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As the azaan echoes from the minars of Bombay's mosques, every evening -- calling the faithful to break their dawn to dusk fasts -- there is a tearing hurry at the numerous food stalls in the mohallas. A hurry to prepare and keep ready the Ramzaan specials at lightning speed before the hungry hordes descend.
It’s difficult to decide whether Jumman Miya is preparing jalebis faster than Abu Hasan Bhai, who is deep frying mouth-watering malpuvas.
Ramzaan is here in all its glory… A wonderful carnival that lasts an entire month.
The same mohalla, that appears deserted during the day, is transformed into a boisterous mela after the sun dips below the horizon. Shopkeepers, hollering at the top of their voices, sell anything edible, from fruits to the most oily and diet-be-damned snacks. Even mishwak can be found here; mishwak being those special chewable twigs that replace toothbrushes in Muslim homes during the holy 30 days. This is the great Ramzaan bazaar. Full of life and colour. Atmosphere. And wonderful aromas.
A visit to the mohallas during Ramzaan is a must for everyone who loves food. So join me on this journey to the interesting Ramzaan haunts in the mohallas of South Bombay.
What is so special about eating in these mohallas? Where are these localities? What does mohalla mean?
Once you arrive close to J J Hospital or Mohammed Ali road, in south Bombay, just beyond the celebrated Victoria Terminus, get ready to discover the famous mohallas. Amongst the more famous and frequented mohallas are Nagdevi street, near Crawford Market, Minara Masjid and Bori Mohalla.
Each place prepares the same delicacies. But one mohalla or the other has gained a reputation for a particular dish. The thumb rule -- like your Hindi celluloids – that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, does not apply here. The gourmet can immediately spot the subtle variations in taste.
The paya-lamba pav (trotter curry served with diamond shaped loaves), chicken masala and naan-chap (long thin kebabs eaten with naans or leavened breads) tastes great at Nagdevi street. The malpuvas prepared at Minara Masjid are splendid. While the baida rotis of Bori Mohalla are famous.
Shall we begin?
If you walk out of Nagdevi street and keep walking north you will reach the twinkling Minara Masjid in Memon Mohalla. When you set eyes on the lit up mosque you will have no problem recognising it. Suleman Mithaiwala -- which has stood at the entrance of the Minara Masjid galli as long as I, or my father or grandfather can remember -- prepares the best malpuvas. Don’t be confused when you order a malpuva and are asked whether you want a double or a single. It has nothing to do with size. They only want to know whether you want yours made with two eggs or one.
Abu Hasan Chacha, who sits there, ladling delicious malpuvas from giant woks of hot oil, has been effortlessly preparing these golden, deep-fried pancakes for the past 20 years. And believe me, Uncle, knows how to make them. These fragrant, piping hot sweetmeats, made from rawa (semolina), flour, sugar, eggs and yeast, are pretty heavy on the stomach. I doubt if one person would be able to wolf down an entire malpuva, especially after all the khiri-kaleji and fried chicken you may have eaten at the stalls facing the sweet shops.
Janata Chicken 65 Stall is a great place to eat khiri-kaleji (crispy masala fried udders and heart), gurda fry or (kidney and liver dry fried with red or green masala), chicken fry, masala dry fried bater or quails or bheja fry (masala brain). Don’t ask what 65 stands for. Even the owners don’t know what it means.
The Minara Masjid neighbourhood attracts a rather eclectic crowd. You may be breaking bread, or rather tearing pau, with well to do families, from the high rises of Colaba, Cuffe Parade or Peddar road, or just as easily with the odd phirang (tourist) trying out the tava dishes. That is one of the reasons why Ramzaan fare near the Minara Masjid has become more expensive. It would be a good idea to be sure of what you are ordering and how much it costs. Better safe than conned! Even if your stomach is full.
Don't miss snacking on the mango or saadi firni or the khaja (white flour pastry) while you hang around. Another delicacy is the santhal, which is a speciality of the Memon women who prepare it from rice and mawa.
Nagdevi street -- amongst the mohallas you would like to visit -- is the most difficult to navigate. Situated in the midst of the crowded Crawford Market area, Nagdevi street dishes out the best of baida-rotis, naan sandwiches and khiri kaleji.
Tawakkal Tandoori Centre is the place to head for. Interestingly it is owned by the three brothers, who inherited Bori Mohalla's famed Bara Handi restaurant from their father.
Over a period of time they have expanded their repertoire and now serve Chinese food too! The three brothers handle the three stalls on a rotational basis; two years at each place. The nearby Badri Sweet shop is another great malpuva and firni haunt, not to forget their wonderful jalebis.
Bori Mohalla is the last of the mohallas, located beyond Minara Masjid. To get here, take a right out of the Minara Masjid lane. On your way to Bori Mohalla you will pass the famous Noor Mohammedi Nalli Nihari restaurant. Stop in and have a bite of their famous mutton marrow curry, served with naan; a fairly decent restaurant, even though it is a Grade II eating-house.
Bori Mohalla is the home of the famous Bara Handi Hotel (restaurant), right across from the tomb of the late Bohra leader, Syedna Tahir Saifuddin Saheb. Bara Handi... Twelve different handis or cauldrons of beef or mutton salans and kormas (curries) -- ranging from chote ka paya (mutton trotters curry) to pichota (tail curry) or bade ka paya (beef trotters curry) – are available. Very oily, moderately spicy… yet delectable. You can choose to eat three, four of them together with naan or one at a time.
All weight watchers should abstain. Once you are tucking into Bara Handi delicacies, you can’t help throwing caution to the winds. Bara Handi, like many of the other stalls and eateries mentioned, serves up its 12 curries all year round, but for Ramzaan it always has a few special curries, as does the entire locality.
A random walk into any of the lanes close by will -- minutes later – bring you into the heart of Bori Mohalla. Right outside Hamza Fast Food -- which incidentally serves great chicken rolls and, believe it or not, Russian salad -- stands the famous Haji Tikka Kababwala. He is famous for miles around for his great melt-in-the-mouth sheekh kababs, chicken tikkas and khiri.
Right opposite Hajiji, you will find this mohalla's famous khichdawallah being served in pyalis (cups). Khichda, for the uninitiated, is a fragrant stew of dal, wheat flour and meat that has been allowed to simmer for a long while.
Around the corner from here, served out of a garage, are the tastiest baida roti, baida roll and naan sandwiches (stuffed with kheema or mince) . Buy and tuck in for as little as Rs 8 or Rs 10.
Do a complete U-turn and you arrive at possibly the best sherbat stall in the entire area. Imam Badar Sherbatwalla has been running his stall since the days of the British. Even today the sherbat – made from seasonal fruit (apples, right now), milk and malai (cream) -- is priced at a reasonable Rs 6 a glass. Down a glass and reach nirvana. By the way watch your wallet. These foodie tamashas are happy hunting ground for pickpockets. While you ogle at the food, an adept pocket maar can take few seconds to empty your wallet.
As you wind your way down the interesting little lanes -- where kids are playing badminton with table tennis racquets and shuttlecocks, an improvisation due to space constraints – you will arrive at Makhadoom Sani Ashrafi Mohiuddin, the most famous and oldest bakery in these parts. The choicest nankhatais, khari biscuits, zeera biscuits, lamba pav, naan come from Makhadoom’s ovens, still warm and crusty. And priced very reasonably.
By the way if you are still hungry… can it be?… right next to the lassiwala is a halwawallah where you can gorge on some great halwa parathas and jalebis.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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