I had two nights to explore the madness that is India’s said food capital and megalopolis, Mumbai. To date, it is one of the most alluring destinations I have ever visited and quite simply, I fell in love with Mumbai.
I woke up to the sound of the billowing train horn; a smiley couple sitting in front of me picked off a small handful of grapes and handed them to me. “Next stop, time to get off,” one of them said. I thanked them as yet another Chaiwala (a tea seller) paced past our carriage offering us some tea. I politely shook my head; the couple in front of me chuckled to themselves. The train horn sounded once again. I peered out the window as signs for Mumbai flew past. I could see crowds of people on the station platform, eager to get on. As the train came to a halt, there was a crescendo of noise as people jumped down from their bunks and hurried to get on the train. I grabbed my bag and swerved in and out of the crowds, determined to hop off in time. As soon as I got off the train, hunger began to hit.
I was on a mission to find the very popular, albeit cliché, Leopold’s Café (it came to fame in Gregory David Robert’s bestseller, Shantaram). I pushed my way through a busy pavement decorated by colourful clothes and bags hung up by street vendors. Finally, I arrived. The café was thriving; a man quickly ushered me to a table and handed me a slightly beaten up menu. I immediately ordered some water and a bottle of Kingfisher beer to quench my thirst. The café was perched directly next to the pavement; I enjoyed watching passers by as they floated past. The inside of the café was chaotically decorated with a mismatch of posters and album art. I ordered a paneer masala curry with chapati and instantly felt revived. The food isn’t anything fancy but it’s delicious. That is what I found in Mumbai; the street food and local dishes are simple yet the complexity of the flavours are to die for.
The following day I was lucky enough to visit the Grand Hyatt Mumbai for their weekly ‘big brunch.’ If you’re like me, if I am in a country I tend to gravitate towards the local cuisine. Brunches at chain hotels often concern me as the quality of the food can be hit or miss. The Grand Hyatt Mumbai proved me wrong. With endless counters of delectable treats, I found myself pacing around the space like an excitable child. The authentic cuisine that the brunch offers is similar to the street food you find on the streets of Mumbai. They didn’t try and make it something it wasn’t. The dosa (a type of Indian street food that is a pancake stuffed with rice and spices) counter was my favourite. The dessert counter at the brunch was filled with Indian delicacies; jalebis, gulab jamens and kheer (similar to a rice pudding). If you are in Mumbai and want to treat yourself, be sure to head here.
Whilst in Mumbai, I also stumbled across Indigo. Created in 1999 from a converted colonial bungalow, Indigo is now a very well known restaurant in Mumbai, showcasing the best of modern cuisine in India. The menu is ever-changing and offers a selection of eclectic European dishes. I suggest going for the dishes which combine a European dish with an Indian twist – the silver pomfret – tandoori-style was my favourite.
I was told whilst in Mumbai that you can’t go without trying the crab, a well known delicacy for the city. Trishna is a gorgeous, intimate seafood restaurant tucked away by Mumbai University. Incredibly crowded, this restaurant is old fashioned in décor but the food is exquisite. I feasted on jumbo crab cooked in chilli and garlic, and of course sunk it down with a large Kingfisher. For those wanting something a little less touristy, Mahesh, also offers some of the best seafood in town. It was the first restaurant in Mumbai to serve authentic Mangalorean food. The butter and garlic prawn with the chilli and pepper lobster are the signature dishes. The fish tawa fry is also a must-try if you are in the area.
As I drove through Bandra in Mumbai, a huge wave of sadness came over me. I looked out the window and watched as men and women laughed as they stood by their chaat stalls (a puffed rice Indian street food). I realised, two days is nothing. I had only scratched the surface of this magnificent city. I could now understand why it was so frequently called the city of dreams. I could now understand why it was referred to as India’s food capital. I could now understand why people left their homes to come to this crazy, charming and soulful city. My holiday romance with this city had ended but I knew I would be back. The food in the city introduced me to flavours I had never experienced and I for sure wanted another taste.