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Vikram

Ramzaan

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The gods really have it in for those of us trying to follow diets. No sooner are we recovering from Diwali's flood of sweets, then Ramzaan (Ramadan, outside India) starts today. And as anyone who's seen it - or read Sara Suleri's wonderful description of it in Meatless Days - for most people the day long fasting just seems like a way of whetting the appetite for the night feasting to come.

I'm not a Muslim and I don't keep the roza, the day fast, but that certainly doesn't stop me going after sunset to Mohammed Ali Road, Mumbai's main Muslim area, to enjoy the chaos and crowds in the night, the whole area lit up like a carnival and, of course, the ultra rich food. Its death to diets, but who can resist it? Every year I go there several times and take friends who have never been before.

This year though there's going to be an e-Gullet twist to the iftar (the evening meal. Episure has promised to take me to even better, lesser known places way in the depths of Mohammed Ali Road, and I;m already salivating at the prospect. Are there any other e-Gulleteers in Mumbai, or likely to be here in the course of this month, who would like to join us?

Khiri, khapura, kheema, here we come!

Vikram

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For those who want to get a flavour of Ramzaan in India I have - of course! - an article which I did along with a colleague last year. (I should note that Episure is probably going to pour complete scorn on the eating places I've listed, but that's why he's taking me on an iftaar jaunt soon).

The one really interesting point in this article is the interview I did with Ummi Abdulla, the doyenne of Moplah (Kerala Muslim) cooking, who cast some light on the lesser known south Indian Ramzaan traditions. Can others on these forums supplement this with other memories, descriptions, recipes of Ramzaans/Ramadan feasting they have enjoyed?

Vikram

Iftar

Vikram Doctor

...Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting, often recollected as the season of perfect meals. Ramzan, a lunar thing, never arrives at the same point each year, coming instead with an aura of slight and pleasing dislocation. Somehow it always took us by surprise: new moons are startling to see, even by accident, and Ramzan’s moon betokened a month of exquisite precision about the way we were to parcel out our time.

Sara Suleri Meatless Days

There are many reasons to celebrate Ramzan, even if one is not a Muslim. One can celebrate the Koran, which was supposed to have been revealed to the Prophet in this month. One can appreciate the sense of solidarity observing Ramzan gives to all Muslims, in every part of India, and across the world. One can observe how the world is groping its way to an understanding of the Muslim world - painfully and with problems, but still trying: who would have imagined iftar celebrations at the White House?

There are also the more physical pleasures. One can enjoy the discipline of keeping the roza, the daily fast and the pleasure of breaking it with iftar, the meal eaten just after the sun has gone down. One can enjoy the wonderful foods prepared for iftar, with both similarities and regional differences across the country. And there is too, as Sara Suleri notes in her wonderful book of memoirs, a small, but certain pleasure in the unexpected way that Ramzan keeps sneaking up on us.

This is due to the calendrical difference between lunar and Gregorian calendars which means that Ramzan is slowly moving up through the calendar year, coming earlier every time. In 1998 this discrepancy resulted in two Ramzans in one year which cemented my liking for the festival: who couldn’t like a festival that came earlier every year and sometimes even twice? And a festival that happens at night time too, with the air cooler and the moon shining brightly. It gives it all an air of being pleasingly different, like the fantasy of a child climbing out of bed at night and emerging into a magically altered world.

Its true that of late iftar has been given a dismal overlay of politics as politicians compete to don caps, eat kebabs and make insincere, vote-seeking noises of love and affection for the Muslim community. The antidote for this is simple. Forget all these artificial iftar parties, but get out at night and go to the older, traditional Muslim areas of your city where iftar has always been celebrated in the proper way. In the press of the crowds, the carts piled high with embroidered caps, the bright lights, the sticky piles of dates, the open fires roaring as the tavas sizzle on top, the rich, sweet smell of malpuas being fried and the happy noise of families out to enjoy themselves for the night, you will find the real joy of Ramzan.

Ideally, of course, one should do it in the proper spirit and keep roza, but if the flesh is weak and can’t quite do it, go anyway (Muslims believe that one can make amends for breaking the fast by feeding the poor later) and go again and even better go with friends, to make the most of this month of fasting and feasting until it comes again. Here at The Economic Times we’ve done this for your benefit (well, we didn’t need much persuading), in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai finding out the best places to go, tasting the local specialties, comparing the merits of rival kebab shops and searching for the phirni with the perfect, slightly grainy texture. Here are our findings.

Mumbai

Like the cosmopolitan city they live in, Mumbai’s Muslims are a mixed lot, drawn from all parts of the country. Perhaps the most prominent are the Muslims from Gujarat and Kutch - Khojas, Memon and Dawoodi Bohras, who all make up an important part of the business community. Chillia Muslims from UP dominate the restaurant business (though the managers of Noorani’s at Haji Ali, one of the best known Muslim restaurants in the city, are from Kerala). Muslims have come to Mumbai from the North, from Bengal, from Iran, from the Deccan. And all of them have bought their culinary traditions which bubble together richly to produce the city’s Muslim food.

