A Potato Lover’s Guide To The City’s Best Chips

A POTATO LOVER’S GUIDE TO THE CITY’S BEST CHIPS

WORDS BY MEHER MIRZA

Recently, my diet has been absolutely appalling. There is no getting around it. I have eaten potato wafers for lunch, dinner and, one horrifying day, breakfast. And I have done it over and over, again and again. I am a woman given to appetite; I do not apologise for it. In these smug, sanctimonious times of “clean eating” and whatnot, I stand valiantly on the frontlines, wading into the frothy, murky waters of fat and salt. Only this time, I did it for a story. Here is the honest truth. I love a crisp, well-made wafer; thoughts of fried potatoes frequently drive me to distraction. I don't mean that pallid, mass-produced stuff with the blanch of death on it. No, I only bend my knee to the likes of A1, B Wafers and that Bombay behemoth, Camy — it is they who ensure that no potato dies in vain.

THE WORTHY

Camy Wafers

Out of all the kilos I consumed (four, at last count) I believe still, as I believed before, that Camy's true majesty remains undimmed. Its plain-salted flavour, the worker bee of the wafer world, is the crispiest, wispiest wafer of them all, keenly salted, and palely gold in colour. Its Sweet & Salty flavour has a smokiness to it, a barbecue taste that cohabitates amicably with a dip; the Green Chilli has the bite and bitterness of an actual chilli; its Pudina was immensely compelling, refreshing, an instant family favourite. Only its Navratan flavour was too enthusiastically dredged through a mundane masala powder.

5-6, Oxford House, Near Colaba Market, Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg, Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005. Phone: 022 2282 8430

B Wafers & Chips

B Wafer store, who thankfully offer 50g instead of the ubiquitous 200g packs, was a surprising challenger: their wafers, fried to a greaseless crisp, are light and elegant. The Cheese is only mildly anointed with cheese flavouring and, as a consequence, goes down very smoothly with a chilled beer.

A/11, Anand Nagar, Forjett Street, Mumbai 400036. Phone: 022 2388 5266

A1 Wafer Company

At A1 Wafer Company, the potatoes meet their oily doom in the room behind the shop; consequently, they emerge fresh, bronzed, and dusted with salt, garlic, lime (ridged! I love ridged), tomato (a tad too sweet), cheese (a strong hit of cheese, like eating cheese-balls), and masala, depending on what flavour you choose.

Victoria Building, Behind Apsara Cinema, Balaram Street, Grant Road, Mumbai 400 007. Phone: 022 2307 7151

Avarya

Avarya breeds a vast variety of wafer, but I picked only the garlic (not hugely garlicky at first shatter, but it builds up), peri peri (ambitious, but too fragile for my dip), and koda masala (did they mean goda masala?) Either way, this last one was a rugged crisp, baked rather than fried, and smothered in a masala whose provenance was, at best, dubious.

Shop No 4, Narendra Bhuvan, 51, Bhulabhai Desai Marg, Breach Candy, Mumbai 400 026. Phone: 022 2351 8400 [Also at Ghatkopar (w) and Santacruz (w)]

THE UNWORTHY

Ramanlal Vithaldas, purveyors of miscellaneous edibles such as puris and dry fruits, also stock wafers: I tried the lime and plain salted. Now perhaps I am too pernickety, but the lime tasted almost sweet, and was therefore deemed unworthy of consideration, and the plain salted was slightly too greasy and brittle for me. I love a crunchy crisp, but this was hard, shattering into shards in my mouth.

Chheda's wafers were dismissed as unremarkable, wilting under a light slick of oil, but alas! It was Foodspot who was the biggest letdown. Its Chilli Potato wafers had no discernable chilli, and were heavily spiked with something tangy. Perhaps we were handed the wrong packet? And its Potato Takiya wafer, although perfectly salted and crisped, left me gagging with a strong oily aftertaste. The packet remains unmolested, to date.

