Entering Bhendi Bazaar is a treat to the five senses — the incessant noise of screeching traffic, the vibrant scene of a busy street, a push or two in the ribs from passersby, along with the fragrance of fried onions mingled with mutton, rice and desi ghee tadka that makes the mouth water and leaves an urge to stop for a bite.
An old sepia-toned photograph of Shalimar when it first opened as a juice centre in 1970
My taxi stops outside Shalimar at the Minara Masjid lane. In the late 1950s, Zainuddin Shaikh, who came to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh in search of work initially worked for someone but gradually he opened a small juice shop of his own and later on introduced falooda to its menu. Which, till date, remains the hottest-selling item here. A painstakingly detailed recipe, the chef would boil and reduce 10 litres of milk to four litres, which by then would acquire a reddish-brown tinge. Sabja (basil) seeds and khoya (condensed milk) would be mixed in it. This would be topped with sancha ice-cream.
A man makes Malpuas during Ramadan at Tawakkal Sweets, Bhendi Bazaar. file pic
Riding high on the success of his juice centre, Zainuddin opened a fast food joint, and later a restaurant, which served Chinese and Indian fare. By then, his son, Shahabuddin Shaikh, had joined him in the business, and they opened a full-fledged restaurant in 1970. Post that there was no looking back. He continued to expand — from a 50-seater and today Shalimar has a seating capacity of 600. Last month, Shalimar completed 45 years on April 10.
“My grandfather was very fond of two chefs — Mehboob for falooda and Ustaad Shammim for Mughlai cuisine — who he had brought from his hometown. They would make the falooda milk and the Mughlai Dum Pukht Biryani on coal, a tradition we follow till date,” says 27-year-old Shaikh, who took over the business single-handedly in 2002 when his father passed away. Between studying for his Class 10 exams and firefighting to retain his staff, Shaikh worked toward fulfilling his father’s vision. “Since I was in Class 7, my father would post my duty in the kitchen during holidays. From morning till evening, I would be assigned odd jobs like chopping the meat, vegetable, making curries, and learning the masalas. The kitchen is the heart of a food business. Early on, I learnt to make Chinese food,” reveals Sheikh, who opened a sweets shop in 2005 and the bakery in 2014.
Omaer Shaikh, the third-generation owner of Shalimar. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
“My father was a real innovator, and we had a softy and milkshake machine before anyone else in Mumbai. A perfectionist, he would tell me that every stain of masala on my chef’s uniform was my licence to be in the kitchen,” says Shaikh, recalling his early days when he would cut his palm, put a band-aid on, and get back to chopping meat.
The bakery was opened last year
Under Shaikh’s leadership, Shalimar added fusion dishes to its menu to suit the Indian palate. “We introduced dishes such as Hummus with Chicken Tikka and Chicken Tandoori pizza. Every few months, we turn our kitchen into a lab and try out new dishes, which we serve our customers to try. If they like it, it makes it to the permanent menu,” says the resident of Mumbai Central.
Today, Shalimar has branches in Andheri West, Saki Naka and Vashi. In the next five years, Shaikh hopes to expand to other cities in India and take the brand abroad. Within the next one month, Shaikh will open an ISO-certified central kitchen at Grant Road, too. “At 27, I feel like I have the experience of a 47-year-old. I didn’t get into this food business. I was born into it,” Shaikh signs off.
The food streets
Along with Shalimar, Bhendi Bazaar and Mohammed Ali Road’s Minara Masjid lane are peppered with eateries that people frequent during Ramazan and other the festivities all through the year. “During Ramazan, people throng here to savour the Malpuas, kebabs and Chicken/Mutton Tikkas. The Minara Masjid Lane also has popular eateries such as Suleman Mithaiwala and Noor Mohammadi, which now has a ground level and posh upper seating. Here, you’ll get mouth-watering Seekh Kebabs, Dal Ghosht, white Chicken Biryani and a dish called Chicken Sanju Baba (named after actor Sanjay Dutt who is supposed to have given the recipe),” explains blogger Kalyan Karmakar, who blogs on www.finelychopped.net.
Cross over and you’ll come to the Bhendi Bazaar area that has the Bohri Mohalla and Chor Bazaar. Here, although there are no iconic eateries of Shalimar’s stature, the area does include popular eateries that are frequented by locals. “There’s Haji Tikka Corner for kebabs, Valibhai — which shut two months ago — for Surti Bara Handi, India hotel for Bheja Masala. The dessert shops are mostly owned by Bohris, including the 125-year-old Taj Ice Cream and Tawakkal Sweets (famous for malpua during Ramzan),” says Karmakar.
However, a lot is likely to change with the recent redevelopment plans, says Karmakar who conducts Food and Heritage Walks in the city. “If the redevelopment gives the area a swanky look with fancy high rises, the topography will undergo a transformation. The food available in this area is inexpensive and people from all walks of life converge here. Take the example of the JJ Flyover. Since its construction, those commuting to town and back never pass the area under the bridge, which has turned it into a blind spot of sorts. Given the scrumptious food available at Bhendi Bazaar, we can only hope that the area retains its local charm after the redevelopment.”