A Street Food Tour of Mumbai, India

mumbai karen harvey loves pigeons

We headed over to Churchgate Station, stepping over sleeping cats and dogs sprawled across the pavements. A few green parakeets flew over, and nice black crows watched on from railings.

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We met at Wheelers book store, under the shelf where the pigeon parents were feeding their oversized pigeon baby.

There were five of us, and our guide, Raj. We recognised him as he’d emailed a photo of himself to Adam already.

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Our first stop, within the station, was Seroquel cheap Subkuchh for a Vada Pav (Vada meaning ball and Pav, or Pau, bread). Now, just you wait for my marvellously explanative descriptions. It was a potato thing with chilli sauce in a soft bun, and I liked it.

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We hopped on the train to Chowpatty Beach. We were, apparently, travelling first class, I was told, the key teller being that there were fans on the ceiling. We stood near the doors and enjoyed the air and the views.

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Arriving at Chowpatty Beach we marvelled at the clean fine sand and were reminded, ‘No swimming!’ Not everyone realises that the sparkling warm waters are also the recipient of the city’s sewage outlets. It looked nice though.

Under the canopy of a tree, we signed our disclaimer form. There was no going back now!

Stop number two of the tour was check over here Bhim Singh.

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First we were fed a cold filtered Pani Puri. A small hollow ball made of corn flour with a hole broken in it, packed with chickpeas and two types of cold water – sweet water (date syrup and tamarind) and spicy water (chilli, mint leaf, coriander).

I probably could have coped if this was hot, but it wasn’t. I’d already forgotten the tasty Vada Pav from the station and now had the fear that everything on the tour would make me gurn. The cold, almost sweet and sour mouthful was hard to swallow without a little gag, like eating some kind of plughole scrapings after the Sunday dinner washing up.

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Next, we were given the ‘complimentary gift’ of a Sukha Puri. I did not gurn, all was well. This Puri was dry, no water (hooray!), savoury and tasty.

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Things only got better, the Sev Puri with green mango, tomato, onion and coriander was really good (as was it’s paper plate) and I could have quite easily eaten all of the Dahl Batat Puri with potato, mung bean and yoghurt.

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One of the lads came and talked to me, asked me what the words said in my notebook, practiced his English. ‘Your name is?’ ‘Vijay’ he said. My brother had a sponsored donkey in Devon called Little Vijay, I had to get Raj to translate, Vijay looked nonchalant, Raj gave me a high five!

We sat on a make-shift bench, whilst a mother cat washed and fed her kittens, and waited for the delicious Pau Bhaji to arrive from http://rnrorganisation.co.uk/resources/the-black-maker-oct-2016/ Sai Sagar Sharma. Soft, soft, buttered buns with the most flavourful vegetable curry – tomato, potato, onion and peas (!) smashed on a pan and cooked with spices.

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You know how sometimes flavours just hit you and take you back in time to another place, a partial flashback to a past memory? Well, sitting with my back to the sun, on the beach in Mumbai, I was reminded of London, of the restaurant Dishoom, the food I ate there, the Pau Bhaji – the thing that made me want to be rushed to Mumbai straight away, and most wonderfully, the absolute reason I was there! Full circle. Dots connected. Prophecy fulfilled.

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From our bench we were able to enjoy our next foodie treat, and when I say enjoy, I mean, I really did. I drew hearts in my notebook! Sweet, cold, creamy, perfectly textured Kulfi from Kapoor Punjabi Rabdi Kulfi and Falooda. I tried all the flavours – mango, pistachio, raspberry, orange, and Malai (milk) and I loved them all.

The Falooda, vermicelli noodles in rose water and milk, wasn’t as favoured, but it was still good. I like puddings.

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We stood, from our seat, full of food and in wonder of what might be next. Across the busy road of Marine Drive, we waited for a bus. Raj told Adam that in India his hat, a flat cap, was called a Romeo cap, he used to wear one himself.