Disclaimer: I realise this is a contentious issue. Mileage may vary, depending on consumer. Also, this review contains an tightly curtailed variety of stores and flavours, in deference to my arteries and waistline.

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A Parsi Girl’s Guide To Parsi Food In Mumbai

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A PARSI GIRL'S GUIDE TO PARSI FOOD IN MUMBAI

WORDS BY MEHER MIRZA AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA

Some days draw me into the world of restaurants and cafés, tempting my tongue with the intriguing and the unaccustomed. Others though, are meant to be spent in the company of familiar Parsi flavours, a simple dhun dar chawal or a khichdi kheemo, comforting, frugal and unapologetic. This story points to these days. The shops and eateries I mention below are all unshowy and unpretentious, but the food is always compelling. They are my home away from home.

RTI

RTI (Ratan Tata Institute) outlets are sprinkled through the city, but the one I keep returning to is the RTI café cloistered within the gardens of the Parsee General Hospital. This is where friends and relatives of incarcerated patients come to tranquillise the winnowing flail of hunger that assails them at mealtimes. On the menu – hearty Parsi cooking like dhansak and curry chawal. On the shelves – a catalogue of Parsi snacks like bhakra (a sort of tea-time cakelet), chocolate rum balls, chapat (pancakes fattened with a dense coconut stuffing) and cheese straws.

The B.D. Petit Parsee General Hospital, Bomanji Petit Marg, Cumballa Hill, Mumbai 400 036

Parsi Dairy Farm

What draws me to PDF’s dazzling blue shop-front is the corpulent canine usually lolling outside. I am lured within by its slabs of malai kulfi. And the mawa ni boi, the fish-shaped sweet shimmering in its silver leaf skin. And tangled pats of snowy sutarfeni. And ghee fashioned from buffalo milk, and white butter. The list goes on…

261-63, Princess Street, Marine Lines Flyover, Marine Lines (e), Kalbadevi, Mumbai 400 002. Phone: 022 6775 2222

Meher Cold Drink House

Included for the frivolous reason that its name matches mine. Meher Cold Drink House has settled very comfortably into old age and has dedicated itself to the twin virtues of lassi (sweet and salted and most refreshing) and sweet dahi, set in little tea glasses.

5, Ground Floor, Mackawee Mansion, 7, Rustom Sidhwa Marg, Borabazar Precinct, Ballard Estate, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 2266 0444

parsi food bombay meher cold drinks

Ideal Corner

It's a bit of a thrill to stumble upon this quaint little cafe in the tangled lanes of Fort. Ideal serves the usual suspects of Parsi food, but on Tuesdays they make kharoo gosh, a chunky stew of mutton and potatoes, flanked with rotli. And on Wednesday there is railway mutton.

12/F/G Hornby View, Gunbow Street, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 2262 1930

Paris Bakery

Don't be dissuaded by Paris Bakery's unassuming exterior. It is here that you will find the simple troika of flour, butter and water transform into the khari biscuit, the Bakery's finest offering. Light as a cloud, with a sunny-coloured glaze, the khari biscuit is meant to be submerged in hot chai at tea-time. Second best are the stubby little lumps of batasa biscuits, spiked with caraway seeds.

278, Dr Cawasji Hormusji Street, Our Lady Of Dolours Church Lane, Marine Lines, Mumbai 400 002. Phone: 022 2208 6619

parsi food bombay paris bakery

Jimmy Boy

Full disclosure: I've eaten here only once, a long while ago, but reliable sources have told me that this is where one goes to get lagan nu bhonu i.e. the much-vaunted wedding spread of pulao-dar, patra-ni-macchi, marghi-na-farcha (fried chicken skirted by lacy batter), saria wafers, achaar and lagan-nu-custard. If I go again though, I'd order the dhun dal and tareli macchi, which is nothing but yellow dal and rice served with fish that has been fried until its skin blisters.