And there is no better time to taste them than Ramzan. First one has to choose where. In a city as spread out as Mumbai there bound to be several places one could go to celebrate iftar - Cadell Road in Mahim, for example, or Bandra near the station. But really there’s just one place: Mohammed Ali Road that starts in the bowels of the city around VT Station, Crawford Market and the Docks and uncoils from there towards Dadar.

This is Mumbai’s Muslim heartland, a lively, chaotic, crowded place (though an enormously long new flyover has helped a bit). Beautiful mosques (check the tilework on Dongri’s so called Zanzibari Masjid) rub shoulders with decrepit buildings. A few blocks away you are in the heart of Gujarati Mumbai in Kalbadevi with thali restaurants, Gujarati signs and sari shops; cross over to Mohammed Ali Road and its kebab stalls, Urdu signs and burqas on the shop racks. Must of Mumbai’s enterprise comes from its wholesale markets - as does, in a slightly different form of enterprise, its Underworld.

M.Ali Road is long and on Ramzan there are food stalls almost all the way. But four mohallas or neighbourhoods stand out. Nagdevi Street near Crawford Market is easy to walk to from VT Station, though in a particularly crowded and fairly dirty area. If that’s OK with you, then this is the place for paya, a thick, greasy soup made from sheep’s feet, which is eaten with lamba pav, diamond shaped loaves of bread. At the other end of the area we’re looking at is Nagpada (strictly speaking a bit off M.Ali Rd) which is worth going just for the simply stunning kebabs at Sarvi. Grilled on charcoal the kebabs are intensely meaty and flavourful, but also amazingly tender - hanging together when you pick them, but disintegrating in the mouth in an almost galouti kebab way.

But Sarvi admittedly - luckily - is open year round, so for iftar one should go to Bohri Mohalla in the centre. Here, next to the main Bohri mosque, is the place for bara-handi (from the eponymous Bara Handi hotel, though you can also get it elsewhere). These are the twelve pots of bubbling beef and mutton stews of different kinds, like pichota (tail curry), bade ka paya (beef trotters), chote ka paya (mutton trotters) and so on. You indicate what you want and your plate is filled. This is also the area for nalli nihari, a curry made from mutton marrow bones.

Some of these restaurants are so focused on their meat stews, they don’t even provide bread. You have to go to the bakery next door, but a good supply of lamba pavs, then fight your way through the crowds at the door (lots of people take away from these places) to find a place and eat. At this point we are going to be a bit heretical and admit that this is not quite to our taste. Its not the crowds and the pushing - hey, we travel by Mumbai’s trains - as the bara handi itself. Its way too greasy even for those not concerned too much with health (think an inch of fat floating on top) and too underspiced. But we accept there are those who like its rich, intensely meaty taste and if you’re one of them, this is for you.

Personally, we’d prefer to walk a small distance and go straight to Minara Masjid in the heart of Memon Mohalla. This is easily the most visible place in Mumbai during Ramzan. Its intensely lit up, its wall to wall crowds, food stalls on all sides, music, sermon and calls to prayer blaring, handcarts piled high with caps, slippers and clothes, small merry go rounds for kids whirling in the side lines - and this goes on almost all night! Forget just seeing and hearing Minara Masjid - you can smell it before you get there since the whole area is saturated with the rich sweet smells from its most famous shop (or series of shops now) - the peerless sweet seller, Sulaiman Usman Mithaiwala.

But that comes later. First one must eat meat, and that means entering Minara Masjid lane which is easy said than done since its so packed with people. Obeying traffic rules you enter on the left and have to push past handcarts and stalls piled high with sticky dates, the traditional food with which to break the roza everyday. Eat some if you like (ask if they have the sensational soft dates from Iran) and push on into the main street, every inch of which is mapped out in culinary terms. On your left for example is a line of stalls and tables and chairs where you can eat poultry -mostly chicken, but also quail, live specimens of which are looking down at you from cages. This is a rather dismal spectacle and the chicken is just OK, so its best to push on, ignoring the stall owners who try to hold you and drag you to their tables.

A little further there’s a cross road and a decision to be made. If you go left you’ll get tava cooked mutton - buna ghosht cooked with chilies, onions and tomatoes and bursting with flavor, baida roti, mutton rolls and above all, gurda kapura, a stir fry of organ meats which invariably leads to arguments about whether this includes testicles. I don’t think it does, not usually, simply because the organs are on display around the tavaa - compact curly brains, kidneys like swollen red cashews, glossy lobes of liver, the muscly mass of heart, but no testicles. Whatever the composition, the result is sensational. The meats tend to become rubbery, but their juices blend to a hugely flavourful gravy.

