In our concrete jungle, a group of carnivores finds a way to satiate its primal hunting instinct. While they must still move swiftly to grab that leg of lamb, their territory doesn't extend beyond the by-lanes of the city. Anjana Vaswani chomps on some heartwarming Parsi bhonu with the people that make up the motley group Mumbai Meat Marathon on their third food trail
It's an oddly disconcerting experience to rendezvous with a bunch of strangers, and it doesn't ease your nerves when the voice at the other end of the cellphone bellows, "Get out of the car!" while you're bang in the middle of an extremely busy road. Our gaze washes over the perimeter, as we try to figure out where they are, a particularly challenging task, we discovered, when you don't know who they are.
The Mumbai Meat Marathoners tuck into Britania's famous Berry Pulao
and Salli Boti
Deesh Mariwala, principal carnivore and 'meat'ing coordinator, insists he's standing right beside Flora Fountain. But so are at least 20 other people at lunch hour on a Saturday. We find ourselves waving enthusiastically to a complete stranger in a dark blue shirt encouraged simply by the sight of a bottle of mineral water in his hand. If that's not him, this could be pretty embarrassing.
The blue shirted man, who, as it turns out, is Mariwala after all, leads us to a small group standing a few steps away. Meenal, Rageshree and Vivek form a friendly bunch, although you wouldn't guess it from the name of their group, created over Facebook.
The quartet are members of Mumbai Meat Marathon -- a motley group of people who have come together over Facebook because of a shared love for meat and a preference "to use their canines to their molars". Their motto? "iEat Street Meat until iStuffed or iBurst". They've trailed Bhendi Bazaar and Byculla, already. This time round, they were on the lookout for some good Parsi food.
Deesh has elevated gorging down to a science. "Once we start eating, we must continue to eat," he declares.
"If there's a 20 minute gap from the last meal, our bodies will slip into digestion mode and we won't be able to eat any more." Keeping this in mind, Deesh has charted the day's trail. "The idea is to eat, walk it off and eat again," he says, peppering our walk with the story behind the Meat Eaters' group that was inaugurated with a Bara-Handi feast at Valibhai Payawala eatery at Bhendi Bazar at 5.30 am on Dusshera, earlier this month.
Though originally a Mumbai resident, Deesh shuttled around various Indian cities, sampling traditional cuisines for some years. When he returned to Mumbai in 2008, he decided to do the same with the various cuisines this city offers its residents.
"Mumbai's culinary wealth is truly magnificent," he says, telling us that the trail took root when several fellow Facebook users "liked" his idea of starting one. Meenal was one of them. She tells us all about her fondness for Parsi food as we approach Ideal Corner -- their third pit stop, after having wolfed down the Kheema Pau at Cafe Military and soaked the ambience at Jimmy Boy, both famous eateries of Fort. "My father used to work with the Tatas," shares the Chembur-resident, as I join the group mid-way in its food trail. "As a child I used to look forward to dining at weddings of his colleagues, so I'm thrilled to join a Parsi food trail now," she says.
Salli Ni Murg and Dhansak are the stuff of our dreams too, but the group's forthcoming schedule is just as enticing -- The Bandra Burger Trail, The Malayali Meathunt (Mahim, Andheri East), The Colaba Causeway Carnivorous Convention (no suits necessary), The Spare Parts Trail (Gurda, Kapoora, Kaleji, Khiri, and Tilli), The Big Bad Wolves Trail (Pork, Piglet, Bacon and Ham feast), Go-an Gorging and The Bong Song (Andheri, Oshiwara, Bandra), are currently being voted upon on their Facebook page.
A trail will be held every weekend. Ideal Corner is a cozy little place with yellow walls and a wobbly winding staircase that seems to dare you to climb it. Our server is a slim, jolly-faced bespectacled man who's genuinely delighted by our request for an ice-cream soda. It isn't available though, so he supplies us with Pallonji's raspberry soda instead. A fifth member, Sunil Mirpuri arrives, bringing with him enough cheer to flood the room.
When Mirpuri breaks bread with someone, they're practically deemed family, he tells us. One second he's probing into our lives, the next he's bursting into song, telling us about girlfriends or making them up. But were it not for his interest in everyone, we may never have learnt that Vivek, a man of few words, graduated from our very own alma mater.
Preeti Ramani, Lalit Malhotra and first-timer Zarina Ahmed show up just in time to partake of an order of Salli Boti, Chicken Farcha, Pulao, Salli Keema and some of the best Patra Ni Machchi we've ever tasted. Lalit also orders a mutton cutlet which comes doused in a ketchup-like sauce -- he's not pacing himself, and no one else is either. Trading bashfulness in for a second serving of the Patra Ni Machchi and the mouthwatering cutlet, we readily agree to the crew's demand for caramel custard. Of course, for most of us here, this was only the first course.
The modest bill is split evenly and we head toward Cafe Britannia, which is swamped. Preeti, a lawyer, commences negotiations as Deesh worries that we're well past the 20-minute-mark. When we're finally seated, Boman Kohinoor, the octogenarian owner takes our order while doing a little jig to a ditty that goes, "Drink fresh lime water sweet, to beat the Mumbai heat." Then, perhaps inspired by that rhythmic performance, Sunil spontaneously breaks into song. "I love Sufi music," he tells us, as we worry that diners may leave their spare change at our table.
A delicious meal of Berry Pulao and Salli Boti later, Sunil drives us to Sassanian, near Metro Cinema. The immaculately maintained Parsi/Irani restaurant has been a favourite haunt of his for 40 years, and the Parsi lady in charge seems to know him well enough. But then, by now, so does everyone else in the group. Nonetheless, we're grateful for having been led to this hidden treasure -- you can still get those chicken rolls with the wonderfully gooey yellow mayonnaise here and also worth sampling is a scrumptious Chicken and Potato Bomb coated with Mayonnaise.
But the meat trail was more than just discovering new food. As messages and invitations poured in from Rageshree, Zarina, Vivek, Deesh and Preeti on the days that follow, we realised that the warmth we felt there had little to do with the Dhansak takeaway that rode home on our lap.
To join the group,
Call: Cafe Military, 22654181 ; Jimmy Boy, 22662503; Ideal Corner, 22621930; Britannia, 22615264; Sassanian Bakery and Boulangerie, 22098001; Paradise, 22832874