Why wait for Ramzan?

Home chef Alka Shehzeen Siddique brings Mohammed Ali Road cuisine in a pop-up that will satisfy your taste buds

It was at the age of 19, when Alka Bindra got married to Baba Siddique that she witnessed her first Ramzan at Mohammed Ali Road. For her, it was nothing short of a spectacle. "The first thing that struck me was, of course, the chaotic crowd. But what was enduring were the images of large cauldrons of endless rows of kebab and huge tawas churning out baida roti, chicken roll and tangdi kebab," says the wife of the former Bandra MLA, who prefers to be known as Alka Shehzeen Siddique. While the food is undeniably delicious, you can't vouch for the hygiene. "Over the years, the crowd has increased to the extent that in the rush to serve, cleanliness has taken a hit." Which is why, Siddique decided to introduce Mohalla Nights — a new initiative of her pop-up restaurant Café De Mom that will bring the flavours of Mohammad Ali Road on your plate through a home-cooked meal.

The menu at Mohalla Nights includes ghost-e-dum
The menu at Mohalla Nights includes ghost-e-dum

Mohalla Nights, which will pop up at Maqaba Heights on Pali Road where an apartment will serve as a temp restaurant for the weekend of January 9 and 10. Diners will be served an eight-course meal with signature Ramzan dishes like paaye soup, murgh purr, naan chap along with dum ghost and katakat. For desserts there will be the traditional falooda, but in set glasses that will offer a more solidified version of the falooda, a twist to the usual liquid form that we find on the streets.

set falooda
Set falooda

alpua and phirni are conspicuous by their absence. "We carefully curated the menu to not include too many dishes because during our last pop-up people were stuffed in the first round itself," she laughs. Siddique began Café De Mom in August last year, at the insistence of her husband and kids who wanted her culinary skills to be showcased to a wider audience.
Her first pop-up, Dawat-e-shahi was in August where she presented a blend of traditional Mughlai and Punjabi cuisine through gulzaar-e-shaami (tender lamb), teekhay khatte aloo (tangy baby potatoes) and murg-e-peshkash (chicken in coconut cream). The success of the first pop-up led to a clamour for another one.

Murgh ke purr
Murgh ke purr

"A trip to Mohammed Ali Road during Ramzan is like an annual gastronomical pilgrimage for most meat lovers. The same dishes might not be available at the same place the rest of the year. There’s a slack because it’s not festive time," says Siddique who thought Mumbaikars would be ready for a taste even during off season. Her cooking style sticks to tradition and she marinates the meat in gosht-de-dam overnight and has ground the masalas manually on a grinding stone. She will bake the biscuit-like breads eaten during Ramzan before sunrise at home.

Alka Shehzeen Siddique PIC/SAMEER MARKANDE
Alka Shehzeen Siddique Pic/Sameer Markande

Part of her research included taking the mile-long stretch under JJ Flyover to Minara Masjid in order to not miss legendary pit-stops like Suleman Mithaiwala and Noor Mohammadi, and good ol’ Taj Icecream which has been serving hand-churned delights for 125 years. She also went to relatively newer joints like Chinese Grill that serve delicious bheja and
gurda items.

Omaer Shaikh, the owner of the legendary Shalimar Hotel near Minara Masjid, feels to survive in the area it is necessary to keep up with changing times and tastes. "In the 1950s my grandfather started the place as a juice stall that later introduced falooda to its menu. We then began serving Chinese and Indian fare. Our newer items include hummus with chicken tikka and chicken tandoori pizza."

While newer shops have opened, some eateries have buckled under pressure. Vazir, one of the buzzing watering holes for poets in the 50s had to shut shop a decade ago due to dwindling demand. "The demand is for multi-cuisine. Hence those who haven’t changed are eventually forced to shut shop," says the 27-year-old.

Siddique feels that while restaurants may come and go, food remains the biggest crowd puller. "The concept of mohalla or a sense of belonging to a neighbourhood is so strong that even if people turn millionaires they don’t wish to move out. The easy access to multi-cuisine makes residents want to stay back," she says.

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