On the other hand, if you go right you get khichda - Mumbai’s answer to Hyderabad’s haleem, a creamy stew made from wheat and meat. Khichda adds dhal and is almost too rich at times. But the M.Ali Road stalls get it just right a blend of creamy and soupy, meaty, but with the carbohydrate satisfaction of what and pulses. You’ll also get thick, spicy chicken soup on that side, so its a dilemma. To add to the complication, straight ahead of you are the kebabs, batter fried chicken, fried fish and also sandals, a Memon sweet which is best described as a sweet iddli covered in cream and if that doesn’t sound complementary it isn’t meant to be. (The best solution to the dilemma, by the way, is to sit on the mutton side at the corner, and then get the serving boy to bring over a pot of khichda from the vendor on the other side).

Whatever your decision, the end of the iftar is not in doubt. You do a U-turn and exit, this time with Sulaiman Usman on your left. Outside the shop are the show-stoppers: wide vats of bubbling oil in which huge, violently yellow malpua (pancakes) are being made. If you are familiar with the small, cream filled pancakes of the North, forget them. These are serving plate sized monsters, saturated in beaten eggs, fried till they’re crisp, syrup added and served. They are cholestrol insanity and rather hard going to eat. You’re probably better off with Sulaiman Usman’s famous aflatoon (a sweet made from ghee and dried fruits), their barfis (the mango one is great), khaja (maida pastries) and above all, their phirnis, mango-yellow or plain white served in flat little earthen pots.

Phirni (rice pudding), to us, is really the ideal way to end an iftar feast. After all the rich meat, you’re looking for something simple and satisfying and phirni provides it. The rice flour and milk make for a cool creaminess that is not cloying as real cream would be. Some places offer phirni in plastic tubs and these are to be avoided at all costs. Not for authenticity, but because the clay plays an important role, absorbing some of the moisture to leave the contents even creamier. Despite using clay though, other places get the texture wrong: its easy to make phirni into a sweet white glue or a slimy paste. The ideal phirni must be slightly grainy in texture and that is exactly what you get at Sulaiman Usman, the perfect phirni for the perfect end to iftar.

Sehri

Iftar is the main meal of Ramzan, but there is the other, its predawn counterpart known as seher, suhur or sehri. This meal has also traditionally had its dishes, usually of a particular richness to sustain the faithful fasters through the day. As Sara Suleri describes it, the food “was insistent in its richness and intensity, with bread dripping with clarified butter, and curried brains, and cumin eggs, and a peculiarly potent vermicelli, soaked overnight in sugar and fatted milk.”

Suleri enjoyed getting up at this unusual hour to eat, but not as much as her grandmother did: “I think she fasted only because she so enjoyed the sehri meal and that mammoth infusion of food at such an extraordinary hour... Dadi’s eating was a sight to behold and admire. She hooted when the city’s sirens sounded to tell us that we should stop eating and that the fast had now begun: she enjoyed a more direct relation with God than did petty municipal authorities.”

Suleri’s grandmother’s defense was to quote the Prophet himself. He had apparently told a friend that sehri did not end until the horizon was a white thread separating land from sky. “In Dadi’s book that thread could open into quite an active loom of dawning: the world made waking sounds, the birds and milkmen all resumed their proper functions, but Dadi’s regal mastication - on the last brain now - declared it was still night.”

We have to admit that we’ve never quite made it to a sehri: late nights for iftar are one thing, predawn is quite another. And in any case, most of our friends who keep the roza admit that few people eat like Suleri’s Dadi any more. Sehri will be dishes left over from last night, or normal breakfast foods. Just enough to keep you going until the end of day and its time for iftar again.

A southern iftar

Ramzan and iftar are usually thought of only in North Indian terms. True, there’s Hyderabad with its matchless haleem, where five parts of meat - usually mutton, but also beef and chicken - is cooked with one part of what for at least six hours until it acquires a creamy, intensely  meaty consistency. So popular is Hyderabad’s haleem that a scheme this year to distribute it through the Post Offices has been a runaway success. Everyday between 1500-2000 kilos of haleem are taken from Pista House in Hyderabad and sold though 75 post offices through Andhra Pradesh. The owner of Pista House, Abdul Majeed, is now thinking of opening a counter at Dubai Airport Terminal.

But Hyderabad is really a reflection of Northern Muslim culture, transplanted and temepered by the Deccan, but North Indian in its roots still. More truly South Indian is the Moplah community of Kerala, descendants of Arab traders who used monsoon winds to cross the Arabian Sea, then stayed on the Malabar Coast till the winds would take them back. Not surprisingly they often intermarried with local girls and the descendents are the Moplahs, centred in North Kerala around Kozhikode. Moplah culture is an interesting mix of the directly Arab - they had a closer connection than the Northern Muslims, of Turki origin and not in constant direct connection with the Arab world - and the Malayali.

This comes out in their iftar dishes. According to Ms.Umi Abdulla, the Chennai based doyenne of Moplah cooking, they will break the fast in the usual way with dates, water and few snacks. “This is called cheriyah nombu thoddakal, the small fast breaking,” she says. This is followed by prayers and then the veliyah nombu thoddakal, the main fast breaking meal. This typically will not have rotis, parathas or even rice dishes like the famous Moplah biryani. Instead they will eat pathiri, like chapatis made from rice flour. Pathiri is creamy white, exquisitely thin and light and probably the most delicate of Indian breads. This is eaten with a normal mutton, chicken or fish curry.

