Tracing the bits and bobs of Mumbai through chef Pablo's eyes
As one of the city's favourite chefs gets ready to pack his bags, he tells us about the bits and bobs of Mumbai he will never forget
If you have ever been to Le15 Cafe in Colaba and bumped into Chef Pablo Naranjo Agular, there is no way you haven't been greeted by his warm and welcoming demeanour. It's clear that the cafe is his labour of love, and he wants you feel at home in it.
It's this disarming personality, and, of course, his easy good looks, that have made him a favourite with the city's swish set and aam junta alike. When he announced last week that he will be leaving Le15, which he started three-and-a half years ago with Le Cordon Bleu classmate and best friend Pooja Dhingra, to travel the world first and then return home to Colombia, there was a collective sigh of disappointment. When we meet him at Bombay Canteen on a busy Friday afternoon for lunch, where he says with a grin, "Let me tell you a little bit about myself," we can't just help saying, "Tussi na jao." But, he's made up his mind. After travelling around India and Asia for a year, he will be heading back to Colombia, where his family and heart rests, to start a new business.
With friends at Banganga Tank
"India has changed me completely. I am so patient, and now I know, there is always something to learn. I used to think, I know best. But after living here, I know, I really have to keep learning." He chats about his favourite Mumbai spots and mementos he will surely take back: in his heart and in his backpack.
Bombay Canteen to eat at: So, when I first came here, I didn't know anyone or anything. Pooja started taking me out. I think Bombay Canteen was a great place to discover Indian food as a foreigner. You know the spices, or certain flavours, may be a little difficult for us to understand. Many things are an acquired taste, and the chefs here know that, so they adapt the food according to you, all the while still giving you that Indian flavour. You can feel the culture of India here - it's where modern gastronomy is meeting pop culture, for me. Let's order the Eggs Kejriwal, which is my favourite, and the baked pav bhaji and the barley salad. I also love Miss T, The Table and Masque.
Pulse to keep in his bag at all times: I love the candy Pulse. I went to France two years ago, and gave it to all my friends, saying, 'You have to try this,' and it became a joke. My friends started making videos of the reactions of people when they hit the centre. Nine out of 10 people don't like it. Woodside Inn to party at: It's always been close to work, chilled out and has a great vibe. You don't need to dress up: you can go in shorts or a suit.
Marina Bay to chat with a Hinge date: I knew this question was coming (grins). On a date, I would go to a place where I wouldn't meet anyone I know, because I hate being interrupted. And, then there are awkward introductions. I would go to a small, quiet place. I really enjoy Cafe Zoe. In Colaba, I love Marina Bay, where you can sit down and drink, and Cloud 9.
Banganga Tank to de-stress: A friend said, 'You have to go there.' And I said, 'I have been in Mumbai for one-and-a-half years. How is this place going to be different?' But, it's mind-blowing. It's in the middle of the busy city, and you reach here, and you feel like you are in a village. You can't hear the honking, you have the stepwell and the temples, and you can hear the bells. You can even hear the ocean. When I am stressed out or not in a good place, I go to Banganga to chill.
People are so kind there, too. I went there in December once, and this guy came up to me and asked me if I spoke Hindi, and I said no. So he made me wait, and then came back with an English copy of the Gita.
It's by far my favourite spot in the city. The Sahakari Bhandar building to gape at: I find this building opposite Regal Cinema absolutely beautiful. It breaks my heart as well. Even as you walk down that lane, you spot another abandoned bungalow, where there are plants growing out of the windows. Sometimes, I tell my friends, 'Can you buy this building for me, so I can make a hotel there?'
Pani puri as street food: Pooja's mom makes the best, but the guy opposite Le15 Cafe wis also amazing. Pani puri on the street has way more charm, but way more risk. Out of 10 times, I get sick only three times. But I still eat it, as I am obsessed with it. It explains so much about your culture, right away. As a trained chef, we are taught that anything that is crispy and fried has to be kept away from moisture. But, pani puri is dipped in water. It doesn't make sense, gastronomically. Also, it's vegetarian, so that everyone can eat it. So, most street food is vegetarian. It gives you a basic idea of what Indians eat — spicy, crunchy, with the right mix of potatoes and pulses. It's a lot of nonsense, but it still works, just like Mumbai.
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A walk through Mohammed Ali Road's Khau Galli