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 :-)

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Ubiquitous India: No 5 - The Cart

The Indian cart surely has to be a design classic?  A design that doesn't falter - four large spindly wheels on a sturdy frame with a wooden top.  And there is just no way that you would not see one of these if you were to go outside today.  They are to be found everywhere and they have a multitude of uses.  These unmotorised trollies are the perfect size for one-man-band business - they can be pushed fully loaded by just one person and are big enough to carry enough stock from which that person can make a living.  

This cart on a street corner near my home holds a carefully built pyramid of sweet limes.
The produce changes frequently depending on what's in season.
You mostly see them on street corners carrying the latest in-season fruit or veg.  Just the one choice - be it mangos, strawberries, grapes, jackfruit etc etc.  But they are so versatile that I have seen them being used to carry music equipment in a parade, I've seen goats sitting on them and I've seen them being used to haul Gods across Mumbai during Ganpati.  There is even a cart at one of the offices where I work that has been painted and converted into a kitchen table.  It looks very cool!

As with all my Ubiquitous India posts...I have lots of photos:

Housewives surround this cart in squalid conditions to haggle for potatoes (Khar)
This trolley is being used to carry music equipment during a parade (and has it's own DJ by the looks of it!)
At Worli Fishing Village - a goat rests on this cart!

At Sewri - a vendor sells watermelon juice to truck drivers
Above and below: When grapes were in season 

A street vendor hauls his stock of tomatoes through the Mumbai traffic
I found this chap with the rather nice side parting in Dhobi Ghat. Note his old fashioned weighing scales.

Paltry offerings from these Gujurati street vendors
In Aarey Milk Colony - fried foodstuffs and tea available from this lady (note the decorated frame) 
During Holi - a rainbow of coloured powders being sold
Hundreds of neatly stacked baked biscuits (Jodhpur)
Plenty of room underneath for additional storage!

And today's star attraction? Melons and Mangoes!

Monday 28 April 2014

My A-Z of Mumbai Places

There has been a blogging challenge going on this month which I did not take part in - called the 'A-Z Blog Challenge', which requires the writer to post every day (except Sundays) thematically.  Because I had been travelling quite a bit, I was not able to commit to this even though it sounded fun.  But I did later wonder to myself, whether I would be able to write an A-Z Guide to Mumbai Places all in one go. So, after jotting down a list of Mumbai related sights (with only a teeny-weeny bit of help from Google), the answer was a simple yes. Anyway, scrolling through my Directory, I realised that I had already completed 75% of the list!  So here is my A-Z of Mumbai Places (follow the links for pictures):

One of my favourite places in Mumbai - Aarey is a little bit of English countryside heaven in the middle of the city.  An early morning stroll will provide you with bucolic scenes and interactions with local dairy workers. Beautiful!  Near Powai.

B  Bhau Daji Lad Museum
My favourite museum in the city for its beautiful Victorian colonial building and spotlessly clean, well laid out artefacts and dioramas.  An absolute must-visit in Byculla.  You may find the diorama of the Parsi Towers of Silence particularly fascinating.....

C  Chor Bazaar
The place in Mumbai that most satisfies my antique hunting habit.  On Mutton street in particular, browse for solid teak antiques and reproduction furniture, lighting and artefacts.  Good luck haggling with the store owners!

D  Dabbawala & Dhobiwala
Mumbai is probably the only city in the world where as a tourist, you can watch lunch delivery men and washermen at work. At around 11.30am at Churchgate, catch the Gandhi-capped Dabbawalas who haul huge trays of tiffin boxes off the trains and then sort them for delivery outside the station.  Watch as they cycle off, their bikes laden with carefully coded lunches for around 200,000 Mumbai workers. Similarly, stand on the bridge next to Mahalaxmi station and look down into the world's largest outdoor laundry, Dhobi Ghat.  Go down the stairs and pay a guide for a more in-depth tour of the Ghats.  Try not to get in the way of hundreds of Dhobiwalas (washermen) as they clean 250,000 items daily. Fascinating!