On special occasions though, Ms.Abdulla says they will make their version of haleem known as aleesa - an immediate link to the Arab world where the dish is usually called harissa. Like most Malayalis they eat kanji or rice gruel, but at times this might be thickened with coconut milk, spices and meat. Kappu or tapioca, another Malayali staple, also features to be eaten with a hot fish curry. There will also, of course be sweets: Moplahs have their specialties, like kaiadai, made from boiled and ground bananas soaked in egg yolks, made into a dough with flour, then deep fried and soaked in sugar. Or mutta mala, noodles of egg yolk cooked in sugar syrup.

Despite all these options, there will be those who long only for the best known Moplah dish, biriani, whcih is based on their fried rice recipe called neichoru (ghee rice). Ms.Abdulla tells them to be patient. Birianis of several kinds will be made to end Ramzan at Id ul Fitr.

Delhi

Chandralekha Roy

According to experts, Muslim cuisine in India's capital can trace its origins to the campaigns of Ghengis Khan. As the Mongol cut a swath of destruction and mayhem, sweeping through Central Asia and carving an Empire up to the fringe of Europe, he sent some rulers scurrying for refuge across the Hindu Kush. Many of them camped on the outskirts of Delhi. More importantly, their armies included the kitchen brigade. It was the Tughlaqs who made Jahanpanah their capital and put Delhi on the international culinary map.

If the groundwork was laid by the Tughlaqs, it was the Mughals who built the superstructure. In particular, Akbar's son and successor, Jehangir is credited with giving this city two delicacies: khichrhi and falooda. This kihchrhi is not to be confused with the kedgeree to be found on most British breakfast menus and to be consumed to overcome gastric indisposition, according to Hobson Jobson. Jehangir had days when he avoided eating flesh (unusual for a Muslim monarch) and he made up for it with a khichrhi, also called lazzizan, that involved rice cooked with pulses, clarified butter and aromatic spices and garnished with dried fruits and exotic nuts. It is still available today, but only on special order.

More generally available is his other favourite falooda, jelly like noodles eaten with fruit and ice cream. The British traveler, William Hawkins, was impressed by the fact that Jehangir balanced his feasting with fasting. When Shahjehan shifted his capital to Delhi, he brought the cuisine of his ancestors to the city. To be sure, the food was much subtler and milder. For our parents generation the ultimate gastronomical experience was at the legendary Karim’s' which exists still inimitably -in the same manner tucked inside a perennially dirty and muddy narrow bylane near the Jama Masjid.

Then there was the eternal Moti Mahal , which opened in Darya Ganj, the dividing line between Old and New Delhi. It served, apart from it's delectable kebabs, tandoori chicken, makhani dal and nan. Before, the nouveau riche Punjabis came in droves, here were qawalis, and the restaurant was generally tented. But, Moti Mahal grew, it added floors and bought up next door houses and became an open-air restaurant creating new genre of Indo-European eatery where the ambiance was what mattered and the newly emerging middle class felt more at ease, in spite of the Pathan waiters with their starched white salwars and shirts, large upturned moustaches and kohl in their eyes. Today, Moti Mahal is probably not even a Muslim joint anymore, and has been bought over. The food is mediocre - but it has a following who swear by it.

But, real foodies go elsewhere, apart from Karim's that is. In the Jama Masjid area, two really good places for biryani, and gravies are New Jawahar Hotel and Flora's!!! The best burras at Kashmiri Gate  area, (also in the Walled City) is in a place called Khyber. In the Jama Masjid area, the best breakfast of really hot meat, peppered lavishly with chillies and naan is in a shop called basically a one-man  operation - who sells out by nine in the morning and then shuts shop. Also try Shabbarati Nahriwali and Haveli Azamkhan.

Just below, the Jama Masjid there are three restaurants Aadimi Meerut Kebab, Aasli Meerut Kebab, and Meerut Kebab - which foodies rave about, but standards aren't constant. They have their good days and very bad days. Even at the famous Karim's some years ago, a friend of mine remembers asking for mutton biryani and being served a mutton pulao. When he bristled, he was asked: “what’s the difference" to which he replied, if I have to tell Karim’s, then it's time you shut shop." Outside the walled city, the common feeling is that the best biryani is at Matka Peer's - which is actually a dargah - with a side-business. The best kebabs and haleem is at the bus-adda near Okhla. Its really a shacky little place with no name - but has a huge following.

Kolkata

Chandralekha Roy

Kolkata is a city where the Mughals, local and Avadhi have almost captured the market for slumming and street food. The legacy of the Moghul princess in exile and the nawabs of Dhaka, now in Bangladesh, can be seen at a number of places. The cuisine is less rich and more subtle than both the Delhi and Nizami style of cooking, tending to substitute yoghurt and lemon juice for the cream and the solid kheer of other Muslim cooking. Shiraz is the most popular, of what the Bongs calls "Moghlai" eatery.

