© Ravi Wazir, 2020

Bandra the Food Temple

It’s no co-incidence that Bandra fascinates food lovers – who’d either love to visit it to eat at one of its restaurants, or then move mountains to start a restaurant here. There’s something about Bandra, deep within its food traditions and at the very core of its culture which draws people who love food towards it.

My greatest influences growing up in Bandra were the sun, the sea and the company of friends, not necessarily in that order.

Language was one of the first things that united us and regardless of which tongue a Bandraite spoke at home, he always spoke in English with another Bandraite! But the language that truly brought us closer was our treasured Bandra-special. Phrases like “wheeere men?”, “puttru men”, “yourbaager” that may have seemed silly and even entertaining to others, was in fact especially endearing and kindled a warmth and affection amongst us.

Friendships were best built on jamming up over good food, wine, sports and music. Dropping by at friends’ homes without calling, staying on for hours, sometimes even days... alongside unending spontaneous meal invitations marked the hospitality of our families. We indulged one another with little motive other than each other’s company and in doing so gave one another our hearts. Once this happened, we became bumchums and if one of us declared that alcohol killed bacteria and was therefore good for us, we’d unquestioningly uphold it by raising our glasses, till we had one too many.

The practice of saying grace before a meal taught me to remember and to thank Bandra’s original culinary heroes, who cooked and shared tirelessly and selflessly not just for their own family, but also for those of their friends and their neighbours.

With generations of kids like me delightfully nourished by our friends’ mums through our most impressionable years, Bandra indeed has food and hospitality running through its veins.

I miss the sorpotel aunty Greta made and aunty Helen’s curry too. Where else these days but the Bandra Gym fair, can I try for something close enough. I’ve learnt to develop a taste for Bagels and let go of the Bun maska... initially, a little wistfully. Socially today Shawarma is clearly preferred over pan-rolls and Khow Suey over Biryani. While I ate at Lucky’s in those days, my kids now actually eat at a place called LSD. If one can truly tell who a person is by what they eat, and I were asked to describe who a Bandraite was back then and even now, I’d just say – “Dynamic!”

These I find, are also some of the reasons why you can take the boy out of Bandra, but you cannot take Bandra out of the boy!

As time hastens, tall buildings stand where guppy-filled greenfields once did. Our waterfronts, once raw-edged, have now been transformed into manicured promenades. The long drive to the old office district of Nariman Point is now shorter by the sealink or then closer with the Bandra Kurla Complex. Our tribe of motley artists for which Bandra was a sanctuary then still remains and fortunately continues to grow, and many still see Bandra as that sanctuary.

Different aspects of our upbringing influence us into our vocation. For me it was the language of food through its original culinary heroes that inspired me into the profession. It was from them that I learnt early enough, that food can never be great without one particular secret invisible ingredient... called “soul”.

When invited to someone’s home these days, it is usual for the host to have ordered some dishes, if not all from outside. So if mums aren’t cooking that much these days, who else but restaurateurs or caterers can fill the gap of our city’s voracious appetite.

I believe that Bandra’s original relationship with food and the presence of its new residents have driven culinary expectations through the roof. After all, which food lover would not like to serve or be served in such a compelling marketplace, vibrant with possibilities.

As I ponder over the fairness of passing on the culinary baton from those so selfless to those more commercially inclined, one thought comes to the fore. However commercially inclined a restaurateur, which person in their right mind would brave the enormous Bandra rentals and licensing challenges these days without some madness in them. What is that madness, if not soul? The very soul that my friends’ mums revealed was the secret of their great cooking.

I am sure Bandra boys and girls would smile approvingly at these words from the 18th century Virginia Almanack – “Now Christmas comes, ’tis fit that we should feast and sing, and merry be, keep open house, let fiddlers play. A fig for cold, sing care away, and may they who thereat repine, on Brown bread and on small beer dine.”

So from the bottom of my heart and for the sake of my friends and their mums who fed me, I pray that Bandra remains rich in its food and true to its hospitality culture... forever.