A Dhobiwala
Take the 150 Rs 'deluxe boat' trip to Elephanta Island and you won't be disappointed.  Only seven miles out to sea from the Gateway of India, the Island is home to some interesting caves, shrines and temples. But beware of the monkeys who will try to steal your lunch!

F  Flora Fountain
Flora Fountain perfectly suits the colonial environs of Fort where it is situated.  Constructed in 1864 out of Portland stone, it was designed by Richard Norman Shaw and sculpted by James Forsythe.  And is now home to lots of crows.

G  Gateway of India 
The Gateway is described as 'Mumbai's most important structure and tourist attraction'. It was built during the British Raj as a landing place for important folk. Ironically, the last British troops to leave India following Independence, passed through the gateway on their way back out in 1948 - signalling the end of British rule.

Constructed in 1431 in memory of Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari - a rich Muslim merchant who gave up all his wordly possessions - the Dargah is quite an impressive sight from the coast road. However, the causeway leading to the Mosque is lined with disfigured beggars including tiny children which can make the stroll to the end rather uncomfortable.  It is at its most busy on Thursdays on Fridays when up to 40,000 Muslims come to receive blessings from the saint.

Right next to Juhu Beach, the ISKCON temple (ISKCON being an abbreviation of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness - or the Hare Krishna Movement) is the most beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Krishna in Mumbai. Built in 1978, the complex is one of the most visited in the country - and is a spiritual oasis from the 'dry and demanding material life of the financial and commercial capital of India'.  Here you will find a pure vegetarian restaurant, a bakery and a guest house. Follow the link here for all timings and information about the temple.

Juhu beach is the nicest beach in Mumbai - it is long, wide and relatively clean and many visitors flock there every day to dip their toes in the (probably not so clean) water.  The stretch of beach is lined with fancy hotels and bungalows belonging to Bollywood stars. If you were to walk your dog here first thing in the morning, you don't know who you might bump into!

K  Koli Fisherfolk
I've encountered the tribal Koli Fisherfolk in several places in Mumbai.  Sassoon Docks; Worli Fishing Village and Khar Danda Market. Still, these are only a few of the locations that they inhabit around the city. They are the most ancient and original inhabitants of the city, existing in Worli 2,000 years ago when Mumbai was nothing but a cluster of seven islands. 

Linking Road is a long stretch of shopping heaven starting almost just after the Sealink turnoff in Bandra and ending in Juhu.  Not only are there western branded shops, but hundreds of small street stalls selling shoes, clothes and jewellery. In between you will find street-food stalls and restaurants as well as the big electrical shops, Croma and ViJay Sales.

M  Malabar Hill
Malabar Hill in the south of Mumbai is the poshest part of the city.  Not only does it house the Chief Minister of Maharashtra's bungalow and various official residences of 'VIP state officials', but you will also find Banganga Tank and the Hanging Gardens there (where you can get a fabulous view of the Queen's Necklance - see 'Q' below). You won't find much in the way of night-life or dining-out options in Malabar Hill's a bit boring to be honest!

At the very outer reaches of the city is Navi Mumbai (Navi meaning 'new') - one of the world's largest planned townships to the east and over Vashi flyover.  Mostly built on reclaimed land, Navi Mumbai was planned as a way of decongesting Mumbai - an island city where expansion can only take place upwards, and not sideways. A self contained area of about 344 square kilometres containing 95 villages, the redevelopment seeks to provide not just homes, but also jobs/offices, sophisticated transport links and all social facilities and amenities. Building work started in 1972 and still goes on....

My second favourite place for antiques hunting in Mumbai is the Oshiwara antiques market in Jogeshwari (neither have anything to do with the Japanese!) Like Chor Bazaar, find antique and reproduction furniture in teak and rosewood and lots besides.  Haggle with Muslim antiques dealers - mostly named Khan.