The one dish is would be a mistake not to try is the Kachi Kaliya. If you were to look at the dish etymologically, one word would be superfluous. Kachi indicates the babies of baby goats, and so does Kaliya. However, in cooking parlance, Kaliya is now synonymous with a style of gravy cooking, the other two being Qorma and Saalan. There’s a place known to aficionados on Park Street joint which cooks the kid with potatoes.

The other dish we would strongly recommend is Nargisi Koftas, boiled eggs wrapped in mince kofta simmered in cashew enriched gravy. It must be had with saffron tinged yoghurt and is a racy substitute for cocktail snacks. Aminia, on S.N.Banerjee road, makes its living off mutton egg potato tomato, besides mutton chop and chicken dopyaaza. But, the best chops or "chaaps" are to be had off the small row of eateries near the Nakhoda Mosque. Also try the biryani and rezala from Shabir's, Kolkata probably being the only place where biryani is made with potatoes.

One the best known specialties developed by Bengali Muslims is the rezala made with khasi (castrated goat), in which lemon, yoghurt, milk and spices are combined with the almost heretical addition of lots of hot green chillies. The paratha also has an interesting take in Bengali Muslim cooking. A first class cook can present you with a small dinner-plate size paratha with fifty flaky layers underneath a golden-brown surface. This originated in the courts of the Bengali nawabs in Dhaka, and can probably only be found in homes. We have never eaten a single one like that in a restaurant.

If you are lucky the odd eatery in Calcutta will serve you Bengali Muslim delicacies like Bhuna Hans or fried duck or Handi Kabab, which is curiously made inside a large, thick bottomed pot with a narrow neck, or Dimer Halua, which is halwa made out of eggs, flavoured with saffron and garnished with eggs. It's a pity that the real delicacies of ‘East Pakistan’s Muslim fish cooking didn't travel beyond the border after Partition - like their exotic recipes of fish with oranges and pineapples!

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Now that Vikram has enlisted my services and announced them on the Global scale of egullet, I can't get out of it.

I was reluctant because I've eaten there for years. So what's the big deal you think. It is a big deal, because a culinary expedition for me is only half the exercise, the second half is replicating. And although I find it exciting to fabricate and install special metal tandoors, whole goat rotisseries and the bara handi ensemble, it is impossible to recreate the atmsophere and the spirit. I'll take a camera with me this time.

The other problem is clogged roads and arteries, both are prone to the same fate. Hopefully the long trek will counter the effect of Grease on my plumbing.

Since I abstain from Bhasin's style of bhunaoing, I might survive the ordeal. :biggrin: Paaji, I wish you were here!

I think I'll start taking statins right now and leave the rest to Lard almighty. :smile:

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vikram,

thanks for bringing back memories of food i can't get anymore. i remember fondly jaunts to the jama masjid area in my delhi university days to eat slow-cooked nihari early in the morning. though our politicians are trying their best to change all of this, the syncretic nature of indian society (as manifested in our much less complicated relationships with each others' foods as compared to religions) isn't just a romantic, nostalgic conception.

while on the subject, i'd like to commision an up to date piece on current recommended old-delhi spots for kababs, biryani and parathas. i'll be in delhi this winter and part of the itinerary is ruining indian food in the u.s completely for my wife.

mongo

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Vikram and Episure, many thanks for bringing the streets of Mohd. Ali Road alive for us eGulleteers away from home.

When I lived in Bombay, most any night when I wanted to show a visiting friend night life, Mohd. Ali Road and the street foods and some of the cafes were an essential part of my tour.

During Ramzaan, the street life became even more thrilling. I do not remember the name, but outside of Delhi and Jeend (Haryaana), the best Rabri that I have ever eaten was in Mohd. Ali Road. The vendor was a small thele waala...and he had the best rabri.

I cannot wait for your forays into Mohd. Ali Road and I will read every day what you post here.

Vikram, thanks for the articles you have posted. You are always so generous and kind to us fellow eGulleteers.

We know Monica will lead us here in the Indian forum eventually, but till then, the generous support of members such as both of you and the rest that post tirelessly and endlessly, keeps this forum alive and fascinating.

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While I have fond memories of eating in Md. Ali Rd in Mumbai; I have more recent memory of eating in Istanbul last year during ramadan (Check eGullet posting on it ) which is a fascinating city to being with - It is hopping during this time.

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Thank you Vikram for sharing a wonderful article. I hope you and Episure have a great meal, just think of me for a moment, salivating here on my keyboard, while you are gorging yourself. Episure, MAKE SURE you take that camera with you and capture for us not only the various foods but the crowds and the atmosphere there as well.

bhasin

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..... Episure, MAKE SURE you take that camera with you and capture for us not only the various foods but the crowds and the atmosphere there as well.

bhasin

I strongly second that - Let us vicariously enjoy it :)

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Thanks for all this timely and very well written information Vikram

Episure.. now you will have to take pics.. lots of them!!!

