December 13, 2015

[Travelogue] To the heart of a city!

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way 
we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing 
and devote our attention to eating.” 
― Luciano Pavarotti

With that quote, you must have already guessed the theme of this piece! On our last day in Mumbai before getting back to Chennai, we decided to get a taste of the native Marathi cuisine. Our friendly driver took us to a Marathi restaurant, Shree Datta Boarding House in Lalbaug. It was quite a small place but ‘Good food’, as our driver remarked enthusiastically. While we were poring over the menu, he made some helpful suggestions - one ‘Jhinga’ (Prawn) fry and one of fry ‘Surmai’ (Indian King Mackerel). The thing is whenever you order some dish and say the magic word ‘Vade’, it instantly becomes a thali, which is a collection of 5 Vades, a Vade being a thicker and richer version of the ‘puri'. Along with this, comes the main gravy, be it chicken or veg or fish and two little cups, one of which contains ‘rassa’, meaning the essence, sort of like a thin but spicy curry  and in the other, ‘Solkadhi’, being a pink coloured tangy- tasting coconut-milk based drink with a unique personality. Tearing a piece of the Vade and dipping it into the gravy or rassa, as your mind dictates, you should let it reign over your taste buds. Delicious though it was, I was not ‘gutsy’ enough to do five Vades. I stopped with four and decided to taste a little with rice and it was a yum combo too. The driver suggested a fry of ‘Bombil’ (Bombay Duck fish), another specialty of Marathi cuisine. The thing is all these items were deep fried but magically, not a bit of oil stuck to your fingers. It had minute pieces of coconut fused all along the surface of the fried meat as if one with the soul of it. After the sumptuous meal, took a walk along the markets of the area, glancing at colourful Rangoli powders and breathing in the wafting scents of hot chillies. 

We decided to pause at the Haji Ali Dargah, the quaint old mosque on an islet connected to the mainland by a half a kilometre walkable path. But it was so densely crowded this Sunday that we decided to do it another time. In searching for offbeat things to do, happened to learn of a place called Samovar Cafe. As it was close to an art gallery and museum, which we anyway love, we decided to go towards the place. Only then, checking it on Google, we found the place to be permanently closed just in the March of this year, despite its popular demand and patronage by some of the most-famous celebrities of Mumbai. Still, as we had started the journey, we decided to continue onward and the rest of the day turned out to be a delicious surprise of another kind. Food for the soul and mind! I didn’t think much of museums here, after having seen the well-planned ones abroad but that’s only until I saw the ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum’, previously the ‘Prince of Wales Museum of Western India’. Intelligently organized and well maintained, with professional and friendly staff. If not for the overwhelming number of Indian faces around you, you might believe that you were standing in Chicago or Brisbane. These collections take you to the splendour of the past elegantly. Just those two glass cupboards with neatly arranged colourful, intricately designed snuff bottles from all over China is worth the visit to this Museum. We had but one hour and it was an hour well spent. Paused to reflect how generously the business tycoons of the city such as the Tatas had generously donated to the art and aesthetic scene. Even while on the roads, I couldn’t help but notice the Godrej sponsored pots neatly tied to the walls, containing flowering plants all along a flyover. This sense of giving back and making the city rise to the heights it has taken them to, is something to be lauded. 

In the absence of Samovar Cafe, went in search of another one and Zomato recommended ‘The Nut Cracker’. Taking a short walk from the museum along ‘Gandhi Marg’, we came upon this quaint old place tucked away in a little corner, like those shops you see along London’s streets. Very Brit in its style! I owe the quote on this blog to the one of their Menu card. Ordered a ‘Bombay Local’ sandwich in the spirit of our trip while Haiku’s choice was the molten chocolate. Both turned out to be fabulously fantastic. The ‘molten chocolate with vanilla ice-cream’ being the sinner and the Bombay Local sandwich being the priest. To tell you more about the Bombay local, it was a grilled sandwich with tomatoes, potatoes, onions and green chutney, made in Mumbai style. With that lingering taste of Bombay, bid farewell to this charismatic and confident city. Bye, Mumbai… Hope we meet again!

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