Very often, someone will ask me for a food recommendation and then they’ll regret it. A food conversation with me does not stop until I see you taking notes. One of my work beats is food — not fine dining, I’m afraid. I do the rasta food, and the nice little mom-and-pop shops, and the grotesque food and little food economies. So I talk about food a lot.
Which got me thinking, that we’d never spoken about it much. Let’s do meetha. Here’s a list of must-eat Bombay treats depending on where you are in the city. Let’s start South.
Chocolate Eclairs from Theobroma, Colaba
When I walk into the Colaba branch of this patisserie, the server asks me, “One or two?” He means chocolate eclairs. Their hazelnut ganache filling is piped into the née firm choux, instead of sandwiched. The year before last, they made a half-kilo birthday eclair for me and it wiped away my weariness. The lemon syrup cake, dense chocolate loaf and banana loaf are my reliable hostess gifts.
Theobroma was also the landscape against which I met my favourite philosophy. At one time, I used to work in the early morning shift for the afternoon edition — 3 am to 8 am. This meant we could end our shift with breakfast and we’d try a new place each time. At Theo’s, a mother was coaxing her daughter to eat a sandwich and bribed her with the promise of a sweet treat if she did. The girl insisted she wasn’t hungry and finally, her mother gave her permission to pick whatever she wanted from the display. The little girl chose the biggest and gaudiest birthday cake. “I thought you didn’t have place in your stomach,” challenged her mother. “It’s for my other stomach,” replied the girl.
RTI Lemon tarts, Fountain or Colaba Causeway
Bright yellow, synthetically strong and surprisingly crumbly pie. The routine at work was to call RTI and ask if they had them, and then book them all and go sprinting. Best Rs 35 fix.
Mawa jalebi from Bhendi Bazaar (Mohammed Ali Road)
This is by far the most obscene treat. The little stall behind Hara Masjid (Jama Masjid) opens after 5 pm. He squirts mawa (essentially the same thing that gulab jamuns are made of) into squiggles, deep fries them, dunks them into chashni and then BOOM! Widow-maker. They look like turds and I can’t eat more than one.
Taj Ice cream, Saifee Ambulance Lane, Masjid
Saturday was Taj Icecream day at the newspaper. It was also Badshah day. These guys hand-churn the full cream milk in 150-years-old copper containers. Mango or Strawberry is the flavour I suggest (fresh fruit chunks). You may not be able to stomach the environs (it looks like a mori), so order in.
Firni at Shalimar, Majid
There is a kheer they make in my marital household, which I can only describe as angel semen. The milk is reduced on a low flame for nearly three hours, then in go ghee-roasted vermicelli, slivered almonds and pistachios. After this it sits in the fridge overnight and makes its way to my welcoming gullet. The phirni at Shalimar is a near replacement. I suggest the glutton’s platter — rabdi (not overly sweet), kulfi and phirni all together. It’s not for amateurs.
Pedhas from Gaurishankar Chitarmal Mithaiwala
The best pedhas in the world come from this mithaiwala under the Parel bridge. I’ve eaten them all my life (Ajoba and maami come home with a white floral bundle under their arms. Glee ensues). The thumb-pressed squares are the right form factor, perfectly sweetened. I served them at my engagement and wedding, and one guest took a plateful and made a meal out of them. I also like squashing them into thickened milk and freezing the mass into kulfi.
Suttarfeni from Damodar on Dadar TT
Suttarfeni loyalists are divided into the Parsi Dairy Farm and Damodar camps. But through a purely scientific method, it has been concluded that Damodar is the best — light, fluffily and not too sweet. Parsi Dairy farm’s suttarfeni is too greasy with ghee for my taste. My heart was ruled by their mawa samosa for years until it was discontinued in 2008-2009. That was the worst kind of betrayal.
Strawberry Mille Feuille at Oven Fresh, Shivaji Park
I am a fan of this place’s ethos — mark a territory and serve it to the best of your ability. They turned 20 recently and my favourite thing on the menu has to be their Sour juice (blueberry, raspberry, banana). They hold sampling sessions often (during which I perform feats of pastry architecture on my paper plate) and there I met a strawberry mille feuille, which didn’t make it to their permanent menu, but is a strong contender for my birthday cake this year.
Jhamas at Chembur, Vashi, Nerul
You’ll need a list — pista katri (slivers of pistachio embedded in kaju katri); sev barfi (fragrant with rose water); and kalakand. For a easy fix, their warm gulab jamuns (also kept on a simmer) and the simple barfi are enough. Everythign about that barfi appeals to my senses — a nice even cube, moist but not liquid, not too sweet and fragrant not inherently, but by virtue of the sev barfi it sits next to.
Malpuas at MM Mithai, Malad
This gift came to me via colleague Vikas Hotwani. I wasn’t into malpuas until I met these. Paper thin, crisp around the edges and about three inches in diameter. I like them cold when the sugar has crystallised a bit.
I hope you’ve got that down. I need to make a food map.