What Tastes Like Love

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WHAT TASTES LIKE LOVE

WORDS BY RAVINA RAWAL AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA

It's been 10 years since I last saw him there, but every time I cross it, or enter, I still look for the love of my life in the crowds that throng Haji Ali Juice Centre. Nervous feet in worn out leather flip flops, long shorts, a red t-shirt...they all catch my eye, but none belong to the boy with headphones around his neck who's also looking for me. Hundred bucks for a bowl of strawberries and cream made it forbidden fruit for two kids in college, but the damn thing was so addictive we'd always choose to forego the luxury of a cab ride back home (which meant a 100-hour long walk back to his house in the 'burbs) in favour of a bowlful of instant gratification.

Haji Ali Juice Centre has been around since...forever ago. I know it well because I've been visiting my favourite extended family since I was two years old, and they live in the building right next to it. Everyone else knows it well because both Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan used to hang out here plenty. Some claim to have even spotted Amitabh Bachchan do a juice drive-by, while others will pinch their necks to swear that Sachin Tendulkar is also a regular. It’s like Pink's Hot Dog in LA – you never know who you're going to bump into in the 3 a.m. queue, but you'll always spot somebody famous enough for a story (tweet) the next day (in real time).

Back when calling Mumbai "the city that never sleeps" was not a blatant lie, HAJC was the roadside spot where everyone would show up after a night of heavy partying to grab a juice and some "pizza". Old school Indian pizza – ketchup base and green and red peppers that tasted like they'd been borrowed from a chow mein wok – that’s the most oddly satisfying thing in the world to eat at 4 a.m. Of course they're more famous for their juices: pomegranate, mango, watermelon, pineapple, green grape, black grape, seedless grape, New Zealand kiwi, Himachali apple, exotic banana, tribal peach, some of the above, all of the above. If it'll fit in their blender, they'll squeeze it into a juice. Or add it to a shake. Or dunk it into a bowl of cream. And ask if you'd fancy a Schezwan roll with that because, come on, you're already going to regret so many things about tonight, you might as well go all the way. (Quick notes: Permission granted to draw the line at Banana Cheese Mix Toastie, but never, ever, ever skip the strawberry/mango with cream, even if it's a whopping Rs. 170 now for a decidedly smaller bowl).

To qualify as a successful night out, it doesn't matter what the plan is. What you really need is enough people in a good mood.

Between scoring recharge coupons from Airtel so we could talk for 500 hours when we were separated for two and buying an actual ticket for the local train so we wouldn't keep getting fined for going rogue, Grand Love and I barely ever had the money to go out partying. When in this part of town, we'd chase the sea to its next break and find ourselves in Chowpatty, where a little food truck (that extends to what is now a little hole in the wall QSR without seating) is responsible for the happy conclusion to everyone's Saturday night. To qualify as a successful night out, it doesn't matter what the plan is. What you really need is enough people in a good mood. Bachelorr's has that covered with the crowds it still draws. Cars (thank you for the music) and black and yellow taxis (oh look! disco lights!) line up against the side of the road, waiters take your order from outside your car windows and everyone gets out to high-five each other and make new friends.

Between all of this, it's not uncommon to find yourself wondering if someone spiked your drink at the bar you were at earlier, because a horse-drawn carriage ferrying a canoodling couple up and down the promenade will suddenly pull up right next to you for a midnight smoothie. (Quick notes: Their new(ish) tag line is "Apni gaadi, apna raasta; Drive to Bachelorr's, have a pasta!" Yes, it's catchy. No, don't have a pasta. Maybe the pizza filling sandwich. Or the chilli-ginger ice cream. Always the chocolate milkshakes. But never the spicy halwa they insist on referring to as "pasta").

Mumbai has many night places that will feed you when the midnight munchies strike, but these two, which now close at midnight, are special. Some are convinced it's something they put in the cream, others will tell you it's the sea breeze, still others are in it for the celebrity-spotting. For me, it was always the afterparty: the thrill of the long walk back home, pockets empty, fingers still sticky from picking strawberries out of the bowl and the comfort of the red t-shirt beside me.

Haji Ali Juice Centre, Lala Lajpatrai Road, Mumbai 400 026. Phone: 022 2351 7632

Bachelorr's, 45, Chowpatty Sea Face, Marine Drive, Opp. Thackers, Girgaon Chowpatty, Mumbai 400 007. Phone: 022 2368 2211