11, Vikas Building, Bank Street, Near Horniman Circle, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 2270 0880

Kerawalla

This little store has been sliced into two, one half given over to the sale of sapat (slippers), topis and other Parsi worthies. The other half is devoted to pickles and pastries like the khajoor ni ghori (pastries infiltrated by date and jaggery, then fried until crunch gives way to tender); khaman na ladoo (velvety balls of dough with bellies of sweetened coconut) and patrel (colocasia leaf and gram flour furled together, then fried or roasted).

218, Chandra Mahal, Dr. C.H. Street, Marine Lines, Mumbai 400 002

Parsi Food Trail_007

Royal Sweets

Go to Royal Sweets for its crisp whorls of jalebi. Stay for its malai na khaja, slender panes of pastry stuffed with cream and tinged with nuts. Come home with the fudgy, coconutty kopra pak.

L.T. Market, Opposite Novelty Cinema, Grant Road (e), Mumbai 400 007

PAC

This is one I would have left out since I have already written about PAC for The City Story, but it has crept back into this story, by sole virtue of its chicken pattice: a flaky, crumbly, golden-brown carapace that shields its creamy chicken depths. During the winter, PAC also stocks badam pak (a sort of savoury almond fudge) and vasanu (a spicy-savoury breakfast fudge, rumoured to impart strength on wintry mornings).

292 Shastri Hall, Shop No. 3, Nana Chowk, Tardeo Road, Mumbai 400 007

parsi food bombay pac samosas chicken pattice
Photo by mitrs3 - stock.adobe.com

Dadar Perviz Hall

At Dadar Parsi Youth Assembly's Snack Centre, the best thing is the chutney egg, a dish of potato and green chutney folded round a boiled egg, and deep-fried to a crisp. Dar ni pori (discs of pastry, plumped with sweetened dal) comes a close second.

803-D, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Road, Parsee Colony, Dadar, Mumbai 400 014. Phone: 022 2412 9437

Bonus:

Honourable mentions must be made of Motilal Masalawala and Belgaum Gheewala, purveyors of all Parsi masalas, pickles and other condiments. This is where Parsis go to buy the Parsi dhana jeera, Parsi sambhar masala, dhansak masala, gharab nu achar (pickled fish roe), tarapori patio (Bombay duck pickle) and bafenu (an entire Alphonso mango submerged in a mustardy masala).

Motilal Masalawala, 405 Grant Road, Mumbai 400 007. Phone: 022 2373 4306

Belgaum Gheewala, N. Bharucha Marg, Nana Chowk, Grant Road, Mumbai 400 007

parsi food bombay pickles

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B. Merwan & Co. Is A Living Museum Of Bombay Food

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B. MERWAN & CO. IS A LIVING MUSEUM OF BOMBAY FOOD

B. Merwan & Co. is a century-old Irani café famous for its mawa cakes, which are often sold out shortly after it opens. It was founded in 1914 by Boman Merwan and is now run by his grandsons. Although the café closed - ostensibly for good - in 2014, it re-opened mere weeks later and has continued strong ever since.

B. Merwan & Co., Shop No. 1/ 2, Merwan Building, Frere Bridge, Allibhai Premji Road, Opp. Grant Road Station (e), Mumbai 400 007. Phone: 022 2309 3321

READ MRIGANK WARRIER'S STORY

I didn’t grow up around Irani cafés. I have no misty-eyed memories of mawa cake mornings and raspberry soda afternoons. When I started discovering these culinary monuments as an adult, I felt like a touristy fraud trying to fit in. The Iranis didn’t care. The slightly off-kilter, alternately cantankerous and adorable old men who manned the counters had two things in common: a running feud with their waiters and the courtesy to let me in, chat me up, feed me and house me for an hour or two. Kyani, Koolar and Sassanian have all spruced up their menus; my favourite remains an immutable classic.

