Mumbai, India: a City Tasting Tour
Mumbai is a sticky city that seethes and heaves and smells of tamarind and exhaust fumes. You can try to understand it, but you never will. It’s just too damn dense and busy.
As the gateway to India, the city formerly known as Bombay consists of some 20 million people, yet it could just as easily be 200 million; perhaps it even is (in a nation of more than 1.1 billion). From the wide, traffic-choked roads to the narrow, bulging alleyways, the streets here burn like hot veins; with traces of grilled onions, charcoaled lamb and burning chutneys mingling in the stifling air.
For a real and authentic understanding of Mumbai, you must tackle it head on; in all of its clammy, sweltering, manically-chaotic glory. And what better way to learn of a city and it’s people than by approaching their culinary habits with a nomadic intrigue and a ravenous appetite.
So, if you’re looking for tips on where to eat in Mumbai and whether or not to spend your time in the elbow-to-elbow throng of the markets or your evenings shivering away in the air-conditioned blanket or a five-star restaurant, then why not do both? Here are ten recommendations for a Tasting Tour of Mumbai.
Five Street Food Recommendations
Where there are people – and in Mumbai, there are people in every nook and cranny – there is food, and yet, I am unfairly forcing you to consider just five options in a city bulging with choice. You’ll find most vendors in corrugated-tin-and-rag huts, skewered kebabs bubbling on makeshift grills and potato patties frying in oil.
It’s best to start with some of the staples, such as the patties, puris and kebabs. You’ll find these on any street corner, made-to-order and either dumped on tin plates – upon which you’ll be expected to stand and eat your order, before returning the plate to the vendor – or sometimes served on pages from the morning’s newspaper.
Ashok Vada Pav
Vada pav is one of Mumbai’s most famous and widely available snacks, a spiced mashed potato mixed with a seasoning of green chilli, garlic, asafoetida, turmeric and mustard seeds, that’s deep fried into a patty then packed into a fluffy white bun. At Ashok Vada Pav, operated by Mr Ashok Thakur, you’ll find one of the best examples in the city. Rumoured to have created the first vada pav in Mumbai, their offering consists of a perfectly-spiced vada pav served in a white flour bun with a generous serving of gram flour crisps. It’s finished with a dollop of vibrant, tangy green chutney. The cost is R100 (1.30 €) for two.
Open: Mon to Sat, 11am-9:30pm
Elco Pani Puri Centre
Then, there’s puri (or poori), deep-fried bread that’s usually eaten for breakfast or as a light snack. Some vendors differ and will serve puri with dahi (yoghurt) while the majority tend to go with a side dollop of mild curry or chholey (spicy chickpeas). At Elco Pani Puri Centre they poke a finger into the puri to create a small hole, then fill it with chickpeas, onions, crushed garlic and lentils, before dipping the whole thing into a blend of coriander, mint and garam masala. There’s indoor seating but for an authentic experience, grab a plastic stool outside and chomp on your puri shoulder-to-shoulder with other puri enthusiasts.
Open daily, 9:30am-11.30pm
As for kebabs, they come thick-and-fast in a myriad of skewered meats and mixed flesh. A Malai Kebab is recommended for those seeking something low on heat and spice; otherwise, if you’re looking to make your eyes water, then there’s Galouti Kebab. The Galouti uses cuts of minced lamb which is mixed with over 150 exotic spices, before its shaped and fried. Seasonings can include almost anything, from peppercorns and garlic to mace, nutmeg, chilli, garam masala and chana powder. Kakori House and Nice Eat Fast Food Corner both serve excellent kebabs, but seek out Sarvi if you can (there’s no sign or advertising – good luck!). The restaurants spill over onto the street and they have been churning out kebabs for close to 100 years. The price is reasonable too, with a Seekh and Shammi Kebab available for around R400 (5.00 €).
