Once upon a time, happening foods in our city may have included Manchurian or Biryani, chutney sandwiches or roasted almonds. New foods on the circuit were relatively slow to show up back then, compared to the pace at which they scream for attention these days.
The Mumbai culinary circuit inevitably has a long waiting-list of dishes vying with each other to be tried – especially given the wide array of locales Mumbaikars originate from or have visited. Many get rejected, some altered to suit our palettes and a very, very few go on to become widely accepted as the chosen ones. This piece is about 6 dishes Mumbaikars have liked and adopted as their own.
Why these? When I looked around, I saw that options might include shawarma, dim-sums, vegetarian sushi, cupcakes and so many other interesting contenders working their way to a wider audience. These however, seem to have a wider bandwidth of availability through channels like restaurants, kiosks, retail, homes etc., at least for the moment.
In most cases, the cuisine from which these dishes originate may not be successful as a category in the city, but one way or the other they’ve managed to earn a rather loyal following.
Nachos: Mexican cuisine experiments, failures and resurrections continue, but these chips with dips stay on safely anchored, almost like they’re Indian. They’ve struck a chord with an exceedingly large audience. Large enough that they are made by small entrepreneurs and sold out of supermarkets or grocery shops. These tasty munchies are a common snack people serve their guests at home along with a dip of choice. A ready-made cheese dip or a home-made tomato salsa and it’s ready to serve. Regular eaters inspired to have the “fully loaded” version may opt for toppings from refried beans to guacamole topped with jalapeño peppers or olives and many other delicious possibilities.
Kati Rolls: The concept of a sandwich in any form... bread, spread and filling, has always appealed to the Mumbaikar, particularly when a full meal is conveniently transformed into finger food. When people from Kolkata shared this offering with their fellow citizens, it was rather well received. The kati roll, the egg roll and its variants are seen in all sorts of restaurants now. The best ones don’t just have a chapati or roti-like wrap, but offer a layered paratha that has a mouth-feel that is much lighter than it looks. The fact that so many street food kiosks see it as a must have on their menu is a clear indicator of its popularity.
Thai Curry Rice: From the few Thai restaurants in the city, this dish particularly the green curry, has indisputably been singled out from the menu by guests as the most popular. Our own familiarity with this coconut-milk based curry much like Indian curries, with the refreshing flavours of kaffir lime and galangal, has got us comfortable and hooked. Now, we see it not just on many Chinese menus, but often enough at world cuisine restaurants and coffee shops as well. I’ll be surprised if I don’t see it soon enough in its ready-to-eat avatar on retail shelves in the city.
Hummus: Besides appealing to our tastes, this middle-eastern dip is known to be healthy as well. Its inclusion of olive oil, lime and garlic to support its prime ingredient of chickpeas offers great protein and fibre minus the saturated fats. Ever so often, we see it served at home gatherings, more with fingers of carrot, radish and cucumber than the kobus bread it’s traditionally served with. The overall success of Lebanese food in Mumbai has been somewhat limited – apart from shawarma of course that is now visible at many street corners. Hummus however, with its easy availability on retail shelves world-wide, clearly declares that it’s here to stay in India as well.
Brownies: With European origins, this delicious goodie made its way through culinary experts both in homes and in restaurants simultaneously. It so wonderfully epitomises our inclination towards chocolate and sweets that we just can’t help loving it. Some enjoy it fudge-like, others appreciate it cake-like, some prefer it with nuts, and others must have it pure. From 5 star hotels to the smallest of cafés or delis, brownies have made massive inroads into the hearts of anyone looking for a happy ending to their meal. This is one food I wouldn’t like to see going down the American route of relaxation brownies, spiked with the sleep aiding melatonin.
Doughnuts: The first couple of times a few brands introduced them to Mumbai, despite a reasonable range of colours and flavours, it somehow came across as “dead” and bombed. Then with some imagination and a live counter, suddenly it began engaging people like never before. The freshness was not only there to see, but there to taste. People went crazy for it and now it’s quite comfortably not just a snack for oneself but also considered a decent gift to take when visiting the home of a friend. It serves as either a sweet or a snack and probably on account of its fat content, gives more satiety than its immediate competitor the cupcake, following close at its heels. It seems like Mumbai has chosen to go with the fried rather than the baked option in this instance. With the healthy exercise regimen so many practice in the city these days, I guess there’s a feeling they’ve earned it.
Now we all have our own favourite restaurants, kiosks or neighbourhood aunty that we enthusiastically recommend to others as the very best, for this particular dish or that. So in this instance at least, rather than naming places or people that make these foods well, I thought it would be best to let you experience the joy of that discovery... through friends whose opinions you most value.