By: Shashi Sarma, Mumbai
Apart from being the financial capital of India, Mumbai boasts of a unique food trail that it can call its own. At the same time, since Mumbai is a cosmopolitan world city, it also seamlessly amalgamates food types from not just the rest of the country but from across the world. It has a robust food culture and its people are true foodies. The Mumbai food culture can be intimidating to an outsider as there are so many food types on offer. This article hopes to highlight the distinct food types for the benefit of visitors to Mumbai.
Street food: This forms a very important category in Mumbai. Mumbai has a very robust street food culture and it’s a major lifeline to many Mumbaikars. A lot of office goers, students, daily wage earners etc. depend on street food to fulfil their hunger pangs on a daily basis. The Mumbai chaat is quite different from the chaat found in Delhi, Kolkata etc. Similarly, most of the street food found in Mumbai may have origins elsewhere, but Mumbai has transformed it to make it its own.
From Paav Bhaji, Vada Paav, potato and onion Bhajias, Bombay sandwiches, street-side Dosas, Patti Samosas, Pani Puri, Sev Puri, Dahi Puri, Ragda Pattis, boiled Channa Chaat, Kala Khatta, raw mango slices and berries in Chinese Bhel Indian-style pizzas heaped with cheese to fresh fruit accompanied by real dairy cream that is rare to find in most other places.
Where: Though you can find street food in most areas of the city, each of the areas have their own popular version. To start with, if you are in the suburbs you could head to Juhu Chowpatty, Amar Juice Center, Sharma Chaat Center near ‘On Toes’, and hawkers outside Mithibhai college in the Suburbs. Vithal in V.T area is very famous for chaats like Bhel Puri and Amar Vada Pav is very popular near Capitol Cinema (opp. V.T).
In South Mumbai, Girgaum Chowpatty snack shops, Bachelors (for shakes), Indian style pizzas and sandwiches, and Homji Street Khao Galli (Fort) offer a spectrum of street food.Cannon (near CST) and Sardar (Tardeo) are famous for Pao Bhaji, Gurukrupa (Sion) for Samosa Ragda and Haj Ali Juice Centre for fresh juices, fruit cream, sandwiches and Indian style pizzas.
Coastal food: Here, the coast starts from Mumbai and includes the Malvan, Konkan, Goan/Gomantak and the Karwar coast all the way in Karnataka state. Coastal food is very similar, mostly seafood, with the main difference being in the usage or not of coconut in the preparation. Coastal food is very aromatic and full of flavour. The level of spice depends on the rigion.
In most Mumbai restaurants, you’ll find a mix of Malvani and Gomatak cuisines. The curries here are tangy, coconut-y, fiery with spice and red chilli and accompanied by rice as the primary starch. Bombil (Bombay Duck fish), prawn and Surmai fry, fresh and tangy fish curries and Sol Kadi (made out of Kokum) as a before and after drink are a must. If you have any space in your tummy left, we recommend Mutton Masala and Tisriya (mussels) Suke, rice Bhakris and fried, deep-golden wade to soak it all up.
Where: Mahesh lunch home, Apoorva & Trishna around V.T railway station area, Gomantak, Sindhudurg, Jaihind, Gajalee, Goa Portuguesa, Sachin in the Parel-Dadar area, Highway Gomantak, Maharaja in the Dadar-Andheri area.
Traditional Maharashtrian snacks/meal: Eateries that serve this kind of food are usually small family owned places in and around the traditional Maharashtrian localities of Mumbai like Dadar, Girgaum etc. They offer a meal at lunch time that include the traditional and simple meals of Varan Bhat (dal rice) with vegetarian sides that usually include aKoshimbir (salad), Usal (sprouted pulse) and Pale Bhaji (green leafy vegetable).
The crowd favourite are snacks like Thaali Peeth (a sort of a multigrain pancake or flatbread), Kandha Pohe (flattened rice and onion snack), Sabudana Vada (sago and potato fritter flecked with roasted peanuts), Misal Paav (a fiery curry made of pulses and fried nothings served with bun), Kothimbir Vadi (coriander leaf and gram flour fritters) etc. Aamras (fresh mango puree) when in season and Piyush (a lassi like thick flavoured drink), Kharwas (a jelly like milky pudding made from the milk of a cow that has just given birth) round off the meal perfectly.
