Bandra’s Underground East Indian Food Renaissance
The East Indians are one of the original communities to have settled in Mumbai. They follow the Roman Catholic faith and were converted to Christianity by the Portuguese. Later, a large number of them worked in the British East India Company. Hence, the name.
You will be hard pressed to find East Indian food in Mumbai if you are not invited to one of their houses. There are no restaurants dedicated to East Indian food. Just as there aren’t any that serve food of the Koli and the Pathare Prabhu communities, two of the other early settlers of the city.
Your only access to Pathare Prabhu or Koli food, outside of homes, are in the sporadic food festivals held by the community in Mumbai. The most famous of these is the Koli Versova Seafood festival. The Pathare Prabhu festival is a lot smaller. East Indian festivals are held in far-off places such as Vasai. You get some East Indian food at the Bandra Gym in their canteen and during the Christmas carnival there.
There has been an interesting development when it comes to the East Indian food scene in Mumbai of late. No, there are still aren’t any East Indian restaurants. Yet, you can try some of the flavours in restaurants in Bandra, a suburb which is home to many East Indians.
Unlike the Kolis and the Pathare Prabhus, there are quite a few East Indians working as chefs in the city's restaurants. Some of these young East Indian chefs are now getting their mother’s bottled masalas and their grandmom’s recipes and introducing them in their modern kitchen.
Chef Glyston Gracias, who is the chef of the Smokehouse Deli Chain in Mumbai, is an example of this. Smokehouse serves ‘comfort European food’. One of their specials last Christmas was a six hour braised pork belly. Glyston, an East Indian, had learnt how to buy pork while accompanying his mom to the markets as kid. East Indians love their pork after all. This pork belly preparation at Smokehouse was special for Glyston. While the cooking technique was very European, the core spicing was his mother’s East Indian bottle masala!
Then there is chef Chef Aloysius D’Silva, an East Indian, who has opened a cafe called Villa Vandre in Bandra last year. Here the menu has international dishes inspired by the chef’s travels across the world. It also has Parsi dishes from his in-law’s side of the family. And a few East Indian dishes such as a mutton dish called the mutton khudi too, which the chef has grown up to. He also makes and serves East Indian sausages, and tells me they are less spicy and tangy than the more famous Goan sausages. The core spicing here, as Glyston pointed out, is the bottle masala, which makes it different from the Goan choriz. Chef Aloo, as Aloysius is known as, serves the sausages with mash and fried egg and the dish has won me over for sure.
Bagel Shop, a bit of a Bandra expat and hipster institution, celebrated its 10th birthday recently. Owner Anil Kably told me about the new East Indian dishes that they have introduced to the menu on the occasion. The East Indian dishes are the brainchild of Lester Pereira, a seasoned East Indian home chef and former five-star hotel F & B manager. They plan to increase the East Indian range at Bagel Shop after the warmth with which the new introductions were welcomed. I had a delightful Ox Tongue Moile Bagel at the Bagel Shop on its birthday. It is an example of an East Indian dish in a bagel to follow Anil’s earlier innovation of a Goan choriz and cream cheese bagel. I tasted the East Indian sorpotel, which is less tangy than the Goan version and is lighter in colour too. The East Indians don’t use pig blood in the dish unlike the Goans. Again the bottle masala stars here and not garam masala. There are some pretty delightful pan rolls too, and Lester’s touch of adding parsley to the buff meat one is a refreshing addition to the flavour palate.
A couple of nights ago, I had the the 8 hour braised pork ribs at Indigo Deli in Bandra. I was very intrigued by the piquant flavour in this restaurant, which otherwise falls in the same ‘comfort European’ space as Smokehouse Deli. I wanted to know more about the dish, which is when the young head chef of the Bandra branch, Clyde Comello, came out to explain it. Turns out Clyde is East Indian too! He told me that he considers Glyston of Smokehouse Deli his ‘guru’.
The secret behind the piquant taste? Good old East Indian bottle masala of course!
Clyde told me that he also brings in East Indian flavours into other specials at Indigo Deli such as the pot roast, and cooks the ox tongue roasts in bottle masalas as well. If you are in his phone book, then young Clyde will Whatsapp you when East Indian dishes features on his specials at Indigo Deli.
So what I learnt this week is that while there is no East Indian restaurant in the city yet, walking the lanes of Bandra can lead you to some of these brilliant flavours.
Just find a restaurant with an East Indian chef. Or try your luck by knocking on the doors of one of the suburbs many East Indians.
You can catch my chat with Glyston Gracias in the video below. Do subscribe to my channel for more such interesting food chats.
Kalyan is a Mumbai-based food blogger and columnist who loves to travel in search of local tastes. He is at his happiest when eating at small, family-run places. His blog Finely Chopped won the Best Food Blog Award in 2013, 2014 and 2015 at the Food Bloggers Association of India awards. He is the lead critic for Mumbai at EazyDiner and is a columnist for Femina. He is also the Chief Chowzter for Mumbai, and conducts food walks in the city.
Follow Kalyan on Twitter @finelychopped