Open daily, 5am-12:20am
Other highlights include Bademiya, a caravan-style kitchen-on-wheels which, having started in 1946, has gone on to open several restaurants, serving up thickly-lathered chicken tikka rolls. You can smell the product long before you see it, following the meaty aroma around winding lanes until you arrive behind The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The skewered chicken chunks are marinated and cooked over charcoal, then placed in a thin, sheet-like roomali roti (flatbread), all for around R280 (€3.50).
Open: Mon-Sun, 11am-1am
By happy accident, I stumbled upon Gomantak Restaurant when I saw diners outside with mounted tin plates of multicoloured condiments and some deep-fried animal from the lagoon. My itchy intrigue was eventually rewarded with a description: “Bombay Duck”. On closer inspection, it’s evident that it isn’t duck at all but rather a misshaped fish, twisted and curled at the edges like pork crackling. Later research and I discover it to be a lizardfish; a rather unfortunate looking specimen, popular in the region and available in abundance. It’s crispy, salty and little oily which only adds to the taste. A reputation and name like “Bombay Duck”, it may well be the most iconic street food of them all.
Open daily, 11am-11:30pm
Mumbai is no stranger to the waves of gentrification that have swept through the likes of London and New York, and in the dark and lofty warehouses of the cotton mill district has emerged Masque, a restaurant with a strong leaning towards sustainability and foraged ingredients. As the website describes, Masque seeks out “the magic of the Himalayas through modern cuisine” with Chef Prateek Sadhu puts the spotlight on “foraged (and often forgotten) ingredients, regional produce, innovation and above all, a seasonal menu that changes every month.”
Open Tue-Sat, 7:30pm-12:30am
You’ll find many of the fine dining restaurants located within luxury resorts and hotels; restaurants like Ziya at The Oberoi Hotel. With a specially-crafted “Gourmet Menu” designed by Chef Vineet Bhatia, Ziya is hugely popular with locals and visitors, who look to Chef Vineet as a trailblazer of the Indian culinary movement, his food playing with the norms of traditional Indian cooking. The opening of Ziya in 2010 marked a triumphant return to Mumbai for Chef Vineet, who worked at the restaurant's precursor Kandahar, before finding fame and Michelin-stars in London with his restaurants Zaika and Rasoi.
Open daily, 12:30pm-2:30pm & 7pm-11:30pm
Peshawri is becoming something of a city institute. Promoting the “rugged North West Frontier of India” they are famous for their roasted meats often associated with North India, cooked in traditional clay ovens or in tandoor. Situated within the ITC Maratha Hotel, they have a regular flow of customers and the fact that the hotel is positioned close to the airport, makes it a convenient stop-off whether you’re coming or going.
Open daily, 12:30-2:45pm & 7pm-11:30pm
Here’s what I suggest if you find yourself in Colaba in Old Mumbai, double-up on your supper. If you’re planning on chowing down on a chicken tikka roll from Bademiya (behind The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel), then make time to enter the hotel and visit Golden Dragon. Of course, it’s the other end of the financial spectrum to Bademiya, but the reward is worth the disburse. The Buddhist altar at the entrance bestows good luck, so it’s worth crossing the threshold for that alone. Otherwise, enjoy exotic Sichuan and Cantonese dishes in the full splendour of this 19th-century building. As a bonus recommendation, the hotel also has the Sea Lounge serving street food-style bites such as pani-puri.
Open daily, 12:30pm-2:45pm & 7pm-11:45pm
You’ll find Neel beneath a lush canopy of 100-year-old rain trees, set within the Mahalaxmi Race Course in the heart of Mumbai city. A speciality Indian restaurant from the house of deGustibus Hospitality, Neel pays homage to the rich and evolved cuisine of old Nawabi families (an Afghan sub-clan who entered India from Persia and Iran) from Lucknow, Hyderabad and Kashmir. Traditional Nawabi recipes were passed down from generations of Khansamas by word of mouth, and the food here is a tasteful blend of authentic flavours, with over 30 different kebabs to choose from. There is also homemade spices and masalas from various regions all over India, and a standout dish of Kashmiri Tabak Maas (lamb ribs cooked in Kashmiri style with fennel).
Open 12pm-3pm & 7:30pm-12am