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Vikram I had a Bora mom and son dining with us at Amma tonight. The son lives in NYC and the mother was visiting from Colaba (Woodhouse Road, now calld N. Parikh Marg). We chatted about Iftar and your posts here and our collected memories of Bombay and Mohd. Ali Road. You were blessed many times.:smile:

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Episure,

Are you still eating??

I am going to keep bringing this thread up until you post those pictures.

Bhasin

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Ive been a little tied up, my fault. We will be going day after.

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Actually you have reminded me to buy a tripod for my Canon A 70 digital, as it will be night.

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Here are the Ramzan Pix, Vikram's lucid words will be posted shortly:

Roti-Wallah1.gif

Khameeri Roti Maker

This is done in a steel Tandoor, not the clay one.

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roti1.gif

The Rotis are 15 " dia and topped with black sesame seeds. They are thin and crispy.

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Handis1.gif

Bara (12 vessels) Handis dum pukht cooked slowly for 15 hours.

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Spread-21.gif

A whole range of Barbecued meats.

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The-spread1.gif

Another view of the same. Please note this vendor has no branches! Absolutely no branches!( He made me promise I would write this. Whatever turns him on !)

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Malpuas1.gif

Malpuas. These are the deep fried pancakes, so recommended by the Cardiac guys. :unsure:


Edited by Episure (log)

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Episure,

Let me be the first one to congratulate you on some beatiful images, capturing the essence of REAL street food, we reataurant people do good stuff but to eat there in the mele, that is something else. THANK YOU.

I now look forward to reading Vikram's piece, describing your visit.

For what its worth, in my humble opinion, I think egullet should post it on their front page so everyone( not just those of us who visit the India forum) can share these these pictures on Ramzan and Vikram's fothcoming essay.

best

bhasin

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For what its worth, in my humble opinion, I think egullet should post it on their front page so everyone( not just those of us who visit the India forum) can share these these pictures on Ramzan and Vikram's fothcoming essay.

Ditto!

Thanks Episure! Amazing pics..I feel I have been transported back to Bombay and now have tears.

And today, at Amma, we had a now regular customer come in.. his mother, a charming woman, is visiting from Bombay. They are Moslems and we had spoken about this thread before.. and I was telling them how I cannot wait to read and see the images..and I have come back to this thread....lucky me...

We were talking about me having them over for Id and Sheer Khurma and that we will make a big batch of it to give all that come on Id to Amma. :smile:

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Episure: It is not a metal tandoor - It is just a Tava I think.

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Episure: It is not a metal tandoor - It is just a Tava I think.

Anil,

because its not a three dimentional image it appears like a tawa but it IS a tandoor.

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Many apologies to all, especially Episure. After patiently taking me through the back lanes of Bohri Mohalla and introducing me to his favourite barahandiwallahs, the least he could have accepted was for me to have matched his speed in putting up the text to match his pictures.

I can only plead extended chaos at work, though in reality its probably just my journalistic instinct to avoid deadlines kicking in. When I don't have any need to post on eGullet I am happy to write reams; the moment I have to, it becomes another assignment to be avoided! Anyway, I'm not even going to try estimating how late I am, I'm just thankful I'm getting to do it before Ramzaan ends.

In the meantime though I've had plenty of time to refine the knowledge acquired from Episure in the course of several visits to Mohammed Ali Road. I credit him with having quite altered my position on barahandi. In the past I just dismissed it as tons and tons and tons of grease below which lurked inedible muck. Now I know its tons and tons and tons of grease below which, if you go to the right place, you can find something fantastic.

At some point in the evening, as yet another plate of meaty stew embellished with fat was placed before us, and watching the guy behind the cooking pots dice gelationous masses of marrow to add as further garnishing, it occurred to me that this was the answer to Monica's question of some weeks back. Want to know how to do Atkins in India? Just get your catering from Mohammed Ali Road and hold the rotis. (OK, I know its not so easy because as Episure pointed out, these are classic 'poor man's stews' where a small quantity of meat is eked out by thickening the juices with flour or dhall, so there sneak in those carbs).

I met Episure outside the police headquarters just facing Crawford Market. It was around 8.30 just as the market was shutting down for the night, but all around it the lanes that lead to Mohammed Ali Road and Pydhonie were just getting active. There strings of lights over the street leading to the main mosque, there were benches and tables laid out in the streets and everywhere there were people out for the night to have the iftaar.

And not just Muslims - what striking about Ramzaan is how cosmopolitan this whole iftaar scene has become. Most of the year most people in the city don't go to the Mohammed Ali Road area, not because its dangerous (this is, thank god, still Bombay, not that horrible city up north), but because its really crowded and chaotic and now there's this major flyover, the longest in the city, that takes you from Crawford Market almost to Byculla so you zoom over this area. Its a pity, since its a fascinating area, with all the wholesale markets and lots of old buildings that are lovely or would be if someone cleaned them up. There are also some striking mosques too like the Zanzibari Masjid in Dongri which has beautiful painted tilework.

