The writer goes on a hunt for frankie, vada pav with lasoon chutney and piquant chaat in saddi Dilli, to make a reality of a dream
A dream that wakes you up is a message from the beyond. Last month, in my theta state, I stepped out of my home in Juhu and tiptoed to Kwality stores, and found myself sitting on the steps devouring their veg frankie with cheese. The crunch of butter mixed with salt and red chilli powder, the deep-fried cutlet burrowed in a butter-dripping maida roti cloaked my dream. It didn't end there. I trudged on to Mithibai College and polished off a vada pav, ending with a cheese pav bhaji at Amar Juice Centre. I woke up in my Delhi home starving for Bombay eats.
"It is time," I nudged my husband, "to try some Bombay food." "Haan. Mujhe Lucky ka grill sandwich khana hai," he muttered, and dozed off. The mission begins the next day, in the bylanes of Daryaganj where Gupta Ji Pav Bhaji has been hawking for 40 years. The vada pav comes in a dry bun and tastes of haldi and aloo. The pav bhaji has no masala and lacks the salty comfort of Amul butter. There goes our top recommendation.
We crusade on, and that night, we order a Colaba sandwich and Dadar Dabba from an online delivery service called Bombay Sandwich Company. The grill sandwich has turned cold and limp by the time it arrives. The filling of onion, capsicum and cheese does little to satiate our craving. Dadar Dabba is disastrous stale poha and soupy misal without beans or peas.
Will we succeed in finding a decent Bombay dish? One evening, while strolling around Connaught Place, we stop by Anil Kumar's stall next to Odeon Cinema. The 60-year-old shack is called Bambai ki Bhelpuri, run by a third-generation Kumar.
Prawn berry pulao at Rustom's, Parsi Dharmshala, ITO
"My father started it. Now, my son runs it. Koshish karte hain ki Bombay jaisi bhel puri banaye," he tells us, rolling a paper pudi and throwing in murmura, chivda and chutneys. The ruling flavour is of amchur and the murmura is not roasted. It's enjoyable if you can brace the sourness, but it's not Bombay bhel for sure.
We savour the best version at Lajpat Nagar's Bombay Bhelpuri opposite Midland bookstore. With the perfect meethi khajur chutney and restricted use of amchur, this wet bhel reminds us of every bhel puri corner of Bombay.
The next day, I break into a lazim dance after eating at the Maharashtra Stall at Dilli Haat. Run by Punekar Vibhavari Chiplunkar, who has trained the local staff into getting the perfect thaalipeeth, thecha and dry lasoon powder for the masala, she tells us that the only change she made in her recipes was to cut sugar from the poha and sabudana khichdi. The vada pav transports me to Dutt's en route Lonavala. The fire on the palate is welcome, which we later douse with the chilled comfort of aam shrikhand.
Whenever we are set to visit Mumbai, our friends in Delhi make one request. "Ek laadi pav leke aana." Understandably, because the buns in Dilli cannot compete with Mumbai's modest bakeries' offering Kainaz Contractor tells us that when she launched her Parsi restaurant Rustom's in Adchini five years ago, there was no pav on the menu. Until she found a secret supplier. "The crumbly, hard bun-version just doesn't work," says Contractor, 30, who grew up in Colaba. She moved Rustom's to Delhi Parsi Dharamshala at ITO two years ago. The set-up is of a Parsi home with wicker-wood tables and chairs, a grandfather clock, and a special Bombay section on the menu. The sev puri and dahi batata puri are bang on.
The menu is a curation of khattu, meethu and tikhu (sour, sweet and spicy) fare. "We recommend dishes to our guests carefully. If a Punjabi family is trying the food for the first time, instead of salli boti, we recommend the vindaloo, which is spicier," she says. While the saria papad, colas, vinegar and achaar come from Mumbai, the masalas are made in-house. We have our Bombay moment as we indulge in akoori, Parsi style scrambled eggs with mutton boti, chicken farcha and the prawn berry pulao. We wrap up this outing with a maska pav pudding with vanilla ice cream and a caramel custard that slips us into food coma.
Our hunt for frankie leads us to Noida, where Nidhi Modi has been running a catering service with her son, called, Oh My Nosh. While she leads the Indian and Chinese offerings, Raghav dishes out authentic Italian wafer-thin pizzas. "I tried vada pav and frankie years ago at Chowpatty when we had taken the kids for a holiday. Whatever I try, I love to replicate it at home," says Modi, who along with the dry garlic powder, makes a wet chutney to slather on the pav. "I don't know if you Bombaywallas will like it, but it is my trademark dish. I make it with onion, amchur, chilli, cumin seeds and spices. I add a tadka of mustard oil, a pinch of asofoetida and bayleaf," she shares generously.
Vibhavari Chiplunkar at Dilli Haat
Her frankie includes a wet sauce made with a hint of amchur, red mirchi and garam masala. The cutlet has aloo, peas, paneer, cheese and is served with onion rings mixed with red chilli powder and salt. The lasoon chutney offers a juicier bite with the essence of Maharashtrian thecha. We love this inclusion. The frankie is the star. The tweaks don't steal from the core taste, and we drive home relishing the aftertaste.
Our last stop is Maharashtra Sadan, the state's canteen at India Gate. It's a lazy Sunday. The waiter recommends the bharli vangi and saoji chicken, which we order with a side of phulkas and sol kadi. Home, they say, is where the heart is. Now, I am convinced that the heart is where the stomach feels at home. And, dreams do come true. You only have to work a little hard.
Gupta Ji Pav Bhaji at Daryaganj. Pics/Phorum Dalal
Anil Kumar's Bambai Ki Bhelpuri at Connought Place
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