Phoenix Mills (and it's posh Annexe Palladium) is an oasis of air-conditioned shopping calm in Lower Parel. Find international brands such as Jimmy Choo, Paul Smith and Gucci at Palladium as well as lower end Zara and Tommy Hilfiger.  There is also a Hamleys, Nikon and Canon camera shops, Big Bazaar and loads of fashion brands.  For the tourist shopper, head to The Bombay Store or Fabindia. 

Q  Queen's Necklace
So called because it sparkles like a string of pearls at nighttime, Marine Drive is the most elegant street in Mumbai.  C shaped and 4.3 kilometres long, this boulevard houses the second most prodigious selection of Art Deco architecture in the world (after Miami). It is a romantic stretch - starting at Chowpatty and ending at Nariman Point - where you will find couples sitting on the sea wall canoodling at the weekends.

A picture of the sparkling Queen's Necklace (Marine Drive) taken from Malabar Hill.

The famous Radio Club (full name Bombay Presidency Radio Club Ltd) is located in the Bay area of South Mumbai, 100m down from the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.  Established in 1932 as a place to do radio hamming (!!) and sailing, it has since become second home to paying members from upmarket South Bombay.  If you are lucky enough to get invited in, you will find restaurants, sports facilities, a health club and entertainment activities.

The first thing that strikes you about Sassoon Dock is the smell!  But then it would, as it is the main fishing port for the city. Built in 1875 by Albert Abdullah David Sassoon (son of the Baghdadi Jew David Sassoon who built the historic Sassoon Library in Colaba), the docks were originally used to unload valuable cotton. Since the decline of the cotton industry, fishing became the main activity at Sassoon Dock, employing thousands of Koli Fishingfolk ('K' above).  Worth a visit for photogenic scenes of fisherpeople at work (but makes sure you get permission to carry your camera first).

T  Thane Creek
Thane Creek is an inlet in the shoreline of the Arabian Sea that separates the city from the Indian mainland.  It has been recognised as an Important Bird Area by the Bombay Natural History Society and is home to various bird species.  Although you will see more flamingos at Sewri between January and April, you will also find them here - as well as several other migratory and wading birds (eg egrets, herons, painted storks and spoonbills).

The UoM was established in 1857 during British rule and is one of the first three universities in India. It has two campuses - one at Vidyanagari and one in Fort (housed in a beautiful gothic building). Further sub-campuses can be found in Ratnagiri, Thane and Kalyan and in total there are 56 departments and 691 affiliated colleges!  When I first came to Bombay, I had considered doing a course at UoM - but their website was so bad and so hard to navigate that I gave up in the end.  Probably just as well!

Probably Mumbai's most famous building after The Gateway of India is Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) - formerly known as Victoria Terminus (VT).  Designed in a Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival style by Frederick William Stevens, VT is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in 1887.  Obviously a colonial building, it commemorates the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  Supposedly the busiest railway station in all of India, VT serves as a terminus for long-distance trains as well as commuter trains coming in from the suburbs.  

To avoid a red face, please pronounce it correctly....Venkerdy! Built in 1974 and was then redeveloped in time for the ICC World Cup Cricket in 2011.  The first Test Match played there was between India and the West Indies in 1975.  Architecturally, the thing to note is the suspended cantilever roof covered in lightweight, heat resistant Teflon fabric.  The spectators therefore have a better view as there are no beam supports blocking the way. Capacity is 45,000 and the coastal situation of the stadium means that swing bowlers get assistance during the early part of the day. Red soil is used on the pitch - which ensures consistent bounce.  I didn't realise cricket was quite so scientific!

Named after Francis Xavier, the 16th-century Spanish Jesuit saint, this college is one of the most prestigious liberal arts centres in India (A+/5* rating).  It was actually founded by German Jesuits in 1869 with just two students.  The college is now run by Indian Jesuits with special consideration being given to Roman Catholic students. On offer are undergraduate and post-graduate courses in the arts, sciences and commerce. Built in an Indo-Gothic style, St Xavier's stands on a beautiful three acre campus in Fort (near VT station above). Go here for a 360 degree view of the campus!

