquered Southern India - it was the blending of Mughlai and Telugu cuisines by the Hyderabadi Nizam chefs that resulted in the Hyderabadi Biryani.  Try Golconda Bowl for some of the best Hyderabadi cuisine in Mumbai.

I  Idli
I love these soft, steamed rice pancakes for breakfast (usually if I am staying in a hotel as I can't make them myself). Idlis are a traditional South Indian breakfast so you will commonly find them in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.  They are also easily found in Mumbai, especially at Matunga's south Indian eateries such as Cafe Madras and Anand Bhavan.  Made with fermented black lentils and rice, Idlis are served with chutney and sambar (a spicy, watery soup).  

J  Jalebi
Jalebis - sugar and wheat deep fried in oil...what could be more healthy? These sickly sweet chewy spirals are popular all over India and even in North Africa.  I first had them on a Finely Chopped Food Walk, and thought that I wouldn't be able to manage even one (as I don't have a particularly sweet tooth).  But I found the Jalebis to be strangely more-ish and ended up eating five in a row!  

Jalebiwala - Fort
K  Kheema 
No one seems to be sure who invented this minced mutton curry dish (usually accompanied by a buttered Pav breadbun) - it may have been the Persians; it may have been the Hyderabadi Nizams; it could even have been the South Indians.  No matter - because even though there are probably hundreds of different versions to be found in Mumbai, the basic premise is the same. There is an excellent article about Kheema and the varying styles on Mumbai Boss, with some great restaurant recommendations. (Although the recommendation I hear over and over again is the Irani version at Cafe Military, Fort.  I shall make that my next stop!)

L  Lassi
My other kingdom for a mango Lassi!  Lassi is basically a yoghurt drink which can be plain or blended with fruit (such as mango) - and can be salty as well as sweet.  Sometimes it is topped with spices such as cardamom but I am not so keen on this.  I was well versed in the Lassi before I came to India (as they are commonly on the menus of British curry houses) but nothing prepared me for the version I had at the Punjabi Moti Halval in Fort.  These Lassis were sweet and thick - so thick in fact, that you needed a spoon to drink(eat) it.  Luscious.

Lassi that you need a spoon for - Punjabi Moti Halval, Fort

M  Mysore Masala Dosa
OK, if I had a third kingdom, then I think I would definitely trade it for a Mysore Masala Dosa.  These fabulous South Indian pancakes filled with spicy potato never disappoint.  The Dosa - architectural masterpieces - are made with fermented rice and dal batter, a thin layer of which is then ladled on to a griddle (tava) greased with ghee.  The resulting pancake (which is a thin as can possibly be) is then rolled around some spiced 'aloo' (potato) and served with chutney and sambar.  An absolute must-have in Mumbai (Soam or Swati Snacks). There are other variants such as the Rava Dosa or Sada Dosa. 

N  Nimbu Pani
It's just lemonade!  Made with fresh Nimbus of course and sweetened with sugar.  Nimbus are small Indian lemons that look more like limes. Pani is Hindi for water. Very refreshing in hot Mumbai and helps to prevent dehydration, especially if you add salt instead of sugar.

O  Oh Calcutta!
I couldn't think of anything for 'O' except for Okra and that should really come under B for Bhindi.  So I will therefore mention the famous Bengal eatery Oh Calcutta!  Bengali cuisine is very distinctive from lots of other Indian cooking and has an emphasis on fish and fiery flavours.  Black mustard seeds are a prevalent ingredient and Bengalis use a freshly ground mustard paste in a lot of their cooking.  At 'Oh Calcutta', you will find a fish-orientated menu but be prepared to find the odd fish head in your meal.  

P  Pani Puri
This is probably the most fun Mumbai street food you can eat.  And I love it!  Crispy, hollow puris that you fill yourself with a mixture of potato, moong, chutneys and then minted water - and then try to get into your mouth all in one go without it cracking and slipping down your front!  See here for my in depth demonstration of how to eat Pani Puri (which can beautifully sampled at Soam, of course). For anyone who is wondering why I did not mention the Mumbai street-food staple - Pav Baji - apologies!

Pre-constructed Pani Puri
Q  Quinoa Taboule 
OK, so Q was difficult and it isn't an Indian dish...but the Quinoa Taboule at the Yoga House in Bandra is really good! (And isn't it nice to have something so healthy after consuming all that ghee?). Made with quinoa (pronounced keenwa), tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, spring onions, parsley and lemon - it's light on the tongue and light on the belly.  

R  Rawas
Us westerners are not going to get home-grown cod, salmon and tuna in India - but instead Bombay Duck (Bombil), Rawas and Basa fish.  Rawas - otherwise known as Indian Salmon (but nothing like pink salmon) is a seasonal fish which is probably the most popular in India. It is widely used in Malvani cuisine, which hails from the Konkan coastline of Goa and Maharashtra - and which is also easily found in Mumbai. Have a delicious Rawas Gassi at Mahesh Lunch Home.

S  Salli Boti & Sevi Puri
I was too torn to list one thing under 'S', as both Salli Boti and Sev Puri are toooo delicious!  Salli Boti is (yet another) Parsi dish consisting of a lamb stew/curry topped off with crunchy potato matchsticks Find it at Britannia, Ideal Corner and Jumjoji in Bandra.  Sev Puri is my number one Mumbai Street Food/chaat. It consists of discs of puri topped off with potato, tomato, chutney, onions and crunchy sev (vermicelli).  Even better is Dahi Sev Puri which is covered with yoghurt (dahi).  Sound weird?  Don't knock it till you've tried it - every visitor that I have taken to Soam to sample Sev Puri has found it completely addictive.

