Tucked away inside the InOrbit Shoppers Stop is a gourmet Hypercity outlet, with lots of canned and fresh food for sale but also a deli. Its a wonderful ambience. Here you are, sitting on barstools at a counter, surrounded by food, and being served freshly prepared meals from the top-of-the-line ingredients on sale there. You can hardly argue with the idea.
Unfortunately, the reality is less than overwhelming. I and a friend went for lunch there, and finally settled on two of the three sandwich choices they had - a BLT and a smoked salmon. We wanted a salad too, but most compartments were empty so we settled on a soup, (the only one on offer was mushroom and that too a canned version, not from scratch). We had some fun picking off sides from the counters, quite literally shopping for supper - a packet of chips, a piece of bread, a drink and settled down to wait for our sandwiches. That's when things went downhill. The salmon sandwich was very unexciting - real smoked salmon, but inadequate amounts of it smothered in cucumber, lettuce and some very dull bread. The BLT in spite of repeated intervention by us came with under-cooked bacon and too many onions. The chefs seemed fairly clueless, and only the soup (which came out of a can, remember) was anywhere close to acceptable. The final bill for all this was Rs 1,400 for two (which would actually have bought us lunch at the Marriot or the ITC). They have great stuff for sale at the food counters (especially olives and cold cuts) but the meal service definitely needs lots of work.
I've had the tea service there before, and it has been a great experience. This one, was a definite write-off. I'm not sure I'm warning anybody off, because in any case we were the only people there.
Lucknow's famous kabab's are not easy to get in Mumbai. I've already talked about some restaurants in Lucknow in Mumbai, Lucknow and Smoke and Lucknow Again but a new entrant has now made the list. Of all places, a roadside eatery outside my office catering mainly to Mindspace's call-centre hordes has started selling Kakori kababs and Lucknow-style mutton biriyani (complete with burhani raita and kewra essence). Though its name screams Punjab, it is Lucknow's Kakori Kabab that is given top billling on the menu. The man behind the counter is from Lucknow, and was very enthusiastic when we ordered the Kakori. He even made us sample the biriyani, complete with burhani raita, and showed us the (real, not synthetic) kewra extract that went into it (apparently he puts a little less than normal, because Mumbaikars are not entirely used to the taste).
Aroma's (their misspelling, not mine) pretends to be a roadside stall but is actually a counter of the rather aspirationally-named American Sports Bar behind it. The kababs are made in front of you, but the biriyani and other stuff comes from inside.
And now about how good it was. Three seekhs came for Rs. 120, and was appropriately soft and squishy inside a thin crust. This is not Dum Pukht, but it is indeed recognizably Kakori. The dhaniya chatni was good too and the mutton biriyani combined with the rather authentic raita was quite acceptable.
In the days when I used to frequent trains, one of the (parentally unapproved) food items available at Asansol station was the Litti. Laloo has spread Litti Chokha across the railway network, on trains as well as stalls in railway stations across the country.
Litti is essentially a ball of dough baked in the dying embers of a fire. Fancy litti variants have a filling (usually sattu), simple ones are left to fend for themselves. Its very similar to the traditional Rajashthani bati (of the dal bati fame) but without the ghee. It can't really be eaten by itself, some kind of accompaniment is required. On Asansol's railway station it was a kind of wierd tasty sauce, but more commonly its something called chokha - a brinjal-centric mixed veg mash not very different from baigan bharta.
It was with some interest, therefore, that I read a Mid-Day article describing it as North India Vada Pao. Inspired by the article, I went in search of Mumbai's litti vendors as part of my cycle rides around the city. I must say, it was not an easy search; not being familiar with Mira Road or Bhayander, I focused on the Western Express Highway. I found it difficult to locate places mentioned in the Mid-Day article - lots of asking and going back and forth resulted in disappointment - they had either closed or moved. After a couple of visits to the area around Dahisar check naka (and with some help from a local juice-seller), I finally located a litti seller, right in front of Dahisar's Thakur Mall. As you can see, a signboard is not exactly the kind of thing you should expect.
The process of preparing litti is just as basic. In this case, the lunchtime crowd was consuming a fair number of these balls, so unlike a roadside vendor the cook was preparing them mass scale - about thirty or so buried in the embers and picked out from the ashes when done. The chokha was more aloo than baigan, but it was spicy and quite wonderful. I was given a steel plate with the chokha and two littis, and a bench to sit on under a tent. There's dal and rice too, but a lot of people skip it. The hard-crusted balls hide a soft interior that goes very well with the spicy, mushy chokha. Its probably very healthy too; the litti has no oil and the chokha next to nothing.
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They were very good (why else do you think I'm putting it in my blog?).
Its amazing that I've never encountered the putting of cabbage and besan together with some hot oil. And neither, it seems, has anyone else. Unusually enough for something popular, this the only shop in the area that sells these pakoras. And boy are they popular; in the evenings he stretches his operation into a second counter in front of the closed shop next door, frying these balls by the kadhaifull to satisfy a steady stream of hungry Versovians.
Who is he? He's Mahiyar Sweets and Snacks, Desi and Bengali Sweets tucked away in a tiny lane in Versova village on the way to the Madh Island ferry. He also has a range of other things, including an interesting take on the Balushahi, but its the gobi pakora on which his reputation rests.
Is it worth the trip into the innards of Versova just to chomp on these balls? Probably not, but you should try them out sometime in your life.
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