But people outside this area rarely come here except maybe to go to Chor Bazaar (the so called Thieves Market, though the merchants there indignantly try and pretend its a corruption of Shor Bazaar or Shouting Market!) - and during Ramzaan. There was a time when bringing women friends here I'd advise them to wear a salwar-kameez and be ready to cover their heads. These days girls in jeans and strappy tops don't seem to have a problem walking through these lanes.

Anyway, Episure and I first went to Nagdevi Street, a good place to start because its not as chaotic as the Minara Masjid road area, so you can get acclimatized so to speak. Nagdevi Street is a turning to the left just before you reach the main Mohammed Ali Road. If you want a culinary landmark, its the road that start a little in front of Arife's, the shop at the side of Crawford Market which is still the main place in this city for buying anything to do with baking - cake tins of all shapes, muffin pans, icing bags, tart tins, sweet moulds.

Everyone comes to Arife from catering college students to old Catholic aunties from Bandra looking for marzipan moulds for Christmas. (As a sidelight, Christmas cake making season is clearly on us now. CNBC was just running a snip on hotel chefs stirring up their cakes and walking through Crawford Market just before meeting Episure I saw a group of nuns buying candied peel from one of the only shops that still stocks it, a Goan grocery shop called Vincent's. All the younger nuns were laden with bags full of broken nut pieces and raisins, as they waited for their ancient superior to carefully open her purse and count out the notes).

OK, enough detours, we're finally in Nagdevi Street and there's only one game here, which is Barahandi - and only guy dishing it out, Faroque Surati Barahandiwala, the guy who made Episure and me promise we would mention that he has absolutely no branches. You want Faroque Surati Barahandiwala's barahandi, you've got to come to Nagdevi Street (he's there year round, though on a more modest scale). His shop is called Tawakkal, the blessings of Allah, he tells us, and its turnover during Ramzaan is clearly pretty big, though he sidesteps answering exactly how much.

He shows us the barahandi - there's an example in the third picture Episure posted (though that's not from this shop). Its a large steel box that contains the coals and has circular openings on top into which the pots can be placed to cook. Despite the "12 pots" promised in its name, most places seem to have only nine, but I think the other three refer to some of the other stuff bubbling on the side - usually a pot of paya (trotter) soup and some other stuff like that. (Episure, I've just remember, did this guy tell us that one of the pots which had something creamy in it, was haleem - the big Hyderabad ramzaan speciality?)

Faroque Surati Barahandiwala shows us the different dishes - which one is paya, which one is pichota (tail curry), which ones are "bade-ka" or "chote-ka" (from the big one or the small one, meaning beef and mutton). And he tells us that if we want to try it all, he'll give us a plate of 'bhel' - using the term for Bombay's favourite mixed-up snack, for his muxed up meats! I can just imagine what my Gujarati vegetarian friends would feel about this! Apart from this he's got a big chicken grilling and frying operation going on - pix four and five from the ones Episure posted.

Its tempting to eat here, but we're just at the start of our walking, so we tell this to Faroque Surati Barahandiwala, who takes it with good grace. Come some other time this month, or even other times of the year, he tells us. From there we walk on to Mohammed Ali Road and take a shortcut that takes us into the heart of the Minara Masjid Road area. That helped us circumvent most of the chaos there which I'd posted about earlier, and took us straight into the main area where the mutton dishes are made.

Its interesting seeing the way people specialise at this time. For example, the barahandiwallahs have tandoors for making bread, but they don't operate them at this time, just focusing on the bara handi. If you want bread you have to go to the bread shop which is only making the big tandoor cooked rotis that Episure has photgraphed, or another type of twisted leavened bread if you want something to really soak up the gravy. Similarly here in the middle of Minara Masjid, its all specialised - one guy does the mutton tawa items, another cooks the organ meats, another the chicken, another the kebabs and if you want khichada - wonderful creamy dhal and mutton cooked together - there's yet another guy who'd got a big pot he'd doling it out from.

Not that you need to go to them yourself. You just plonk yourself at one table and tell the guy what you want and if he doesn't make it, he sends one of his army of boys to fetch it. How they keep accounts in the middle of all this chaos is beyond me, but it seems to work. I usually prefer to sit near the mutton tawa guy since I think his bhuna ghosht, quick tawa fried lamb is the best thing to eat here - hot, tender and tasty with coriander and chillies fried in. The khichada is very good here too, not unbearably rich as it can be in other places, but just creamy enough.

The chicken is NOT good here, the sikh kebabs can be OK, if you insist that they get good ones (the boys seem to know when you really want the good kebabs). The organ meats can be excellent, though the real reason to eat them is the rich gravy they cook in, and not the slightly rubbery meat itself. The one thing I can't eat here is the quails - I love quail, but its distinctly offputting eating them when there's a cage of live ones above you looking on miserably as they wait for their turn.