Where: Aaswad (opposite Sena Bhavan in Dadar) and Prakash (Shivaji Park) though Vinay Health Home (Girgaum) is good as well. Mamledar in Thane is very famous for its fiery Missal.
South Indian Food: This type of food became popular in Mumbai since the 1950’s because it was healthy, cheap and pure vegetarian. This type of food became popular when restauraunters from Udipi (in the southern state of Karnataka) started small hotels all over the city. These south Indian hotels are popularly called Udipi hotels. It is a great hit amongst the huge Gujarati community based in Mumbai. The south Indian snacks also form a major part of the street food culture of the city. Though south Indian eateries can be found in every locality of the city, the well-known ones are based around areas with a strong presence of the south Indian community in the city like Matunga, Chembur etc.
Where: Most Udupi style restaurants have gotten Mumbaified in their offerings but there still are a few in Matunga like Ramanayaks Udupi (the thaali is what this place is most famous for), Udupi Idli House (absolutely fantastic range of idlis, chutneys and unlimited sambhar), Café Madras (recommend almost everything here but the Podi Upma and Ragi Dosa are favourites), Ramashray (great idlis and dosas) and Manis Lunch Home (known for the thaalis).
Mughalai food: This type of food is essentially north Indian by origin and derived from the cuisine of the Mughal rulers. Usually, this type of food is very rich and heavy with liberal use of dry fruits, ghee and butter. Mumbai has its own version which is not as heavy and is a lot more spicy in comparison. Non-veg food (mainly Chicken & Mutton) forms the main chunk of Mughalai food in both Tandoor, Kabab and gravy form and is usually eaten with Indian breads like Roti, Naan etc. The biryani (rice cooked with vegetables and meat) is also a very popular Mughal dish. Desserts like Malpuas, Firni and Shahi Tukda are typically Mughal.
Where: Most of the famous Mughalai eateries are concentrated around south Mumbai. The popular ones are Delhi Durbar (Grant Road), Shalimar (Crawford Market), Persian Durbar (Linking Road-Bandra).
Parsi/Irani food: Irani cafes (Iranis were the second batch of Zoroastrians to come to India from Persia) today offer simple menus with signature Parsi dishes including Salli Boti (a fantastic dish of melting mutton in a beautifully caramalised gravy, topped with crunchy fried potato straws), Mutton Dhansak (meat cooked in a creamy gravy of lentils and spices), Kheema Ghotala (curried minced mutton with an egg scrambled in, served with paav for breakfast) all to be washed down with the syrupy raspberry soda.
Finish with the famous Lagan Nu Custard. Pick up a crusty Brun layered with oodles of soft and salty butter. Or you may just choose to drop in at breakfast and splendidly make do with Akoori (parsi style creamy scrambled eggs) served with the freshly baked bread, crisp butter kharis and sweet milky tea.
Where: Kyani (near Metro cinema in south Mumbai), Yazdani Bakery, Ideal Corner, Jimmy Boy (Parsi Wedding dishes), Military Cafe (all in Fort), Britannia café (Ballard eastate area of south Mumbai; the Berry Pulav is popular).
Other types of regional food: Mumbai is well represented by restaurants that specialise in many regions of the country. From Punjabi, Gujarathi, Rajasthani, Kerala to Bengali cuisine, one can find restaurants specialising in them all over the city.
Where: Bhojohori Manna (Oshiwara in the western suburbs) for awesome home-style Bengali food, Punjab Grill (Juhu, R-City Mall Ghatkopar or Phoenix Mills in Lower Parel) for fantastically authentic Punjabi fare. Soam (Girgaum) and Hiralal Kashidas (Girgaon) make fantastic Gujarati Undhiyo when the season is right.
Deluxe (Fort area) and Just Kerala (Andheri East) are known for their non-vegetarian Kerala meal, Chetna (Fort) for its Rajasthani thali and Maharaja Bhog (Goregaon, Inorbit Mall) for a Gujarati and Rajasthani melange. Samrat (Church Gate), Panchavati (New Marine Lines), Golden Star (Charni Road), Revival (Crawford Market) and the Rajdhani chain (all over Mumbai) for Gujarathi Thali.
Bhagat Tarachand (several outlets) is famously known for its North Indian thaali (try the butter milk served in empty beer bottles).
I have tried to cover most of the cuisine types available in Mumbai though it really is impossible to cover it completely. This should help you explore the food trail in Mumbai. Happy eating!