Our bus ride took us to Kumbharwada, through busy streets with so much to see. At first the bus was so full that we weren’t sure we’d all make it, Adam, as last one on, had to hang out of the door, holding on hopefully with one clammy hand. (It reminded me of the time in Delhi, where my brother insisted the four of us could fit in the tiny rickshaw, and we kind of did, apart from Adam had to sit with him bum out the window and it got dragged down the side of a bus!)

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As the passengers stepped off, we found seats. We travelled passed shops, unusual electrical stores and metal works, through the red light district, to Mohammed Ali Road.

It was hard to move through the crowds, a bustling sea of faces, blurred with mopeds and lights, trolleys of metal poles and other goods, and so much noise it was hard to hear. It was fabulous. I loved it. It was just what I was hoping for from Mumbai, real Indian city life, with real people.

At Memon Wada Road, we made our next stop. In a dingy, fluorescent tube lit, open-fronted shop, we took our seats around the steel table as our food was served. We passed round the alcohol gel, rubbed it into our hands, and tucked in.

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Next-door to our greyish-white tiled eating cave, was the stall that was preparing our food. I went and chatted with them. They’ve been there for years, maybe thirty or forty, nobody remembers.

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We shared Baida Roti (egg bread), chicken roll, Chicken Naan sandwich and tiny kebabs. It was all enjoyable and tasty, even though we were all already full, we were still happy to eat and share. Later Raj let slip that the kebab meat was goat. I don’t think we minded, I’d say that the collective majority was goat friendly.

Back into the street, the traffic was intense – people, mopeds, occasional goats. We wound our way along the street, snaking through the crowds, trying to keep the flow going, no stopping, keep moving.

As we came up to our last, but-one, stop, we slowed at a narrowing in the road, a moped whizzed passed, ’Hello Karen!’ said the rider, as he and his passenger smiled, and I said ‘Hello!’ back. My fellow foodies looked at me, quizzically, bemused, Adam laughed. In an extremely busy street, in a city of over 20 million people, wasn’t it just weirdly wonderful to ‘know’ someone?!

(I was reminded of that time I went to see The Projectionist, and in between songs that could rip your bowels out through through your eye sockets, the singer stopped to say ‘Hello Karen, are you having a nice time?’ and people in the audience chanted my name, and it was surreal and unexplainably fabulous!)

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Now. On Khara Tank Road, in Bhendi Bazaar, you will find the parlour of Taj Ice-cream, and you will probably never want to leave. For four generations, and 125 years, the family have followed the same recipe to hand-make the most wonderfully fruity, rich and creamy, ice-cream.

I had Alphonso Mango, because I really want that to be a man’s name, and Adam had Sitafel (custard apple). Both little tubs of ice-cream were made of awesomeness. So was the setting.

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Back out into the street, and onwards, to the last stop of our tour, JJ Jalebi. Everywhere people looked at us and smiled, children said ‘Hi!’ and then giggled when we said it back. As Dorthe walked along two boys pointed, inhaled sharply and said ‘Hollywood!’ 

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JJ Jalebi has been serving Mumbai with sweet treats since 1947. I know I like puddings, but even I find Jalebi too sweet. Still, it was great to have one that was fresh and just cooked, and even more wonderful to see them being made in front of us – the huge vat of boiling hot oil in full sight and reach of everyone.

We stood outside, in the warm bright street, under the dark sky,  and shared and savoured our last bite of street food together.

And then the tour was over. We took a taxi ride through the city, back to the bling of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, and went to bed happy. What a great way to spend our last evening in Mumbai.

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Our street food tour with Reality Tours was 1700 rupees per person (that’s about £18) and included all the food, drinks and transport. It was ace. I highly recommend it. Also, 80% of the profits from the tour goes back into Indian communities, through Reality Gives, so you know you’re doing something useful too, not just eating your way across Mumbai!

Staying at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai

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We flew through the night and arrived, midmorning in Mumbai. It was my first night flight. I’m not good at sleeping when there are strangers snoring around me, it doesn’t feel quite right.

I cried twice, and then had to pull myself together ‘You’ll get a blocked nose and you’ll be even more sad, Karen!’ I told myself, as the mega snorer continued some kind of world record performance just behind my head.

