Chaitra Lalge warns against crowding and traffic jams if customers are going to stand by the roadside and enjoy the eats. Pic/Satej Shinde
If the BMC has its way, you won't have to wait for the annual Versova Koliwada festival to dig into bharlela paplet. Earlier this month, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) approved a proposal to deploy two food trucks in Cuffe Parade's Machhimar Nagar, in a bid to offer the Koli community the chance to earn revenue and showcase their indigenous cuisine. A budget of Rs 33 lakh has been reserved by the District Planning Development Committee. Tenders will be floated this month and once the contractor is finalised, the trucks are expected to be custom-made.
"Only Koli cuisine will be served and we expect this to generate employment for the fishermen. This is also the reason why we have selected the Machhimar Nagar area. It's where the Kolis live and work. It will take another two months for the food trucks to come on the road, ready to serve," Shivdas Gurav, Assistant Municipal Commissioner, A-ward, told mid-day. In 2021, BMC commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal had also asked for a formulation of a comprehensive food truck policy. Fifty sites have been identified across 24 wards where various mobile eateries will be stationed.
Koli women prep to serve fresh seafood at their stalls during the Mahim Koliwada seafod festival. File pic
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Hospitality entrepreneur Ashesh L Sajnani, who is director at Opa hospitality, and founder-mentor to Bombay Food Truck, says it's only fitting that the Kolis get the first shot. "They have added flavour to the food and beverage scene of the city for decades. The community brings in fresh catch every day, servicing some of the biggest and smallest restaurants. This is their chance at empowerment and it could also kickstart the food trucks business [thriving] across the city. It's a progressive step." Sajnani hopes that the idea is replicated across all Koliwadas of Mumbai.
Food historian Dr Mohsina Mukadam agrees that picking Mumbai's indigenous fishing community is a promising decision given that it's a cuisine that's restricted to the kitchens of community homes. "They haven't really had the opportunity to present their food to cosmopolitan Mumbai. It's simple but delicious and always fresh."
While the pandemic may have pulled the brakes on Koli community food festivals held during the winters, it gave an astonishing fillip to home chefs. Fish monger and home chef Harsha Tapke, husband Rajhans and son Tanay are behind a slew of enticing videos on YouTube that showcase the wonders of this regional cuisine that feeds off both, fresh catch and dried fish. The latter sees the community through the monsoon months when the waters are choppy and the boats are packed up. Their Bombay State Fisheries channel is an attempt to take Koli culture and cuisine to a wider audience. In 2011, the city got its first Koli speciality restaurant in Mi Hi Koli, Thane. Efforts such as these have introduced the city's foodies to bambooke bombil (half-dried Bombay duck), ghari or traditional sourdough which goes best with dried prawns and brinjal, and shipi curry (clams curry).
Machhimar Nagar in Cuffe Parade has been designated by the BMC to station the Koli food trucks. Pic/Pooja Patel
"The proposal looks like a good alternative for the Kolis to earn since infrastructure projects and climate change have reduced the catch considerably, leading them to lose their traditional source of income," says Anjali Koli, who grew up in the Koli neighbourhood of Colaba and is behind the popular AnnaParaBrahma food blog.
While the proposal sounds promising on paper, it comes with its own set of challenges, Colaba's residents feel. Chaitra Lalge warns against crowding and traffic jams if customers are going to stand by the roadside and enjoy the eats. "While we are open to progressive, development ideas, we are concerned about the implementation. If the trucks are going to be deployed on the main road, which is already chock-a-block with traffic, parked customer vehicles will cause a nightmare," thinks Mohit Chaturvedi, vice president of the Cuffe Parade Residents Association.
Interestingly, members of the Koli community share Chaturvedi's concern. "We are against the decision because there is no space to park the trucks. Machhimar Nagar is not the place to implement such projects," says Bhuvaneshwar Dhanu, special advisor, Machhimar Sarvodaya Sahakari Society. The real challenge, Dhanu points out, is, that once the monsoon sets in, close to 350 boats are parked on the shore of the Koliwada. "There's barely any space to park our boats, which are the centre of our livelihood. It will lead to chaos," he adds.
Anjali Koli and Dr Mohsina Mukadam
Gurav however, is confident of receiving the support of all concerned. "We will decide the location of the trucks and hours of operation in consultation with the machhimar bandhav [brothers from the fisherfolk community]." Jayesh Bhoir, chairman of the Machhimar Sarvodaya Sahakari Sanstha (Cuffe Parade, Colaba and Machhimar Nagar) wishes the consultation had happened before the announcement. "If this is being done for the [good of the] Kolis, why weren't we taken into confidence? Also, who is going to manage these trucks? How will the authorities decide who from the 16,000+ Kolis living in the area get the chance to work in the trucks?"