“It’s very simple, you see. If I had to pick places where a first-timer to Mumbai should dine, I’d suggest they visit any eatery that is 50 years old, at least,” chuckled Kunal Vijayakar, the affable city based foodie. This was his reply when we asked him the trick to choosing from the maze of restaurants in the city. He was right.
After all, in our quest to separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve had countless episodes where barely a year after their opening, the same eatery would have shut down, or its standards would have fallen dismally. Either ways, it throws light on a valid point, highlighted by Vijayakar’s observation. Forget about 50 years; these days, if a restaurant survives for a year or two even, you’ll hear of week-long celebrations and whatnot.
More reason why we must hail the ones who have survived the race on the ever-changing food map (read: chessboard). And all of this, despite having to negotiate every hiccup in between the kitchen and the patron. In fact, step into any such eatery and you’ll be amazed at the simplicity of the fare, the attention to detail and the lightning-fast service. Many of these names haven’t exactly gone overboard with interiors, swish al fresco sections or manuscript-type menus. But what has been retained is the freshness of flavours, the authenticity of taste and the warm, homely comfort that most customers will vouch for, each time they step in.
An interesting indicator of their popularity despite the breakneck speed of openings (and shutdowns) in the city is while browsing through foodie blogs, magazines and food websites. Almost always, you will notice that a few names remain unchanged, irrespective of time, tide or season. Be it seafood restaurants, community favourites, Udipi hangouts or Irani cafes, these will find their way into many such compilations. And, never mind the swish organic café or the newest molecular gastronomy that is just around the block.
It goes to show how starved the city is of worthy claimants to such titles like ‘Oldest seafood restaurant’, ‘Best Udipi’ and the like. Sadly, many such treasures have faced the axe or have had to bear the brunt of the big, fat real estate monster; worse, disinterest from the next generation. Mumbai has and continues to lose this crucial slice of its heritage and diverse culinary fabric, with no governing body to safeguard this slide. It’s been happening at an alarming pace and at this rate, the cut-off won’t be 50 years but a dismal 10, we think.
Get the whiff?
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day