"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, March 02, 2008


There is, of course, much to deplore about India’s cities.

The gut-wrenching poverty, the decay of the crumbling buildings and roads and the stench that fills the air from the filth strewn streets.

It is a challenge to every Western value and an assault to every sense.

Despite that, India, like no other country I have visited, including even China, feels unstoppable. It is a place that, despite itself, is going to burst through the ceiling imposed on all developing nations by a worried West and take on the world.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Mumbai.

What New York is to Washington D.C. Mumbai is to Delhi.

Where one may be the capital, it is to the other that everyone looks to lead the way.

Where one is bureaucratic and staid, the other is cutting edge and pulsating with raw energy.

Where one makes a harmless stopover on the way to somewhere else, the other is that somewhere else and a visit there is like sitting on the world’s fastest rollercoaster without a safety belt.

At once exciting, vibrant, challenging and appalling, Mumbai is one of the world’s great cities and it doesn’t really care if you approve or not. Mess with Mumbai and it will kick your ass.

The frenetic energy seeps out of every open sewer and explodes with every parping horn from the black & yellow taxis, which swarm around the city churning out enough pollution to make your eyes weep the moment you set foot out into the decaying streets.

After the relative calm of Delhi, Mumbai has provided two days, so far, of extraordinary sights, sounds, smells and, of course, tastes. After all, this is almost universally considered as the best city to eat in the whole of India and, arguably, holds that title for the whole of Asia.

The variety of food on offer in Mumbai is endless and represents a city that was built on the influx of people from all over the sub-continent, so Muslim sits next to Parsi next to Jain next to Bengali next to Mumbai native Mahahashtran and all seem to be eating all the time.

So, you can feast on Byriani, gorge on Pav Bhaji or Bhel Puri, slurp down Dhansak or chomp your way through Sheesh Kebab rolls washing it down with fresh sugar cane juice or a cold beer as your tastes and religion demands.

In two days, I seem to have done much of the above, even in my limited forays from my hotel in the vicinity of the fantastically eccentric Victoria Terminal (or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus as it is now known) to the areas around Fort, Colaba, Churchgate, Chowpatty and Chor Bazaar.

Vithal Bhel Puri served up a plate of “Special Dry Bhel” one of twenty five types of the local favourite made with puffed rice, mixed with chilli, coriander, tomato and tamarind amongst other things. It is incredibly addictive and I can see myself having more than one plate of these in my few days here.

Konkan Cuisine, specialising in seafood dishes from the South West coast of India, is well represented in Mumbai and a number of people guided me to Appoorva for the best on offer comparing it favourably in quality and price to the more famous Konkan Café. I have not tried both so can’t make the comparison, but I can say that the Prawn Gassi at Appoorva is one of the best things I have eaten on this leg of the trip with the fresh seafood cooked in coconut milk and soured with Kokum before being served with a piping hot Appam (rice flour cake) and helped on its way by an unfeasibly large bottle of Kingfisher.

Add to that, Dhansak at Ideal Corner, Paper Dosa with thin, spicy Dahl at Ghurkul’s and creamy, rich Mutton Kurma at a no name place in Churchgate and you’ll begin to understand why Mumbai’s reputation for food is so well deserved.

Best of all, so far, however has been a visit to Bademiya, a hugely popular stall on Tulloch Street, just behind the impressive Taj Palace Hotel. For years, it has been serving crowds of hungry Mumbaikars with freshly prepared Kebabs of fish, chicken or mutton wrapped in hot roti. I was there early, but already cars from the upscale neighbourhoods like Malabar Hills were lining up to collect orders, crowds were forming and the young posse of order takers were working flat out.

After I bought my first one, I walked away thinking it was a snack before supper. My first bite changed my mind and I turned around and spent the next thirty minutes working my way through four different rolls until I could not fit another one in however much I wanted to and believe me, I wanted to very much indeed.

I am six weeks into this stage of the journey and need a bit of a break. So, next stop, Goa

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