Stepping out of Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport we were met by a wall of immense heat, and two guys holding a sign with my name on. “I’m Karen Harvey!” I exclaimed, but they’d already spotted us.

As they used brute force to fit out cases into the boot of their battered old Chevrolet, we got in. I pulled the door closed and, as I did, the plastic handle surround shot across the back seat. Fumbling awkwardly to reattach it, I looked over at Adams’ door handle, only to find that he didn’t have a handle, it had been completely snapped off.

As we took the sixty minute journey to our hotel, our drivers suggested that we could take a detour to see a man they knew who could sort us out with some cheap money. We politely declined.

We passed by the Rolls Royce garage and the ugly multi-storey house of the richest man in India (apparently there are 300 maids, 6 residents, and 3 helipads), along the busy roads as cars wove in and out, marigolds and Ganesh’s displayed on dashboards, horns blowing.

The heat was intense, almost unbearable. Thirty-five outside, stifling and still in the in the back of the car. I pushed the lukewarm bottle of water onto my wrists in an attempt to cool my hot blood and send a message to my brain not to let my head explode.

Eventually we arrived at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The car bonnet was popped, boot opened, and undercarriage examined with mirrors on sticks. Our bags were scanned, we were scanned, and eventually we made it into the hotel, where were given a welcome necklace. The Tulsi Mala is believed to ward off evil, bring good fortune, and clear the aura. I totally needed my aura clearing, so I was glad of that.

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Abundant floral displays added colour and scent to the vast, and opulent spaces. The glossy floors of the entrance hall were patterned with paisley leaves, filled with semi-precious stones. It was a lot to take in.

We were shown to our room on the fifth floor. We admired the use of marble, the paintings, the furniture, the scale of everything. ‘The stair rail is very special’, we were told proudly, ‘Made from the same material as the Eiffel tower!’

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The Taj Mahal Palace is an incredible place, 113 years old and built by the famous industrialist Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata to create an opulent hotel where Indian people were welcomed with the utmost luxury.

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When the hotel originally opened they had their own soda-water factory. Now, they have their own champagne, and their own wine, made and bottled in the palace, somewhere.

As the door was unlocked the cool air hit us and bounced off the cold marble walls and floor. In the room was a picture of a magpie, a lamp that looked like a gin bottle, and four phones, one of them by the toilet. Our view was of the city, and the swimming pool. The secure sound of a clock, tick-tocking, lured us in, towards the comfortable bed.

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We slept. Slept and woke up startled. Ordered room service and felt a bit disappointed, a bit European.

In the streets outside of the hotel it smelt of sewage, incense, and fuel, with strong cigarette smoke thrown in. We wandered a little way and saw dogs, cats and a lame horse pulling a tin-foil shiny cart with neon rope lights. Adam saw a man whose t-shirt read, across the back, ‘Womans Horlicks’.

The rest of our time was filled with all sorts of joys, hustle, bustle, and heat.

We caught up on sleep, enjoyed hotel breakfasts overlooking the Gateway of India and the Arabian sea, walked and wandered, explored Colaba Causeway, and Marine Parade, rode a train, and a bus, went on a magnificent street food tour, wended our way through Crawford market, shopped for soft cotton bedding, ate delicious dinners and drank good masala chai (and bad masala chai), witnessed the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to our hotel (I saw the top of his head and heard a lot of american accents say ‘Oh my god!’), looked and listened and just enjoyed.

There was no rush to do anything, no plan.

And, just as we were getting used to it, it was time to come home again!

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If you’re planning on visiting Mumbai, I’d most definitely recommend spending a night (or five) at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel… and please, promise me you won’t miss breakfast!

These Recent Things (Eggs, Eggs, Biscuits & Cake)

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I bring you this update from the sofa, in between cups of tea that I have left to go cold, and mind boggling televison shows. Judge Rinder? I’m not sure what to say. There’s a programme that is basically the 2p machines from the arcades (but they don’t even have real 2p’s) and apparently there’s a late night special of Neighbours: Who Dies?  to look forward to. I didn’t even know Neighbours was still on.

