Tasting Mumbai: Discover India’s Largest City
May 22, 2020
A Tantalizing Street-Food Tour of Mumbai
by Vee Kumari
In-article photos by Shalini Vijayan
I grew up in the south of India in Trivandrum, the capital city of the state of Kerala. Although I had traveled in India mostly for track and field events, I had never been to Mumbai, except as a place of transit when arriving from the US and before taking the next plane to Trivandrum. Now there are airlines that take you straight to Trivandrum via the Middle East.
In April 2019, I traveled with my daughter, her son and boyfriend to visit my family, and on the return trip, spent a few days in Mumbai. Mumbai, originally called Bombay, is one of the capitals of the State of Maharashtra, the other being Nagpur. I would say it’s one of the most modern cities in India.
We decided that one of the best ways to explore the city was through its food, so we joined a street food walk, titled ‘Khau Gully,’ literally translates to the food lane, which is an homage to the street food of Mumbai.
The food in Mumbai is so different from the Kerala food we’re used to. My grandson, 13, ate it up like he had grown up in Mumbai. Perhaps it was his dream to become a Chef that inspired him!
Mumbai Food Tour Khau Gully
The tour titled ‘Khau Gully’, literally translated to the food lane, is an ode to the street food of Mumbai. If you are in the mood to tantalize your taste buds and find the perfect excuse to ditch that diet–fellow foodie, don’t look further!
This tour takes you through the history of various communities and their kitchens to see how they have impacted the cuisine of Mumbai, especially its street food. Being a multicultural city, Mumbai has taken to its bosom dishes from other states, but also unselfishly given the world India’s favorite street food–the Pav Bhaji. The story of the dish dates back to the mid-1950s. An enterprising restaurateur saw an opportunity when he observed hungry textile workers step out at ungodly hours of the morning. The restaurateur took last night’s leftover veggies and mashed them along with quintessential Indian spices to create a perfect tangy and spicy curry, which was strictly accompanied by the Portuguese pav. These were sold on the streets to workers, whose odd working hours prompted a street food revolution. This dish, with humble origins, has crossed state borders and has become the most beloved street food of India.
This storytelling and tasting tour will take you to the colorful stalls of Girgaon Chowpatty, the beach!
We got to sip chai in a hundred-year-old Iranian café
They gave us buns to dip in the tea. We’d never done that before!
A look at the food counter in the café.
A dosa store where we tasted different types of dosas typical of Mumbai: cheese dosa and pav (vegetable) dosa. Dosas are thin flat pancakes made from rice and split black beans, soaked, ground and fermented overnight. In the forefront, my grandson (in a green T-shirt) is eagerly awaiting his dosa!
The cook is watching over the dosa, which is made like a pancake, but spread so thin and buttered that it comes out brown and crispy! Then it’s loaded with the cheese or vegetables.
Sev puri, made up a small, deep-fried whole wheat disc called a poori or papdi, on top of which is piled sweet and spicy chutney made of various herbs and chili, as well as chopped veggies and crisped, fried vermicelli flakes called sev.
Bhel puri, made with puffed rice, peanuts, chutneys, spice powders, veggies and sev, typically served in newspaper cones.
Fried spicy green chillies. Who wants one?
A view of the food stalls along the beach.
Fresh tender coconuts filled with natural coconut water. The thick skin was removed, and the top cut off to make a hole, so we could drink the water with a straw. Delicious!
We all look forward to going back to Mumbai for another food tour!
Feature photo: via Visit Mumbai FB
Vee Kumari grew up in India and now lives in Los Angeles. She is a scientist, actor, movie producer and author of Dharma: A Rekha Rao Mystery.