Closely related to 'Z' below, Yazdani is one of several fading Iranian Parsi Bakeries in Fort.  I first came across it when I went on a Finely Chopped Food Walk of the area.  The Brun Maska (hard buttery croissant) is a particular highlight, as well as the soft, pillowy bread-buns slathered with butter. If you visit, ask the rather geriatric owner nicely, whether you can take a look at the engine room around the back.  I loved to see the bakers in their vests, toiling away at kneading and baking bread.

Z  Zoroastrian
I could have written about the Parsis for P but then what I have written about for Z?  The Parsis of Mumbai are one of two Zoroastrian communities to be found in South East Asia (named after the Iranian prophet Zoroaster).  The Parsis (literally meaning 'Persians') fled to India to avoid persecution by the Muslims in the 8th century. A well defined community, they live mostly in Bombay (with a few in Karachi and Bangalore), having orginally settled in Gujurat and staying there for over 800 years. My favourite Parsi related hang-out is the Britannia Cafe which serves up its famous Chicken Berry Pulav or Yazdani mentioned above.

A group of Zoroastrian priests at a Navjote I recently attended (Coming of Age ceremony)

Come back another day for my 'Alternative A-Z Guide to Mumbai!'

Friday 25 April 2014

You Photographing Me Photographing You

I always stop off at the Gateway of India if I am down south in Colaba.  Because I love to see the tourists - mostly Indian - that flock to the site for a glimpse of history and a view of the sea.  I also love the way that they gather in huge groups to have their photographs taken by a member of their family.  I usually nip in at the side to steal a picture - which usually distracts them and causes their eyes turn in my direction.  Ooops sorry about that!

What happens when I steal the pose - eyes going in two different directions!
At the Gateway of India you will also find the 'professional' photographer who will avail himself of portrait services for those visitors who do not own a camera.  In fact you will find many of these photographers.  These men carry DSLR cameras (and probably don't have a clue how to use them) and portable printers tucked in a bag so that the snaps can be developed 'instantly' (whatever happened to the Polaroid camera?)  Not only does this service give visitors a nice souvenir to take away with them (I do not know at what cost) but it also means that the whole family/couple/group will be complete in the picture.

The Gateway of India - Mumbai's 'most valued structure' (and where the British were seen off!)
And the point of this blog? On my last visit, I decided to turn my camera on the camera-men. At first, I tried to be surreptitious but it wasn't long before I was spotted - the reaction to this being lots of waves, V signs and posing for my camera by the guys!  I was almost chased! Here are the pics:

This couple wait as their picture comes out of the portable printer.

Another photographer sets up his equipment to print.

I look on as this guy approves his photo (close-up below)

I almost distract these children as they line up for a group shot.

Effectively hawkers, these photographers harass every tourist that passes by.

Some of them hang around shyly waiting to be asked....

And....I'm spotted!

....and again!

This fella looks at me in a bemused way...perhaps he thinks I'm competition?

More photographers join the group and stare at me

...but it doesn't take long before they're laughing, posing and being silly.  Funny!

This guy was so happy because he had the same camera as me - Nikon D7000

As more of the photographers come towards me, I start to run in the other direction.  BYE!

Just love the colour

Inscription at the top of the Gateway.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Ayesha Kumar - Bespoke Clothes Designer & Dressmaker

In the two years that I have lived in Bombay, I have not had the opportunity to have clothes made to my own design and fit.  This is kind of crazy as tailors and dressmakers line every avenue of the city - and it is pretty much the norm for upper and middle-class Indian women to have their clothes stitched. But it is perhaps for this reason - because there are so many to choose from, and probably all of differing standards - that I never got on with it.  It was too daunting. What I really needed was a recommendation.  Which is finally what I have! 

I heard about Ayesha Kumar a while ago through a friend of a friend.  I had been meaning to visit her shop in Colaba for several months but never seemed to get around to it.  But last week - and requiring a dress to be made for a charity event, I finally got to meet the lovely Ayesha Kumar.

