Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com ventures to Bohri Mohalla, south Mumbai, and pokes about the handis at Bara Handi to discover the tale behind this typical but delicious Mumbai meat offering and to meet the chefs.
Photographs and video: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com
Surti 12 Handi, pronounced Bara Handi, is a distinctive Mumbai landmark restaurant serving a dish with a single name -- Bara Handi.
Started up as long ago as 1938, the traditional eatery was registered in 1940 by Hafiz Ismail Surty, who imported the dish into Mumbai from Gujarat with the courage and backing of his father.
Bara Handi can be fine-tuned to be as flavourful as the person who eats it chooses it to be -- by selecting the meats that go into it.
There are, as its name suggests, 12 handis to choose from. Each time you eat this delightful, non-vegetarian mix and match, its bountiful flavours amazingly erupt inside your mouth!
The recipe -- secret, of course -- has been passed on from generation to generation. The delicious avatar currently dished up is third and fourth generation version of the recipe, with the restauarant being run by Naeem Ahmed Surty and his sons Zaid and Afraz Surty, both graduates hoping to earn MBAs.
In today's India, where change occurs every passing day, it takes bravery and determination to keep a place running with the same stolid, old-fashioned values it was founded with.
A restaurant serving meat that has been slow-cooked for eight hours is not something that can be sustained easily.
Add to that the challenge of repeated changes of locations that Surti 12 (Bara) Handi has had to endure due to reconstruction in the city -- thrice in the last five years.
At present, almost all of the shops in Bohri Mohalla are in a temporary accommodation under the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project.
It took us a while -- plus a journalist's stubborn instincts -- to reach 12 (Bara) Handi. Google maps were all showing last year's location for the restaurant.
Here's a bird's eye view of the yummy fare available in Bohri Mohalla and at Surti 12 (Bara) Handi, all year round.
Remember one thing: Always go to Bara Handi on an empty stomach.
The generously huge rotis that Mohammed Ismail serves you with the Bara Handi just melt in your mouth. He also suggests that Bara Handi can be savoured with a different kind of pav found right there in Bohri Mohalla, called lamba pav.
I have always assumed that 12 (Bara) Handi is open only during Ramazan. And that's when we all rush to have this meat feast.
But that's not the case: 12 (Bara) Handi is open throughout the year. It opens in the mornings from 6 am to 11 am for those wanting a hearty burpy meat breakfasts and its evening hours are 5 pm to 11 pm.
Between these timings is when the meat is prepared ie slow cooked. The tandoor or bhatti where the meats are being cooked are always on.
It is only during Ramazan that the shop pulls up its shutters as late as 8.30 pm and is open till stocks last through the night.
If you want to savour 12 (Bara) Handi with Mohammed Ismail's heavenly rotis pay a visit to the eatery soon!
Ismail, who has been faithfully making rotis for 38 years, is tired of the hustle-bustle of the city and gets teary-eyed when he sees clashes happening between communities.
"Look around," he says, "Most of the customers during Ramzan are Hindus." He doesn't understand why politicians target the plates of people!
Ismail may soon retire, so do head to Bohri Mohalla after the Ramazan rush and tuck into 12 (Bara) Handi with the soft, delectable rotis of Mohammed Ismail Rotiwale.
Address: Surti 12 (Bara) Handi, SBUT Commercial Transit, B Block, Shop 21, Bhendi Bazaar, Mumbai 400003. Phone: Zaid Surty +91 9833979991.