Mumbai Local: Melissa Nazareth shares her best cultural experiences

Melissa Nazareth scours ‘the New York of India’ for an adventure or two.

Change is the only constant, they say. So, after two years of Bah-Bom-Bah, it’s time to introduce my new op-ed. Often times, friends and colleagues from Bahrain who are visiting Mumbai ask me about things to see and do here. Having lived in Mumbai for over three years now, I hope to share the best experiences in my city in this column. Why ‘Mumbai Local’? It’s a term used to refer to Mumbai’s lifeline – its railway network – which connects the metropolitan. Come, let’s embark on this adventure together!

This month I’d like to talk about Mumbai’s most iconic breakfasts, priced under BD2 for two people. Like Bahrain, Mumbai is a cosmopolitan and while Maharashtrians are the people who live here, there are other communities including Parsi (descendants of the Persians in India) and South-Indians. Each of these ethnic groups brings its own essence to the melting pot of cultures that is Mumbai.

Get on a train to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (erstwhile Victoria Terminus), which is on the Central railway line, and visit Kyani Bakery & Co. Launched in 1904, it’s one of the city’s oldest Iranian cafés and serves the Parsi staple, akoori (spiced scrambled eggs) with Mumbai’s ubiquitous paav (bread). A street food variant of this dish, bhurji, which literally means scramble or mixture, is sold at local thelas (food carts) across the city. Wash this down with a cup of light yet flavourful Iranian chai.

Iranian cafes were the ultimate breakfast hub in Mumbai until the South Indian, ‘Udupi restaurant’ chains opened. What sets them apart is that they serve pure vegetarian meals unlike the former that specialises in meat preparations such as keema (mince), which is another great breakfast option to tuck into with paav.  However, if you’re looking for a light vegetarian breakfast, board a train on the Central railway line and get off at Matunga. Around 80 years old, Café Madras is a five-minute walk from the station and serves a range of South Indian dishes. I recommend the pesarettu (savoury crepe), upma podi (a semolina dish with a side of ‘gunpowder’ – dry red chili chutney) and Madras (erstwhile Chennai) kaapi (filter coffee), which beats Starbucks and Caribou any day!  

Around the corner from there – a 20-minute cab ride – there’s Prakash Shakahari Upahar Kendra. You could also board a train on the Western railway line and get off at Dadar to get here. Over 40 years old, this humble canteen style eatery serves traditional Maharashtrian breakfast items such as missal paav (a curry made from mixed lentils and grams), thalipeeth (a spiced flatbread), sabu dana khichdi (a spiced tapioca pearl dish)and more. Don’t forget to wash these down with refreshing kokum sherbet – kokum is sweet and tangy tamarind like pulp.

The author is Bahrain-born and raised and now lives in Mumbai.