Not another day in paradise

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on August 24, 2018 Published on August 24, 2018

Golden words: Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize   -  WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In memory of an iconic Mumbai eatery and, on the other side of the world, of a food critic famous for unearthing hidden gems from the unlikeliest corners of LA

Food columns are meant to be peppy, peppery affairs. Even so, there are times when life — or death — casts a shadow so heavy that it’s difficult to write about marzipans and marshmallows. To type on as if nothing is amiss. This was how I felt a week ago, when I heard that Jonathan Gold had died. And then, again, when Paradise Restaurant downed its shutters.

Both were institutions that brightened the lives of foodies. Both demonstrated that a wonderful meal does not require Michelin stars, trendy décor and two-month-long waits. And both have left behind a palpable vacuum.

Over the last month, Mumbai newspapers have run numerous articles under the inevitable headline: Paradise Lost. Like the rest of the city, I’m in mourning for chicken rolls with lashings of thick, egg yolk-yellow mayonnaise. For the fat chicken lollies that were essentially potato bondas stuffed with boiled chicken and slathered in orange pumpkin sauce and gooey mayo. For the Scotch broth that got its distinctive flavour from a stock of mutton and chicken bones.

Growing up in Colaba came with many advantages — we were close to school, to the sea, to vendors selling plastic earrings and export surplus clothes. Most important, we were a five-minute saunter from some great eateries. Edward VIII, famous for chicken sandwiches and watermelon juice. Aga Bros, which doled out frankies and Friendly Ice Cream to ravenous shoppers. Kailash Parbat, one of the first chaat havens in the city.

And Paradise.

Paradise operated from a narrow space near Colaba Market. It looked like a railway compartment — and was often as crowded as a Bombay local. Despite the formica tables and modest vibe, actors, industrialists and foodies sat cheek-by-jowl with the Colaba regulars.

Mehroo and Jimmy — who ran the eatery for 61 years — were beloved figures. Mehroo organised the masalas, scolded the vegetable suppliers and bustled around the kitchen. While Jimmy sat at the counter, greeting regulars with a warm “Kem chhe, kaleja (How are you, dear liver)?”

We were certainly regulars. As a teenager, my mother and her friends cycled to the southern tip of the city, stopping at Paradise for chicken rolls. Then 25 years later, my friends and I lingered over gossip, Russian salad sandwiches and chicken lollies.

When we were ill, we subsisted on Scotch broth. When we wanted to celebrate a good report card or cricket victory, we walked across for a sweet-and-spicy salli chicken and mutton dhansak. Or a kid fillet roll — a slab of succulent meat, frilly-fried and popped into a white bread roll. The roll was truly unique — and it feels awful to think that I will never eat another.

Just as it feels peculiar to think that I will never set out on another Gold-inspired food adventure.

Gold was a food reviewer at the Los Angeles Times when I was an impoverished student at the University of Southern California. Food reviewers and penny-pinching students inhabit different realms. But Gold steered clear of starched linen and frowning headwaiters. Instead, he explored the Los Angeles of seedy strip malls, notorious neighbourhoods and impenetrable barrios. Week after week, he introduced the city to anonymous eateries and, through them, to the communities that made up that multicultural megapolis.

His reviews appeared on Friday morning. And on Friday evening we would pull out our map, pile into my unreliable Toyota and zoom onto the freeway. It was thanks to Gold that I tasted Vietnamese dried-lime soda on a street straight out of Saigon. That I sampled lampries, that extraordinary Sri Lankan dish of rice, meat curry, vegetable preparations and sambal, all wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. That I tried Burmese food in a windowless room, tucked away between bleak offices. That I tasted Cambodian food in Long Beach, slurping spicy broth alongside a sobbing waitress.

Gold introduced us to the riches of South American cuisines — Peruvian roast chickens, Argentinian apple turnovers, Brazilian steaks. He led us to a magical, open-air Iranian restaurant where I ordered my first-ever grape-leaf dolma.

In an age of rampant gang-war, Gold’s descriptions compelled us to drive into East LA for Mexican food. As we parked, we wondered if we would see our car again. Nervously, we walked into a cavernous hall alive with mariachi music and laughter. Not a gun in sight.

I don’t remember the food. I remember the friendliness. And the realisation that Gold was a magician in the guise of a food writer. Through food he helped a troubled city to understand itself; and to see magic in bleak rooms with fluorescent lights, formica tables and plastic flowers.

Gold became the first food critic to win the Pulitzer. He not only changed the way his readers ate, he changed the way they navigated the world. His influence spread far beyond LA.

That it spread to Mumbai, I know for sure.

Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author. Her latest book is What Maya Saw






Chicken lollies of a kind
  • Now that I can no longer pop across and buy a plate of chicken lollies, I have to figure out how to make them at home. This is the closest I’ve come.
  • Ingredients
  • 6 boiled potatoes, mashed
  • 1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for deep frying
  • Method
  • 1. Mix the mashed potato and cheese and season with salt and pepper. Also season the shredded chicken with salt and pepper.
  • 2. Take a heaped tbsp of mashed potato on your palm and flatten it. Then put a teaspoonful of chicken in the centre and fold the mashed potato around it. Roll into a ball.
  • 3. Make similar balls with the remaining potato and chicken. Then dip each ball into the beaten egg and roll in breadcrumbs.
  • 4. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Deep fry each ball till golden-brown.
  • 5. Serve with boiled beans, carrots, mayonnaise and pumpkin sauce.

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Published on August 24, 2018
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