Episure and I were really in search of barahandi so we gave this place a miss and walked to the beginning of the road. This took us past the sweet shops where the huge yellow malpua pancakes were bring fried - Episure's last picture. They look amazing, but taste, I think, rather gross. Another sweet only found in this area is sandals - a sweet only made by the muslim Memon community (Minara Masjid is in Memonwadi) that is like a sanna (fermented rice batter cake) topped with sweet cream and tastes very odd.

There are hundreds of other sweets on offer here particularly at Sulaiman Usman Mithaiwala, the most famous sweet shop in this area (also negatively famous for being where during the 1993 riots the police shot dead a bunch of their employees apparently thinking they were rioters, but who wants to think about that now, right?) There are flaky flour pastries, aflatoon which is like sweet ghee mixed with dried fruits, surprisingly good Bengali sweets, milk sweets of all kinds, flavoured with different fruits and covered with silver vark. In a belated nod towards health concerns they have now started making sugar free sweets from dry fruits only - an anjeer (fig) barfi is particularly good.

The real reason to stop here though is the phirni, the rice pudding made in clay containers that leach out water from it, leaving the phirni even creamier. This year Sulaiman Usman has gone ever fancier - the phirni still comes in clay pots, but it now has snazzy clear plastic covers with the Sumailan Usman name printed on top. A lot of people clearly like the food here, but prefer to take it home to eat and all the shops are prepared for this. We don't stop here, but I buy several phirnis, both the yellow kesari (saffron) ones and the plain white ones. There are all the fruit flavoured ones - the guy tries to get me to try a blackcurrant phirni, but I'm sticking to the traditional ones!

Finally we leave Minara Masjid and cross the road and walk into the quieter bylanes that lead to Bohri Mohalla. This is where Episure's favourite barahandi walla Vallibhai Barahandiwalla has his shop. Before going there though we stop at the bread shop in the photographs below to take pictures. Its very tempting to eat the rotis hot from the tandoor, but Vallibhai is just up ahead and we know he'll be getting the rotis from this place. When we reach it, the shop is oddly empty - these barahandi places have strange rhythms of their own. There'll be times when they are packed to the gills, and then equally suddeny empty, like there are fixed servings.

But this suits us, since we can talk to the owner and eat in peace. He says he'll give us 'sukhe mutton' first and at Episure's request he does go easy on layering on the grease at the end. The dish is certainly not 'sukhe' (dry), but comes with a thick gravy and is totally delicious. This is basic, stick to your ribs sort of food and not, as in the barahandis I remeber, essentially unspiced - there's a subtle spicing here, not too hot, more just to complement the creamy mutton taste. We demolish this and move on to paya - more grease this time, but the gravy below it is really good. After that there are several other to try, but we want to eat something grilled now, so we stop at that.

The grill stall is a few streets away, close to Chor Bazaar. Its a smaller place than Faroque's, but we've had enough of the walking now and just want to eat. The first thing we order is a speciality of this area - khiri, or chopped up and grilled cows udders. OK, I can just hear the barfing at that - even seasoned organ meat eaters find the idea of eating udders a bit offputting. But first, it doesn't look like udders - these are just bite sized pieces of meat. And second, they are really denying themselves something special because udder have a totally disinctive texture. Its hard to describe - not the fibrous texture of muscles, or the soft texture of some organ meats.

There is something chewy about them, but not rubbery, easy to eat, but with a mouthfeel entirely of their own. Some people might dislike it, but then some of the people I have introduced them to have really tripped on it. A writer friend I took the other day was in ecstacies, saying it was the best thing he'd eaten that night. (This was in Minara Masjid, where its distinctly better than in the Bohri Mohalla place Episure and I ate in, though that wasn't bad). Episure and I polished off a plate of khiri and then tried one of pasanda, which Episure explained to me is a cut of the meat, but I've forgotten the term he used. Whatever it is, this wasn't it - as Episure said in disgust, what we got was just grilled fat.

That sort of put the lid on our eating (and remember the barahandi stuff is HEAVY). So we called it for the night then and staggered to a taxi. Episure went hom to his website where he responsibly uploaded the pictures quickly and I went to my computer where I prevaricated on writing this until now! Apologies again for that,

Vikram

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Vikram,

I'm glad you writers are trained to remember all these details, after so many days I've forgotten all the points. Good that we went together, udderwise this excellent reportage would not have happened. It's bhuna hard days night.

PS: Read an excellent article by your Mom on railway food, latest issue Jet Airways in-flight magazine.

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Well, it's that time of the year again, only now I am in Bangalore. I went yesterday to check out the Ramzan scene here and came across a Camel meat stall outside Russell market. I was easily dissuaded from taking pictures by the big cleaver wielding apron cladded gentleman. In very soft voice he said to me that it is not a good idea to take photographs during festival time as it is an ill omen.

Who am I to argue against such sharp logic?

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