B. Merwan & Co. are “High-Class Bakers & Confectioners” and “High-Class Provision Stores” that beseech you to “try our fresh mawa cakes, mawa puff, jam puff” and “all kinds of biscuits and bread”. They have waited upon patrons outside Grant Road station for 103 years.

b. merwan grant road mawa cakes

Borrowing from a Busybee column: a visit here consists of “a cup of tea, two slices of bread and butter, then you moved out, making place for the next customer. Chairs that were not too comfortable discouraged the customers from lingering. And the round marble-topped tables were equally practical in the pre-Formica days, one swab of a cloth and they would be clean”. The limited menu is painted on a pillar daubed black. Portraits of ancestors and Zarathustra gaze benignly upon you. Hexagonal petals tile the floor. Grills and shutters are painted green. There is no door – and NO ADMISSION – to the kitchen where T-shirts and trousers hang from nails. I’ve never entered the special room “for families and ladies”.

Choosing a table near the entrance, I watch an expressionless employee cleave paos with a knife right out of The Revenant. Armies of puffs and patties march off aluminium trays. Two strangers join me on the ancient bentwood chairs. One whips out an old Nokia phone and asks the caller, “Paisa mila na tereko?” Reassured, he cocks an eye at the waiter who instantly produces a modest heap of khari biscuits. My other companion pulls out his wallet and counts his cash before enquiring about the price of an omelette. “Notebandi ke time mein sochna padta hai,” he says sheepishly. I want brun maska pao that is crunchy on the outside and soft within. But it’s evening, they’ve run out and I settle for bun maska and chai.

Merwan waiters wear no uniforms. They shout their orders to the kitchen and weave their way to a continuously heated samovar full of black tea. Splashing a dollop of sugared milk into a bone china cup, they fill it with Irani chai from a perennially leaking tap and ferry upto seven cups – on saucers bearing a flowery motif – in the crook of a single elbow.

b. merwan grant road mawa cakes

I dunk my lavishly buttered bun in sweet, sweet tea and listen to the clangour of clashing cutlery blend with the buzz of relaxed conversation. There are no laptops here. Mirrors on every wall permit a little narcissism and encourage the covert study of a Bombay scene straight out of a Mario Miranda tableau.

An elderly Parsi gentleman leafs through The Asian Age, whiling the hours away. A Pathan chacha with hennaed hair, wearing a black kurta over a barrel chest, noisily slurps down his tea. An old lady with a Zoroastrian nose, greying locks covered by a colourful scarf, crosses her bare arms and surveys him with disgust. A young man in a boat-neck tee is charmed by the courtly owner who potters about unnecessarily, taking orders and clearing dishes while the waiters strive to bench him. An office-goer on his way home, a low-budget suitor or a writer looking for a story: Merwan will never shoo you away, even if all you want is a cup of tea.

b. merwan grant road mawa cakes

I indulge my palate with a not-too-sweet custard and pocket a legendary mawa cake for the road. There are no bills here. My waiter is too busy to shout my total to the cash counter, so I walk up, pay my dues and leave – no questions asked.

Merwan is a living museum of Bombay and Bombay food. Its fare is simple and wholesome and its 20th century prices plug the gap between rich and poor. Its ethos echoes the concluding lines of Nissim Ezekiel’s poem Irani Restaurant Instructions:

“Come again

All are welcome whatever caste

If not satisfied tell us

Otherwise tell others

GOD IS GREAT.”

Indeed.

Photographs by Suruchi Maira

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The Old Cinema Experience Of Alfred Talkies

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THE OLD CINEMA EXPERIENCE OF ALFRED TALKIES

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY MRIGANK WARRIER

While multiplexes have changed the way we watch movies, cinemas like Alfred Talkies offer you an old-school experience.

Have you ever watched Raja Rani Ko Chahiye Pasina? Dhoti, Lota Aur Chowpatty? Bedroom Story?

I walk eastwards, down Grant Road’s Frere Bridge, along Maulana Shaukat Ali road. The footpath has been borrowed by shacks festooned with lurid poster collages of films on no-one’s must-watch list. Each houses a desktop computer that is a vault of B-grade Hindi movies and Bhojpuri blockbusters transferable to my cellphone for a pittance. It is a fitting approach to the city’s oldest entertainment hub: Play House.

