Mumbai Food: Visiting popular bakeries on World Cookie Day

Dec 04, 2018, 13:46 IST | Suman Mahfuz Quazi

On World Cookie Day, we visit some of the city's popular bakeries to bite into their best desi variations

Mumbai Food: Visiting popular bakeries on World Cookie Day
Khari biscuit

In a country where chai-biskoot has transcended the centre tables in living rooms to find a place in people's hearts — so much so that a few years ago, recently married Ranveer Singh sang to his leading lady in a Bollywood film, "Chai mein dooba biskoot ho gaya" to convey how he melts at the sight of her — on World Cookie Day, one doesn't need to look to the West when it comes to this confection. Mumbai is a city replete with bakeries, and history explains why.'

"Baking as a business was introduced by Portuguese and English imperialists who came into the country. Initially, Indians began with bread.Then gradually, cookies, biscuits, cakes and pastries got added to the list. Also, in the first few years, they were catering to the English and Dutch communities only," says food historian Mohsina Mukkadam, adding why Christian-and-Parsi-dominant pockets of the city have more bakeries. "Hindus had rules when it came to food and they stayed away. This wasn't the case with Christians and Parsis. So, you won't find too many bakeries say around Girgaum, but you will around Dhobi Talao. Muslims took to the baked goods, too, because they were already using the tandoor. Most bakeries in the city have been around since the 19th and 20th centuries," she explains.

Cookies at City Bakery. Pic/Ashish Raje
Cookies at City Bakery. Pic/Ashish Raje

India's most popular biscuit, nankhatai, has found a mention in 17th-century cookbooks, Mukkadam shares. "Some Middle-Eastern books have made a reference to it as well," she adds. City Bakery's popular palmier biscuit (possibly the inspiration behind Britannia's Little Hearts), she tells us, has many avatars. While the Konkani Muslims call it chirota, the sugar-coated cookie is wildly popular along the Murud-Janjira coastal belt as gentleman biskoot. And so, following India's, and specifically Mumbai's, vivid heritage of bakeries, we stopped over at some of the city's best cookie makers, to see just how it crumbles.

Heirloom biskoot
Around for approximately 90 years, Byculla Restaurant and Bakery is an example of how India has made the western tradition of baking its own.

Jeera butter biscuit
Jeera butter biscuit

"Every state has its own specialties and in Mumbai, Iranians have contributed to the city's confectionaries through kharis and batasas," shares DK Ferzandi, fourth-generation owner who has been running the show at the bakery for 10 years.

Sweet khari. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Sweet khari. Pics/Bipin Kokate

The two items are among their top selling products — crispy and decadently brittle khari (available in a sweet variant, too) and buttery batasa.

Time 8 am to 11 pm
At Alexandra Terrace, Byculla East.
Call 23727375

No need to wine
Customers who have been visiting B Merwan & Company, Mumbai's iconic bakery best known for its mawa cake, swear by their wine biscuits. Their ginger cookies, with a gentle touch of the star ingredient and crunchy texture, are to die for, too.

Coconut biscuit, wine cookies. Pics/Shadab Khan
Coconut biscuit, wine cookies. Pics/Shadab Khan

In all, and despite their surging mawa cake sales, they sell a total of 15 kilograms of ginger, coconut and wine cookies per day, which are the only three kinds they bake in-house.

Time 7 am to 6 pm
At Ali Bhai Remji Road, Grant Road.
Call 23093321

Spreading smiles
Versova's Shaalimar Bakery offers more than just cookies. The nondescript and no-frills haunt is popular for their warm coconut cookies and nankhatais.

Coconut mekrum
Coconut mekrum

Speaking of a sweet tradition, third generation-owner Heena Baig says, "This started with my mom. She loves coconut cookies, so whenever my father noticed she was sad, he would give her a piece. Then workers started following suit, and eventually we began extending the gesture to our customers as well.

Rawa nankhatai. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Rawa nankhatai. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

Our patrons share a special connect with these melt-in-your-mouth delights." Baig says she knows people call it a marketing strategy, which it may as well be, but she thinks it's equivalent to
spreading smiles.

Time 6 am to 11.30 pm
At Yari Road, Versova.
Call 9819509008

Palmier biscuits. Pics/Ashish Raje
Palmier biscuits. Pics/Ashish Raje

Forever a full house
Mehdi Dashti is the third-generation owner of the well known Worli-based City Bakery which has been around since 1950. When we ask Dashti how many cookies they might be selling each day, he says he's lost count.

Oatmeal and raisin cookies
Oatmeal and raisin cookies

This is understandable because even as he speaks to us the place is swarming with customers. While their palmier and khari biscuits are long-standing favourites, introduced 10 years ago, the oatmeal and raisin cookies have become popular among patrons, too.

Time 5 am to 11 pm
At Dr Annie Besant Road, Worli Naka.
Call 24930562

For the common man
Zam Zam Bakery, which has five outlets across the city and is looking to open two more, in Jogeshwari and Mumbra, has been around since 1952. Zaid Osama Zamzam, 36, began helping with the family business at 21.

Dry fruit nankhatai
Dry fruit nankhatai

"The experience has been great," he shares. "Big companies are emulating western flavours, so the youth is gravitating towards that. Most of our customer base, for example, comprises the lower middle class," he tells us, speaking of how its popularity has declined.

Coconut biscuit. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Coconut biscuit. Pics/Bipin Kokate

Even so, known among patrons for selling many variants of the humble nankhatai, including dry fruit, mawa khajur and special, they sell a total of 150 kilograms of the biscuit per day.

Time 9 am to 12 am
At Zam Zam Sweets & Bakery (all oulets).
Call 23472323 (Mohammad Ali Road)

Bake house
. Yazdani bakery, Fort.
Call 22870739

. Paris bakery, Dhobi Talao.
Call 22086619

. J Hearsch & Co, Bandra West.
Call 26435361

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