Takeaway

It’s crunch time

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on January 09, 2021

Morning shows the day: Fluffy kande pohe, a popular breakfast dish   -  ISTOCK.COM

Although they match their Gujarati, South Indian and North Indian counterparts bite for bite, Maharashtrian snacks are a low-key bunch

* Kelkar and Dattatray are not the only ones to have downed their shutters. A number of Maharashtrian snackeries in Mumbai have shut down or mutated into ‘Chineej’ or cheese pav bhaji eateries

* It’s ironical that, at a time when innumerable regional cuisines — from Assamese to Bihari; Catalonian to Californian — are available at the tap of a phone, the perfect sabudana puri or a glass of tart, pink sol kadhi has become more elusive than ever

* Order a heap of sabudana vadas. Wash them down with piyush — a drink made of dahi and shrikhand — or a tart kokum sarbat. Wrap up the meal with a milky tea

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It’s a great subject for a B-School study. One that could yield a hefty, spiral-bound report with a title like ‘A Study on the Effect of Brand Image on Consumer Preference: A Comparison in the Regional Food Space’.

For, although they match their Gujarati, South Indian and North Indian counterparts bite for bite, Maharashtrian snacks are a low-key bunch. Unlike the ubiquitous dhokla, idli or samosa, they rarely top the charts. You won’t find thalipeeth or sabudana khichdi parked on the counter of the neighbourhood Honesty Store. Or being biked from the Pure Veg eatery around the corner in 12 minutes flat, or reigning over the average club menu alongside cheese toast, spring roll and pav bhaji.

No, indeed. If you want these particular delicacies, you have to seek them out. And not in a straightforward, login-to-Swiggy manner either. It often takes subterfuge, planning and long car rides through the traffic-clogged streets of Mumbai.

As a journalist at The Times of India, for example, I realised that the best way to tuck into the perfect kande pohe was to fix a mid-morning appointment with Pramod Navalkar. The outspoken Shiv Sena leader could be relied upon to provide not just a juicy controversy, but also the fluffiest, lightest concoction of flattened rice cooked with onion, potato and a smattering of spices. And the upvas thali at Kelkar Vishranti Gruh at Mumbai’s Fort area — with its thalipeeth, sabudana khichdi, fruit raita and fried potato bhaji — was an office ritual during Navratri (a time of year when many Mumbaikars are fasting and upvas or vrat thalis are in great demand).

Sadly, that matchless poha and annual fruit raita now exist only in the realm of nostalgia. Navalkar has made his way to the grand Lunch Home in the sky. Where, one hopes, the much-mourned Kelkar Vishranti Gruh and Dattatray Boarding House have taken over the catering and are serving crisp-soft sabudana vadas and glasses of cool cardamom-sprinkled piyush for Sunday lunch.

Hot and crispy: Old-time eateries in Mumbai continue to serve old-time fare such as sabudana vada

 

Kelkar and Dattatray are not the only ones to have downed their shutters. A number of Maharashtrian snackeries in Mumbai have shut down or mutated into ‘Chineej’ or cheese pav bhaji eateries. And it’s ironical that, at a time when innumerable regional cuisines — from Assamese to Bihari; Catalonian to Californian — are available at the tap of a phone, the perfect sabudana puri or glass of tart, pink sol kadhi have become more elusive than ever.

Still, there are old-time eateries in Mumbai which continue to serve old-time fare at old-time prices. You may have to share a table with a complete stranger at Mama Kane Swachh Upahar Griha in Dadar which, at 110 years, is one of the oldest restaurants in the city. You will almost certainly need to queue up outside Prakash Shahakari Upahar Kendra near Sena Bhavan and squeeze yourself at a crowded table, only to be told that every dish on your wish-list is sold out.

You will need to navigate traffic and narrow lanes to get to the 80-year-old Vinay Health Home, which prides itself on being the one restaurant that doctors used to recommend to their ailing patients. And you will have to jostle with hungry hordes at Ladu Samrat in Lalbaug, to get your combo breakfast (pohe, upma and sheera).

Never mind. It’s well worth the effort and the ₹200 that you will spend on a meal that is distinctive, delicious and even healthy. Those who live in Mumbai could do worse than to plan a Sunday brunch once lockdown loosens its grip. Those who travel to the city should put it down on their to-do list along with all the dishes they absolutely have to sample.

There’s thalipeeth, a spiced flatbread made out a mixture of five flours, usually jowar, bajra, rice, wheat and besan. While I find it a bit hearty — leaving little tummy-room for the rest of the meal — thalipeeth has a legion of fans who adore its mild flavours and nutritious properties.

Then there are small, crisp kothimbir vadis made of coriander-leaf-flecked besan and fried into crunchy squares. And misal, a spicy preparation of sprouts topped with chopped onion, a twist of lime and a scatter farsan or sev. When the misal is dolloped with creamy curd, the dish is called mattha misal.

Then there are my personal favourites — the array of preparations made with sabudana. Tapioca pearls cooked with potatoes and peanuts make a delicate khichdi. But it is when they are fried into soft, plump, crunchy vadas that they are transformed into perhaps the most addictive snack in this corner of the world.

Order a heap of sabudana vadas. Wash them down with piyush — a drink made of dahi and shrikhand — or a tart kokum sarbat. Wrap up the meal with a milky tea. And remember to steer clear of the cheese grilled corn capsicum sandwiches and the Punjabi samosas that dare to lurk at the fringes of the menu.

Shabnam Minwalla   -  BUSINESS LINE

 

Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author

Piyush
  • Ingredients:
  • 1 cup shrikhand
  • 1 1/2 cups dahi
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 to 3 tbsp sugar
  • A pinch of saffron soaked in a little warm milk
  • 1 tsp cardamom powder
  • A handful of pista, sliced
  • Method:
  • Let the saffron sit in the hot milk for five minutes, then stir briskly.
  • Mix all the ingredients except the pista in a bowl and whisk together till smooth. Pour into individual glasses and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
  • Garnish with pista and serve.

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Published on January 09, 2021
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