It turns out that travelling in India can be a sort of exhausting adventure, and we seem to have become caught up in that adventure enough that we have neglected our routine blog updates. So while we were vigilant about our photographic documentation, our memories of specific meals have faded dramatically in the intervening days. For that reason, we’ll have to be content with some highlights.
Our typical travel strategy (especially in the States) is to find Airbnb rentals that are fully independent units (houses or condos). As faithful readers will have noticed, in Sri Lanka and Kochi the available rentals were more like guest houses, with semi-independent units and more interaction with the hosts (who were amazingly welcoming and helpful with arrangements/advice). In Mumbai, we opted for a guest room in a 10th floor condo in a great location. Our hosts were an energetic teacher/foodie and her charming daughter/collaborator (her blog has some great photography). On arrival in their lovely condo, we were treated to equal helpings of great Mumbai sweets and detailed sightseeing advice as we settled in. Most fascinating among the former was a candied lotus leaf treat that was unlike anything we’d ever tasted.
One of the specialties of Mumbai and environs is pani puri, crispy little pockets that you fill with sprouted legumes, dal, potatoes, and top off with tamarind chutney and a herbaceous watery sauce. The streets of Mumbai are full of pushcarts selling pani puri, but we’d waited to try it at this sit down restaurant because the dipping sauce is uncooked, meaning a bit of a crap shoot from the food safety perspective. In fact, some of the most emphatic advice we received prior to our trip was to avoid pani puri from street vendors. Heeding that advice, we tried our first version of this dish at Swati. It was fresh and delicious, with a great contrast of flavors and textures.
The other regional favorite we tried at Swati was pav bhaji, a kind of vegetable curry sloppy Joe, that we had first had at an Indian snack shop in London. Swati’s was spicy good with perfect buttery buns. We also tried a delicious dessert called malai malpua, a sort of sweet creamy pancake rolled up in a sugar syrup.
Another of the interesting culinary influences in Mumbai comes from Parsi people, ethnic Persians who migrated to India from Iran. There are quite a few Parsi restaurants in Mumbai, but one of the most famous is Britannia, where we tried paneer berry palav and chicken dhansak. The palav was similar in some ways to a biryani recipe that we make from an old Indian cookbook, with the emphasis on caramelized onions, cashews and barberries (though ours used raisins). The dhansak was a little bland with very dry chicken, but the entire experience was enhanced by the restaurant’s impossibly charming host, Boman Kohinoor, who apparently has been working there for 75 years. He seems to explore a range of topics with the guests but in our case he was very anxious for us to know that he loved Hilary Clinton, and was hoping we might encourage her to come to the restaurant to meet him.
Part of the Parsi tradition, Irani cafes, are a remnant of another wave of immigration. These typically feature a variety of baked goods, fried snacks served alongside a nice cup of chai. We stopped at the popular Yazdani Bakery and tried a sampling of buns (the names of which escape us). Yazdani was a charming little place with a great ambiance, and while the buns were fresh and delicious, we had some trouble understanding what all the fuss was about.
At the suggestion of our very knowledgeable Airbnb hostess, we also tried the milkshakes at Haji Ali Juice Center near the walkway to the floating mosque (Haji Ali Dargah). M played it a little too safe with a mango while B had the custard apple version. Both were refreshing.
Also acting on another tip from the same reliable source, we made our way to Majestic Restaurant for not-to-be-missed mutton.
A frankly surprising culinary highlight of our stay in Mumbai turned out to be a small restaurant near our room with an eclectic mix of northern and more local dishes. There we had a roti wrap called a kati roll (scrumptious), and one of the most delicious versions of spinach and paneer we’ve ever tasted (palak paneer). Amazing color, super fresh and creamy delicious!