Squeezed between respectable Khetwadi and iffy Kamathipura, this is where the British built their game clubs or “play-houses”. Formerly the crucible of Parsi plays and Marathi tamasha, it is now a district crowded with once-reputable single-screen theatres. Their boxy, unremarkable structures feature the best of dubbed films and reruns: Icchadari at Super Plaza,Bahaniya at Shalimar, Rowdy Hero at Gulshan, Jil Ka Toofan at Nishat, Dulhan Chaahi Pakistan Se at Royal and Gair at New Roshan.

Alfred Talkes_002

Alfred Talkies stands apart. Its distinctly European architecture occupies pride of place at a busy intersection, painted in what hopeless artists call “skin colour”. Constructed in 1880 as the Ripon, it was amongst the first to stage plays in local languages. Reborn in the Hollywood-crazy ’30s as the Alfred, it retains its original architecture, complete with brown balustrades and wrought iron framework supporting stained glass murals above the entrance.

The banner for today’s film – Jaal: The Trap – is hand-painted and adorns Alfred’s front facade. At 5:30 pm, brooding men sip doses of chai outside its closed gates. At 5:45, a chana vendor sets up shop and begins chopping onions. A young woman wraps herself around a much older man. Although deliberately underdressed, I still attract stares.

The gates open and a man dressed as a bouncer calls out gruffly: “Beeswala! Paccheeswala!” I buy my ticket from a box-office the size of a bathroom. Twenty rupees for a stall seat, 11 of which go toward taxes. A sign in Hindi and Urdu clarifies that if the show stops due to a power cut, the ticket money will not be refunded. Cigarette smoke fills the foyer. I can hear the closing dialogues of the last show through the vents above the doors. The poster boys here are Ajay Devgn before he dropped the “a” and Suniel Shetty before he added the “i”.

At six, the audience troops out and we file in. The screen is mounted above a semicircular stage under a stucco arch. Slippery metal seats are embedded in concrete. No two people sit next to one another. A sign warns me to beware of pickpockets. My neighbours are an obese lady in a capacious nightie with a tiny knot of grey hair at the back of her head and two young men who put their feet up and give each other relationship advice: “Usko chhod, doosri pataa le” (“leave her, woo another one”). A cat brushes past my leg and nibbles on a discarded chapati.

Alfred Talkes_003

After a bewildering show-reel of Nargis Dutt’s career, the national anthem begins. Everyone stands, no one at attention. When the flag appears on screen, people cheer. I have never watched a movie like this, or like this. The film features Sunny Deol, Tabu, bikes, biceps, car chases, boat chases, train chases, ski chases, oversexed women, objectified women, pelvic thrusts, hamming villains, mansions, Simla and Kashmir. The first song is a hero-introducing military-Bharatnatyam mashup staged at a rock concert that mentions Mother Teresa and Maharana Pratap in its lyrics; the audience claps and sings along. There is no surround sound. Anand Raj Anand sounds throttled.

At the interval, people thrust their hands through the locked gates to buy omelette pao from vendors in the street. During the third song, some leave for a bathroom break. The video has that crackly, streaked quality you associate with old movies. The man sitting behind me offers the hero expletive-laced advice. The projectionist skips the scenes he considers unimportant to the plot.

I’m having a blast. My feet tap to senseless songs. My ears have been gladdened by Amrish Puri’s baritone after so long. When the twist in the tale unfolds, I gasp. No one else does. They’ve seen this before.

After two and a half hours, the credits are abruptly terminated, and three steps later we find ourselves out on the street.

Usually, I watch a movie in a theatre. Today, I saw a “fillam” at the cinema.

Alfred Talkies, 174/180, Pathe Bapurao Marg, 10th Khetwadi Corner, Mumbai 400 004. Phone: 022 2382 8262

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