Crunchy and zingy - Sev Puri
T  Thalipeeth
Perhaps the most unusual dish on this list (to us foreigners anyway) is Thalipeeth.  I have only tried it a couple of times, one of them on a Finely Chopped Food Walk around Dadar.  It is a particularly Maharashtrian dish - kind of multi-grain patty made from roasted chickpea dal, urad dal, spices, wheat and rice.  Thalipeeth has especially stuck in my mind because you have to eat it with a great big dollop of fat - in the form of water buffalo milk butter.  

U  Uttapam
This entry is dedicated to my mate MaximumCityMadam who is addicted to Uttapam.  She loves going to the airport, just so that she can have it for breakfast!  Originating from Tamil Nadu - it is another form of pancake made from fermented rice and dal.  It is almost something in between the idli and the dosa - for the centre is soft and the outer edges crispy.  Again, it is usually eaten with sambar and chutney.

V  Vada Pav
My husband's No. 1:  The simple Vada Pav consists of a spicy fried potato patty inside a bread bun slathered with butter.  Simple, effective and cheap.  Our driver pays no more than 12 Rs for his from a street stall but you can sample this at Swati Snacks for 130 Rs for a double helping.  Delicious! (Please find an alternative V for Vindaloo described on my blog here).

Vada Pav - Swati Snacks

W  Watermelon Juice
This is really an excuse to mention the famous Haji Ali Juice Centre that adorns the entrance to the causeway of the Haji Ali Dargah.  It probably has just as many visitors as the mosque itself, if the crowds I see outside are anything to go by. Every possible juice under the sun is available here with special attention being given to seasonal fruits.  You can also get milkshakes, faloodas and snacks. A glass of watermelon juice will set you back 80 Rs though - quite expensive to the average Mumbaikar. 

X  Xacuti
Chicken (or prawn or lamb) Xacuti - is a Goan speciality.  You can often find it on British curry house menus but the first authentic version I sampled was when we stayed at the Taj Exotica in Goa. A Xacuti (pronounced Shakooti) is heavy on coconut and onion and contains lots and lots of spices! But its complexity is what makes it so interesting and tasty.  Try chicken, prawn or lamb Xacuti at the Goan restaurant, Soul Fry in Bandra

Y  Yellow Dal Khichdi
When I first started working for the NGO in my first three months in Mumbai, I would eat this daily.  I was practically addicted to the stuff and would go and collect it from the restaurant next door to the office myself. So it's got a bit of sentimental value to me.  What exactly is Yellow Dal Khichdi?  All it is, is rice mixed with moong daal (gram), ginger-garlic, onions and mild spices. You can make a version of it by simply mixing cooked basmati rice with dal tadka.  Khichdi provides comfort food to all Indians, whether they be rich or poor. Due to being nutrient dense, it is also fed to small children.  Of course - as with so many Indian foods, there are lots of different recipes and many variants in spelling.

Z  Ziya 
Not much on the Z front (other than Zomato to which I have linked here many times) - so I will mention Ziya - the north Indian restaurant at the Oberoi in Nariman Point.  At Ziya, I had the most expensive - and not particularly remarkable - Indian meal I have ever eaten.  Plush surroundings, but a lack of atmosphere and ridiculous prices makes this an eatery I don't plan to return to!

Thanks for looking :-)


  1. Loving your section on A-Z's :)

  2. If you want a twist to keema head to Leopold Cafe, they have a beef version (yes beef!) version that is awesome, the menu doesn't mention it is beef, the waiter did when DH who is Indian ordered it. The dish can easily serve 4-5 people though, so if you go bring a huge appetite or enough beef lovers :-)

    By the way I could trade a Kingdom for Biryani too, but I prefer the mutton one, and I had a landlady in Bangalore who was Muslim and cooked the best ever every festival and sent a big platter our way everytime...I miss that biryani.

    1. Hi Cynthia. I am going to Leopold's on my birthday next Friday (as unbelievably, I've never been!) and I am definitely trying the Keema you have mentioned. Thanks so much for the tip! (mmm home made Biryani...yummm)

    2. Hi Cynthia, I just wanted you to know, that on your recommendation, I tried the Keema at Leopold's and just as you said - it was awesome! It was so so good! I could only eat half a bowl - even with my friend's help. I wish I could have taken the rest home but I was out shopping. Thanks again for the tip, I will be having it again!

  3. Haha, love your selections. Of course, many many more are still to be covered :)

    1. Oh yes Lee Anne for sure! I could probably write several volumes if I was to live in India for a few more years!

  4. Nice read this one. Being vegetarian and a Mumbaikar, could relate to most of the vegetarian foods you've mentioned here. (Pav Bhaji scores over Pani Puri though :P)

    Btw I stumbled upon your blog when I suddenly decided to solve my childhood mystery of what these "Beanbags" graffiti in reality refer to and that was one detailed write-up to solve it. :)

    1. Thanks Karthik. I knew there would be a little controversy surrounding Pani Puri/Pav Baji - I was torn I have to admit! But for any foreigner coming here, I wanted to make sure they try out Pani Puri as it's a fun dish to eat and share with others :-)



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