Christmas In The Time Of Bombay…
A traditional meal of roast chicken & sugary treats like kulkuls is still common in Mumbai's Christian homes.
No matter where we spend our childhood, Christmas for most us bring back memories of school vacations, midnight mass and plum cakes. Back in the day, it was no different for Mumbaikars. Bombay boys Kunal Vijayakar and food and wine writer, Antoine Lewis find celebrations have changed over the years. They share their memories with us…
“My father would ensure there was a suckling pig on Christmas every year!” says Kunal Vijayakar. The foodie and TV host grew up in Mazagaon Dock, which in the late 60s was a place inhabited by Christians, Parsis and Jews. The shippie culture was also evident as everyone had travelled abroad and therefore had a penchant for the fine things in life.
“Christmas naturally was a humongous affair and we were fortunate to have been part of the celebrations back then. Every year the entire tennis court would be transformed into a dance floor complete with a music band, stand-up comedian and attendees in white tuxedos swaying away till late in the night,” he reveals.
But, the real fun came during the holidays. It seems Dockyard Road in those days would be exactly how Bandra is today during the festivities. The strong Christian and Anglo-Indian communities meant midnight mass, carol-singing volunteers outside people’s houses and eating good food. It was the stuffed suckling pig at the Vijayakar household everybody looked forward to. “Every year, my father would take matters in his own hands by placing the order at either Cobana Café at Byculla or the Willingdon or Royal Bombay Yacht Club. Prawn patty, sausages and mince pies were some of the other goodies we’d eagerly wait to eat.”
Today, Vijayakar looks forward to a traditional lunch prepared by friend and TV host, Cyrus Broacha’s mother. “Being a Goan Christian, you can expect a quintessential meal comprising Goan specialties like the vindaloos, ham and sweetmeats like rose cookies, kulkuls and sugary marzipans.”
But, Christmas was a localised affair and celebrations were limited in the 1940s. There were some rare pockets in South Bombay, which saw celebrations in full swing. It was marked by huge stars made of tissue paper and electric lights, which used to be hung across the road near Metro cinema; it was in some areas near the Portuguese Church and in Mazagaon Dock that one could experience the cheer in the air. One of our Parsi friends (who prefers to be anonymous) lets us in on a few British-run departmental stores such as Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co and Evans Fraser & Co on Hornby Road, Fort and Army and Navy Stores at Esplanade Road for donning beautiful Christmas decorations. The Taj Mahal Palace and Hotel was also a hotspot for parties during this time of the year.
His food memories are centred on the rum cakes that his Christian dhobiwala got every X-Mas. “But, Christmas for us was a good excuse to enjoy vacations outside the city maybe in Matheran or Khandala!” he quips.
And, there are those who miss the big stars adorning the lanes of Colaba. “There would be competitions and rewards for the best star. I don’t see them anymore,” says Antoine Lewis who grew up in Colaba. He remembers Christmas meals featuring roast chicken, suckling pig, Christmas pudding with egg sauce, and a special sorpotel, which was prepared in advance. “My mum would make the pudding, and I would flambé it,” he says. Hanging out with friends and family on the streets well past midnight after the mass is something he truly misses.