1. Cutting Chai
Synonymous with the working-class culture of India’s financial capital, cutting chai is nothing but a half cup of tea, just as strong and sweet but for half the price and which can be consumed in mere four to five sips. If there are two things precious to Mumbai’s folks, it’s time and money. Cutting chai satisfies both the criteria, offering a quick recharge of your batteries for just a few rupees and a couple of minutes. Found easily on every street corner, your average tea stall also offers some munchies such as flaky cream rolls, khari biscuits, coconut cookies, and of course, there is usually a paanwalla or cigarette vendor right beside.
2. Pav party — Vada Pav, Samosa Pav, Bhajji Pav, Omelette Pav
The Portuguese may have gifted us soft, pillowy “pav” but what we decided to pack within the cloud-like insides of this simple but sustaining bread has defined the most recognisable street foods of Mumbai – the popular yet humble vada pav. Mashed and spiced potatoes dipped in spiced chickpea flour batter, deep fried to perfection, stuffed into a pav and served with thechaa and/or a spicy garlic red chutney powder with an option of salted fried green chillies on the side. It’s lesser brethren who are still a rather popular lot are samosa pav, bhajji pav and the only non-vegetarian distant cousin, omelette pav. “Next time you’re in Mumbai and want #VadaPav, come join U.S. Consul General Ranz at #Aaswad for the best Maharashtrian street food in town,” the US Consulate, Mumbai had tweeted in response to Alex Ellis, British High Commissioner to India's, vada pav post.
3. Pav Bhaji
With all this talk of pav, can we miss this bright orange mishmash of vegetables cooked in a base of squished tomatoes? The clanging of the potato masher against the giant tawa or griddle is often the only advertisement needed aside from the aroma that wafts through the air, of assorted spices dusted into the mash, along with green chillies and fresh coriander and that all important ingredient – Amul butter. Salty and golden, it can be mesmerising to watch huge lumps of it dissolve in the centre of the veggie mash and then once again being sopped up by the pav toasted on the griddle before being served to you. You can expect yet another dollop in the middle of your bhaji, and race to gobble it up before it melts, scooping it up with that greasy, delicious, toasted pav.
4. Chaat (Bhel Puri, Sev Puri, Pani Puri, Ragda Pattice, Dahi Puri, etc)
Truly reflective of the way our food manages to conduct better national integration exercises than all the useless government programmes combined, chaat is a category of food that is worshipped by all communities, equally. No street corner would feel complete without your favourite friendly neighbourhood bhelwalla, pani puri guy or ragda pattice kiosk. Quite often you can have all these items and more at the same spot, prepared fresh and furiously fast by vendors who somehow can remarkably record the preferences of multiple patrons in their mental database and serve up to a dozen hungry clamouring customers at once without missing a beat. Highly recommended for those who appreciate big meals on small budgets. Though, do be mindful of the hygiene in the location where you choose to indulge, especially during rains.
5. Udipi (Dosas, Idlis and Medu Vadas)
The buzzing metropolis, that is home to almost 25 million people, was built on the backs of Udipi restaurants that fed affordable, nutritious, filling and delicious meals to labourers, middle-class citizens and high-flying executives with the same cantankerous efficiency. Prepared fresh daily if not hourly, dishes comprising healthy components such as lentils, rice, fermented combinations of the two in various forms: Crepes or dosas, rice cakes or idlis, savoury doughnuts or medu vadas, savoury pancakes or uthappams, are all served in rapid fire succession to hungry customers. Those when paired with massive servings of steaming sambhar loaded with vegetables, chilled chutneys redolent with gut-friendly coconut and protein-rich peanuts, and mashed potatoes tempered with iron-laden curry leaves and cholesterol-reducing mustard seeds – meant that irrespective of which economic class or community you belonged to, Udipi joints has everyone delighted by popularising select South Indian fare.
Food is so much more than fuel though, and those who travelled to Mumbai from small, far-flung villages across India, often turned to this source of income to survive till they could either realise their ambition of being the next Bollywood big hitter, or be cured of such delusions and simply thrive amid the buzz and bustle of the City of Dreams.
(Freelance writer & podcaster with over two decades of media experience, Simona Terron (IG: https://www.instagram.com/simonaterron/) runs a home kitchen on the weekends as @TheHeartChef, whom you can find on IG (https://www.instagram.com/theheartchef/) and FB (https://www.facebook.com/theheartchef/)
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