Food entrepreneur brings Nasik's original misal to Mumbai
A graphic designer from Nashik couldn't handle Mumbai's vatana misal. So she decided to open Lokhandwala's lone Maharashtrian restaurant
The first time graphic designer Sheetal Zambre tasted misal pav at a city eatery, she was surprised to see vatana or dried white peas dunked in the fiery red curry. Having grown up in Nashik, a city dotted with 250 misal-serving establishments, she was accustomed to having it the 'original' way — with matki (moth beans). It took a few more visits to other eateries to realise that this is the norm in the metro.
"I asked a couple of owners why they don't serve it with matki, and I was told it's cumbersome," she says. They had their reasons. As a rule, moth beans need to be sorted, washed, and then soaked in water for six to eight hours. Subsequently, the soaked beans have to be hung in a muslin cloth for 10-12 hours until you see the sprouts coming out. It's nearly a three-day process. "If I ever opened a restaurant, I would make it with matki, I thought to myself at the time," she says.
Pithla with bhakri. Pics/Sameer Markande
Zambre has kept her word. Her unassuming QSR (quick service restaurant), Swad Maharashtracha, located on the ground floor of Kuber Complex, Andheri West, serves the snack Nashik style. The menu, albeit limited, includes dishes that you'll mostly find in Maharashtrian homes such as valache bhirde (field beans curry), vangicha bharit (baingan bharta), shev bhaji and mataki usal, among others. The pithla is served with bhakri along with thecha and white onions on the side.
Turns out, it's the only Maharashtrian restaurant in Andheri. "It was important that I found out why there weren't any," Zambre tells us when we meet at the restaurant for lunch. The 36-year-old, who had participated in the first season of MasterChef India, had dropped out because she couldn't move to Mumbai due to domestic responsibilities. Three years ago, when the family moved base, she decided to reignite the chef in her.
After putting up stalls at misal mahotsavs in the area and gathering feedback from guests, Zambre felt a restaurant was a risk worth taking. She didn't mind that the space could only seat 10 guests. "I didn't know how it would take off, so there was no point investing in a large space." Being a graphic designer, with no hospitality connections, the only way to learn the ropes was to take the plunge. She kept the prices reasonable in order to make the cuisine accessible to the masses. Which is why the most expensive dish on the menu is the valachi bhirde and vegetable Kolhapuri for R160.
In less than a year's time, the restaurant has managed to clinch famous Maharashtrian clients, including actors Varsha Ujgaonkar, Nivedita Saraf and Kishore Shahane. While Ujgaonkar regularly calls in for matki usal and jawari bhakri, Saraf likes the kothimbir wadi and Shahane prefers the puran poli. One of the bestsellers is the Kolhapuri kat vada, where the batata vada is served in a spicy gravy called tarri.
Although native to Kolhapur, it's enjoyed throughout the state. The masalas are brought in from Nagpur and Nashik, which she believes gives the curries an edge. In terms of beverages, the restaurant offers summer staples such as kokum sherbet, aam panhe, sol kadi and buttermilk.
From five dishes on the menu, Zambre has expanded to 25. She plans to introduce more items with time. "I want a healthy mix of star dishes along with those that are considered underdogs."
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