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Food for thought

Fiona FernandezAfter several years, yours truly succumbed, without much persuasion, to make a long overdue pilgrimage to Mohammed Ali Road. The occasion — to indulge in a slice of the feasting that takes over this buzzing stretch of the city during the holy month of Ramzan.

It was nearly 11pm on the clock when we arrived at our first halt. This, after our cab had to snake through a melee of handcarts, stalls, peddlers, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and overzealous shoppers and foodies on the hunt.

Above us, traffic was zipping past on the flyover, and in typical Mumbai fashion, possibly oblivious to the bustle, din and aromas on display below.
From the robust nalli nihari, to the succulent khiri and kaleji, and the many delights of the barah handi tradition, we were spoilt for choice. It was a food feast like none other. Tissues and hand sanitizers were kissed goodbye, as one threw caution to the wind and dug into the spread on offer at one of the many makeshift al fresco sections laid out by the roadside — our version of the Parisian street café, perhaps? But more on such examples for another time.

The whiff of grilled meats emanated from every gully that we wandered into. A mix of fez caps, tattoos and bandanas were spotted rooting for their favourite delicacies. The fiery preparations were mostly cooled down either by hand-churned ice creams or devilishly rich mithais and drippy malpuas.

In fact, such was the rush that by the time we had reached our dessert destination, unlucky folk who had strolled in after us had to eat humble pie — most of the prized meats on menus in the mohalla had been sold out.

Cooks inside steamy, sooty kitchens were churning out food with a vengeance and pace that would make the most seasoned of chefs in a five star hotel to break into a cold sweat.

As one scanned the neighbourhood, in between mouthfuls of piping-hot malpuas, it was heartwarming to witness a welcome change in the social fabric.

The city in all its cosmopolitan hues seemed to have warmed up to this tradition of street food in all its riotous flavours and aromas. Gone were the days when it was perceived as a ghettoized feast, largely, and dubbed as an out-of-bounds location for the rest of the city folk. Not any more. Stiletto-sporting aunties from Khar were vying for elbowroom at rickety, foldable tables alongside the Audi-driving Altamount Road clique, even as Dombivli collegians were making their baptism by fire — their idea of a lethal initiation into ‘non-veg’ food. Talk about biting the bullet!

Into the wee hours of the morning, and when we were forced to abandon our feasting marathon for lack of any more territory to conquer, one message had became clear. Another barrier had been broken. Mumbai’s rich and diverse culinary history was in safe hands, after all. Community and culinary history never had a more satisfying example to feed of.

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY

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