Ayesha Kumar - will help you with all your clothing requirements
Tucked away in a quiet enclave off busy Colaba Causeway, is the AY Store - a place where Ayesha showcases her designs and consults with clients.  The racks are full of beautifully embroidered tunics, shirts and dresses as well as plainer, more casual items. And although she makes traditional Indian clothing (including wedding gowns) - a lot of the designs are Western with an Indian influence. 

Mumbai born and bred, Ayesha tells me that years ago, she started making her own clothes at home after never being able to find what she wanted.  Everything seemed so mundane to her and she wanted to be sure that when she went out - that she was not wearing the same thing as anyone else.   In 2009, Ayesha translated her talent into a formal business, by creating a shopfront in Colaba.  Designing everything herself and shopping for fabrics personally, she utilises three skilled tailors to produce her work.  Of course, she collaborates with clients to produce exactly what they want and very usefully (and perhaps unusually) - she specialises in designs for the fuller figure. (Phew for me!).  I have found that being a larger size myself, (or merely being of a Western stature that tends to be larger than the average Indian size), it can be difficult to find decent clothing in this city.  So far, I have been reliant on Anita Dongre and Global Desi.  It would have been much better for me if I had discovered Ayesha earlier on!

Ayesha also explains to me that she works well with clients who have little time to take care of their wardrobes, or those who need help with styling. She basically acts as a confidence booster to such women by helping them to look good in the right fabrics and the right colours. Yay for Ayesha!

As I glance at the rows of samples on the racks, I come to realise that the prices are very reasonable for such bespoke work.  A floaty top starts at 2,500 Rs and more detailed, embroidered pieces start at 4,500 Rs. (£25/£45 or $35/$55 respectively).  I take a close look at some of the embroidery work and I am impressed. Even for a westerner who prefers their clothes to be unembellished, I am being attracted to the gold and silver threads and beads like a magpie. 

Timing is not a problem - it generally takes 15 days to get a plain dress made but if you have an urgent situation, Ayesha can probably help you out in seven days.  Even if the item requires embroidery.  

Although Ayesha specialises in larger sizes, I can see that she must have quite an eclectic clientele. On the racks are gorgeous prom-style floaty evening dresses; brightly coloured, shorter tunics to be worn over churidar for the younger set; elegant linen dresses for the stylish larger women; kurtas with fine detailing around the pockets and necklines; and beach cover-ups in gossamer fabrics to slip on over swimsuits. Really, there is something for everyone, and if there isn't - Ayesha can design and make it for you! (By the way, an evening gown will cost 12,000-16,000 Rs depending on the level of detail and embroidery, and Ayesha can also quote for Indian wedding attire). 

The store is well worth a visit for a private consultation, but you can also work over the email with Ayesha.  I am currently working with her to design an embroidered evening dress in black georgette and this space!

Some pictures of AY Store, Ayesha's showcase:

Inside the showroom you will find some examples of Ayesha's designs

Clothes in many different fabrics, colours and designs

I really like this loose linen top with embroidered flowers

This gown is to do die for - - detail of the pleating below.

I also adore this dress - the gold brocaded fabric is detailed below. A good design for covering tummies!

This linen shirt is a personal favourite of mine - I love the embroidery around
the collar and cuffs and the unusual pockets.

This embroidery/braiding is beautiful.  The top (below) would be perfect as a beach cover up or even with jeans or white pants.

Appealing to a younger audience is this brocaded pink kurta - lovely pin-tuck detail below.
This top would be perfect with pink churidar leggings.

Prices are reasonable - the linen top above with the black embroidery and unusual pockets is priced at 4,500 Rs (£45/$60)

Ayesha sent me a picture of this stunning dress she made for an expat client - the embroidery
on the bodice is stunning.

I am working with Ayesha on a black version of this dress - perhaps with some embroidery.
So excited!
Have this elegant gown made in any colour with your choice of detailing around the neckline.

Ayesha is happy to come to your home for an initial consultation and measurement taking!

Ayesha Kumar
@ AY Store 
Apna Ghar Building
Ground Floor
Shop No 1.

Tel: 9819739308