The Hunger Blogger Simrranjit Ghuraa brings South Africa's favourite "working class" snack to his Worli eatery
On the outside, Chow Paaji looks like any other busy Udupi at lunchtime. But there's more to this fast-casual diner that opened recently at Worli naka. Along with desi Chinese and South Indian fare, it offers chow. The popular South African street food comprises a hollowed out loaf filled to the brim with hot curry. "Despite its supposedly Indian roots, it's hard to come by in the city," says Simrranjit Ghuraa, popularly known on social media as The Hunger Blogger. He first ate chow at an African eatery in Europe and says he was blown away by the budget-friendly dish.
"The curries used were scalding hot with an infusion of chillies. But the concept lent itself to innovation," he adds. While the origin of chow is uncertain, legend has it that the fiery brand of curry journeyed with indentured labour from India who were hired to work on the British-run sugar plantations around Durban. "Whatever the story of its origin, it soon became the on-the-go meal for the working class," he says. But it's not exactly served "al desko" at the restaurant due to the risk of spillage and the loaf turning soggy. "You can't eat it like a wrap or roll, which is why we don't offer deliveries," he explains.
Proprietor Simrranjit Ghuraa introduced the chow to his hotel menu after trying it in Europe. Pics/Ashish Raje
To begin with, the size is bigger than what we expect for the price; R50 for chow paaji misal, R70 for chow paaji chole and R100 for chow paaji chicken. It is served in a quarter of a loaf with the scooped-out bread served on the side with salad. The chicken curry variant comes with a breast piece and drumstick placed in the bread bowl. Eating it is as much an art as making it. At Ghuraa's suggestion, we dig in with a fork and slowly make our way to the bottom of the gravy-soak bread container. It can also be eaten through by hand. But calling it a snack is a misnomer. It is a full-blown meal. "I had to train my staff to slice the loaf and scoop the insides without puncturing the sides. The gravy can't afford to leak," says Ghuraa.
Getting guests to order the chow has been a bit of a challenge because most haven't heard of it. "I've even gone to the extent of highlighting the dish name on the menu in yellow so that it's not lost," he laughs. The staff has been trained to slip in a suggestion while taking orders. "The other day, we convinced a group of students to try it. Seeing how dramatic the dish looked, guests at another table ordered it too. It'll catch on." Along with Chow Paaji, the 32-year-old also runs The Roa, a three-star hotel in Ghatkopar. The move to South Mumbai was to "fulfil his passion to support experimental food". "I tried introducing off-beat European dishes in the eastern suburbs, but it didn't work," he says. Calling the chow classic comfort food, Ghuraa says he is proud of the way the dish is selling. "It has potential to go viral." He is only waiting.
Catch up on all the latest Mumbai news, crime news, current affairs, and also a complete guide on Mumbai from food to things to do and events across the city here. Also download the new mid-day Android and iOS apps to get latest updates
Sign up for all the latest news, top galleries and trending videos from Mid-day.comSubscribe