‘Why are you going to put yourself through all that trouble and mess? Don’t you know the stalls around Bohri Mohalla and Mohammed Ali road are open all year round too?’, a friend exclaimed to me, as I told her I was planning to attend an Iftaar Walk hosted by the Pet Pujaris on a Sunday evening. Honestly, visiting the Bohri Mohalla area during Ramzan is about more than just food. It is an experience. The lights and sounds are captivating. You cannot help but get drawn into the festivities and camaraderie. It’s such a beautiful amalgamation of people from different cultures, religions, and walks of life. Case in point, our little group of 29 ‘foodies’ had a young man from Brazil, a US Embassy officer, a of Gujarati who ate more meat than I did, and a one year old infant who enthusiastically stayed awake through the entire chaos.
And then there’s the food. Smells of meat being grilled, malpuas being fried, and masalas being coated. Sights of colourful firnis and halwas on display, kebabs hanging off skewers, and ginormous tawas cooking up every meat imaginable. In addition to a lot of old favorites, I got to try out a bunch of new places and dishes which I would not have had the inclination to experiment with had it not been for the crowd I was with. Hats off to our guides for the night, brother duo – Taha and Qadir Varawala, and Breakfast Queen – Pratishtha Khan, who knew and recommended dishes with such ease you would think they were maneuvering around their own house.
We started off at Sarvi in Byculla, renowned for having the city’s best seekh kababs. Don’t let the cat prowling around the kitchen, or the potatoes rolling around the floor, deter you from entering this haven. Because, haven it is! I attained nirvana when I opened that casserole, and found dozens of seekh kababs staring back at me. The beef (water buffalo, duh!) seekh kebabs are perfectly spiced, and the meat literally melts in your mouth. I was left wondering how the real deal would have tasted, pre-beef ban era. I preferred the beef ones to the chicken, even though a few thought otherwise. I ate a Tongue Masala for the first time, and quite enjoyed the taste. It was not as meat-y as I expected, and the masala gravy was finger licking. The creamy Bheja Masala was another favorite.
We then trekked upto Bohri Mohalla, which is a ten minute walk away, where all the magic was about to happen. India Hotel, was pit stop number two where they were kind enough to entertain a large, ravenously hungry group like ours. Sizzling on a large tawa was an assortment of meat, chicken, rolls, naans, and baida rotis, most of which I tasted. My pick of the night was the soft and tender Khiri – goat udder- perfectly char grilled and spiced. Other favorites were the Baida Roti with a mince filling in the center, and the Mutton Bhuna which everyone devoured with naan bread. There’s also an innovative Naan Sandwich – naan bread stuffed with a filling of chicken or meat, which an expat in the group said resembled a ‘pita pocket’. Aah, but it tastes nothing like one.
We took a dessert break in the middle of our meal, and this one had got to be my favourite course of the night. I had heard praises and praises of Taj Ice Cream, and trust me, each and every bit of praise is justified. They are a family run store, over a 125 years in the business, doling out hand churned fruit ice cream made fresh every single day. It’s a pity that exceptional places like these do not have any branches while you see rubbish FroYo, and overpriced ice cream chains at every corner. But then again, I think exclusivity and authenticity is a good thing. The first bite of the guava ice cream, will take you back to your childhood, reminding everyone of the ‘peru-chaat masala’ carts that would serve as an after school snack. The litchi, sitafal and mango flavors were another favorite, with the freshness of the fruits, and richness of the cream standing out. I’d trek all the way back to Bohri Mohalla only for a scoop of that gorgeous ice cream. Waah Taj!
Just around the corner from Taj Ice Cream, is another must-visit stop. Idris Cold Drinkdoes sherbets in a variety of flavours. Some of which are imaginable – lemon, strawberry, pineapple, orange; and some names which you would not have heard of – sikonjbeen, falsa, khus, and a cadbury flavour too. The Falsa with it’s bright purple hue, and delicious berry taste was a crowd pleaser, closely followed by the Khus. The young boy behind the counter will make your drink either with water or soda. Opt for the latter, as it aids in digestion helping you to move on to the next stop.
By now I was done with eating…or so I thought. We walked a little further to the famous Noor Mohammadi Hotel. Famous for something called Chicken Sanju Baba. A chicken dish made famous because it is what actor Sanjay Dutt used to get prepared for him every time he visited the restaurant. It is a recipe that originates from his home, and now sits happily on the menu of Noor Mohammadi hotel. Though honestly, I felt it was a but hyped and preferred the Chicken Hakimi. The Hakimi is a tandoori chicken coated and cooked in a butter gravy, and is something that is found in no other restaurant. By now, I was stuffed to the brim and was only nibbling bites out of other people’s plates. I was too stuffed to try out the Nalli Nihari, which I am regretting even till today.
We contemplated between going to Tawakkal, or Suleiman Usman for the last round of dessert. In my head I was thinking, ‘these people are mad to want to eat any more food.’ But really, how can an iftaar walk be complete without a malpua. Or a firni. Or maybe both. Tawakkal Sweets was beautifully chaotic when we returned. Orders being screamed across the road, crowds thronging for some firni, and a guy frying malpuas with the precision of a circus artist. His malpuas were deliciously greasy, not too sweet, and the malai on top added so much more. Opt for the regular firni over the mango one, because the taste of saffron overpowers in the latter. I even nibbled on the Dudhi Halwa (I HATE DUDHI HALWA), and I must say it was not bad.
I sign off with where I started. Eating at Bohri Mohalla during Ramzan is definitely about the delicious food. But then, it doesn’t end there. It is an experience that imbibes food with culture and religion. I am already contemplating going back this year for the delicious kebabs, and a scoop of that ice cream. Not to mention that the food is quite inexpensive here. I paid 400 bucks for the cost of all that food, thanks to the Pet Pujaris. I was literally, ‘Walk, Walk, Walkin’ on Heaven’s Door.’