Snacks and chaats in Mumbai – 1

13 Apr

Toasting the muri on Malabar Hill

How can it be a month since I returned form the Indian voyage? Time doesn’t make sense. When I rifle back through all those images and sensations that lay claim to my thoughts, it’s not long before the FOOD infiltrates.

In Britain, we’re so used to lots of versions of other countries’ cuisine, served on our streets by people either originating from those countries or fans of those countries’ foods. What we’re not used to is the relentless rhythm and pace of an entire city serving up echos of the same foods on every corner, down every street.

I was warned by almost everyone to not eat the street food (apart from the ‘hygienic’ sort up at Elco Market in Bandra – more of this soon), but I couldn’t not. So when I wasn’t following dabbawallas or riding the trains or getting all up in my urban intrigue, I was chasing the chaat….

Tangy Bhel Puri

Outside the Hanging Gardens on Malabar Hill, I pounced on my first Bhel Puri with glee. Not a million miles from‘s own itinerant food hawker, Angus’, Jal Muri. Good though it was, in all honesty it wasn’t a patch on wor kid’s.

Fresh, hot, crunchy samosas

A samosa done well is one of the truly special snacks of this world. Good crunchy shell with enough flake to satisfy your teeth that it’s worth going the whole Nine. I had seconds.

Pani puri on Chowpatty beach

These were a bit suspect looking – a touch cold and bereft of any visible heating element. I didn’t care. Give me two, I asked, and then skulled those soggy, liquid crammed puris to a symphony of guffawing from the puriwalla‘s sidekick.

Chai express

I’ve never been a tea drinker – save for the magic brewed by the likes of London’s very own Tea Lady extraordinaire, Henrietta, but for the life of me I couldn’t stop with these tenacious little shooters of chai masala.

Prepping the pau bhaji

Whilst having my hand luggage explored at Heathrow I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and ask the Indian security guy for the thing he misses most from his hometown, Mumbai. The immediate response was Pau Bhaji. Buttered, griddled soft white roll served with a deep tomato concoction, lousy with chilli.

We found ours on Chowpatty Beach where a huge amount of the street vendors have been sectioned off into a designated ‘food zone’. Here they vie for custom under the surreal light of the floodlight/neon combo – laying out bamboo mats, as if in a living room, for the punters to venture onto with their shoes kicked aside.

India showed me a life lived in the open air and all the unmentionables that go with it. The heat, the noise, the reliable array of funky aromas. And so too did it demonstrate what it is that food lovers in the West long to recreate for themselves. It’s the soul-satisfying experience of being out on the street, on the beach, in the park or in a field with all sorts of other people, united by the bond of appetite and the opportunity for spontaneous togetherness that it provides.


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