This year too, like the years behind me, had plans to hit the streets in the night. Yet something or the other kept me away till it was Saturday 27th Sept 2008, the night after the Badi raat ( Big Night). Raghav my pal agreed to join me. Its better when one has company, fun needs sharing. The two of us had a beer each for the road and away we went by train from Chembur to Masjid Bunder. From the station we were some 10 minutes away. The by lanes were familiar to us and yet we took many a wrong turn and ended up at some place else. We were in no hurry though and just followed the lights. Near the station is the commercial district which is old , messy and dark..but as we moved towards the main Mohammed Ali Road the lights brightened.
We had reached the lane that had the famous Minara Masjid of Mumbai. This lane during Ramadan is obviously one of the most happening places in Mumbai. Very brightly lit, so also choc-a-bloc crowded ,its a struggle just getting into it, and thats part of the charm.
Eateries lined the lane on both sides. When we face the Masjid, on the left we have food and on the right sweets. The sight is dramatic and mind boggling. One sees rows and rows and rows of Tandoori, Whole Chickens, and Kebabs of all types on skewers, Huge pots sizzling away and casting their come hither smells on every passer by. The awesome display of tons of edible meat can be truly startling. From this I recall the incident of many moons ago.
It was in 1996-97, when my ex-office colleagues had wanted to visit this place along with their wives. I was one of the youngest memebers of the team then and then had meekly suggested that it may not be suitable for women. And some of them were vegans ( Ghaas poos eaters or Vegetarians) too.The obvious enthusiasm which this call was received by the husbands made the wives insist that should definitely not be missing out on the fun. Women can be obtuse at times but who was I to comment , didnt have one then.
They came. They saw. They went green, a shade greener than the haraa Tandoori's waiting for the blazing coals. Thankfully, their stomachs were empty, so we did not have sick, but just deathly pale companions. Then the Vegans to their further horror realized that for them here there was nothing. Either eat meat or stay hungry. Some guys got uncomfortable but what to do, they had asked for it, no guilt pangs were with me, my warning had been ignored. But am not cruel so didnt string them along much and assured them that there was a whole lot of sweetmeats here.They could partake them once the meal was done. Few protested that it was not fair..but not too strongly.The area does cast a spell on you, and it can be very intimidating for those who have never been here.That evening those who ate relished the food wholeheartedly while the vegetarians looked about absorbing the sights and waiting for their turn.And when it came, they gorged on the sweets with great appreciation, (they are that good) that their earlier irritation vanished completely..but this was only a walk down memory lane
This year the crowd was huge, and just marginally more cosmopolitan in its gender distribution. The smells were the same though and again for vegetarians there is little on offer. But who would go to a Ramadan feast to eat grass? We squeezed ourselves onto plastic chairs on a table that was hastily cleared up. This place is not for the faint hearted or the truly hygiene conscious. It’s best to carry your own water. The food is roasted or cooked so well that all else is forgiven. This years specialties were the usual suspect of Biryani's, Mutton/Chicken, Tandoori Chicken-Red/Green/White, kebabs, fluffy rotis, naans, paav and chappatis to accompany the main dishes. Raghav and I had ordered for ourselves some delicious Bhuna Gosht ( succulent pieces of lamb pan roasted in a light smattering of onion tomatoes ginger garlic medium spicy and dry ) Chicken tikka masala ( u haven’t truly had it till u eat it on the roads here) and the crowning glory, Fresh partridge( Tittar) in a light gravy. This meat is chewy and soft and though bird meat is lightly crimson closer to the bone. Yumm. My mouth still waters with the memory. So full were we that just decided to stroll about.
While walking, parceled for the next day , a delicacy from a pair who had two huge pots and were sitting on the curb. This delicacy was Khichda- Mutton. Khichda is made when one cooks pulses and whole wheat together and allows the fat in the meat to bind it while cooking. The dal mixture turns out to be at once delicious & nutritious. It’s not very spicy, and is crowned with a slice of lime, mint leaves and crispy fried onion rings. I packed two for home. All this walking had allowed the meal to settle in and we decide to hit the sweets. Suleiman Usman Mithaiwaala was our destination for the unbelievable Firni. A rice kheer topped with pistachios served in an earthenware shallow dish.Its rich creamy yet simple and light. Here too packed 4 dishes for home. After which we shared a Rasmalai for the road and were tempted to have the Malpuaas with khoaa...but refrained else we would definitely have burst. On Mohammed Ali road after a meal like this, it’s a sacrilege if one doesn’t finish with a meetha paan(betel leaves with a sweet concoction assembled on the spot). We found one ancient vendor who served us these leaves that aid digestion...
We just trailed about here there and everywhere, Chewing the leaves almost ruminating. I missed Gauri- my wife, my conscience, my best pal all rolled into one package, but alas she was away on some cerebral quest at some seaside port. Hence I lived it up for both of us. Two supremely stuffed souls came back home and promised to visit again either in this year itself or the next... Inshallah it shall happen