The highlight of my day was when the phone rang and an old lady was convinced I was Derek.

I’ve been over-doing it on an injured leg, the physio has taught me a lesson and taped my ankle up. I can’t even drive. You might think that anyway after my performance at Snetterton this month, so, I’ll rephrase that – I can’t physically operate a car.

Earlier in the month I had a little go at rally driving which was quite excellent and fun, but probably for all the wrong reasons. I was a judge at the South Holland Open exhibition and did a secret animal courtesy for Rachel, and Aoife brought me a magical biscuit from the Alhambra – it looked like a crown and tasted sweet and buttery.

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Do you remember my dear friend Emma, whose husband had been in a coma after a terrible accident at work? There’s a bit of a story to it, which you can read here, but in simple terms, nobody knew if he’d survive, if his memory would return, or if he’d be able to function mentally or physically. The human body is a wonderful thing and there is so much power to be gained from genuine love and support, perserverence and good humour.

The other day, he came home. He remembers and he knows everyone. He can eat a little,  he can walk a small distance and he can still crack really bad jokes. He’s got a long way to go, but he is getting there bit by bit. I am incredibly proud of Emma, for everything she has done… apart from when she got him stuck in a deep and muddy puddle, whilst trying to take a shortcut to the shops, and almost tipped him out of his wheelchair!

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Aoife came to stay and we had a right old Fenny adventure! After I’d introduced her to Three Holes finest, and she’d been enlightened by her first auction experience, Aoife cooked me a recreation of her wedding breakfast, which was only slightly weird, but very delicious. Then in the morning we rushed, like auction addicts, to Clifford Cross where I spent a grand total of £8.00 on a load of jugs and a small house. Yes, that’s right, I bought a house at auction.

After stopping at my favourite little garden centre for tulips, we headed over to Novi in Cambridge to meet up with the Cambridge Eat Up! crew. Basically, we are a grown up gang and we hang out wherever there is something enjoyably edible.

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We crammed around a table and shared food from the marvellous pop-up Allotment cafe. Of course, for me, the highlight was the cake. Delicious vegan carrot and parsnip cake. Pretty too.

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The beginning of spring was marked by Ruth Sultana getting stuck under a fallen log pile. Sasha laid her first blue egg in almost a year, Ruth Sultana laid her first egg ever, and Patty Slipper went missing, only to be found doing a headstand against the fence in the corner of the garden. She is so small, and strange.

Every hen is laying now, apart from the Slipper. I like that each one lays a definitely recognisable egg, and I wanted to show you. So, here you go, from left to right: Ruth Sultana, Ginger Belinda, Ginger Margaret, Sasha Minter Porkchop, April, Sandra. Clever girls.

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I bought a tiny little photo album to add to my collection of pictures of people I don’t know. The album is German, and one of the photos is dated 1944, but other than that, I know nothing, and that’s okay.

Did I tell you about the time I ate a vomit flavoured jellybean? Apparently they were aiming for pizza, but the mix of parmesan and anchovies had a different idea.

Anyway, never one to say no to trying food that looks or sounds proper rank, (remember my goats milk kefir diary?) I didn’t flinch at trying Nutribug pasta when asked. It didn’t taste bad, it didn’t taste good, but it did turn the water a greenish grey. Apparently it’s really good for you, but I’m just disappointed it’s only 10% cricket.

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While I was at The Photography Show, Adam was in Brussels trying to get home. That was a weird day, and one that led me to think a bit and make cakes.

Valrhona had sent me an Easter treat of some delicious Noir Guanaja chocolate, so I decided to make Devil’s Food Cake using this Nigella recipe. I topped the cakes with creamy rich chocolate and filled them with sour cherry jam. Bit black forest, innit.

Easter Monday saw the back of the big storm. Daffodils lay flat, and water got blown uphill. A plastic garden chair hung hooked on a fence.  We went to Brands Hatch to watch the truck racing. The hail pelted us hard in the face, we squealed and Mark scavenged a broken umbrella that smelt of ketchup from the bin (we nearly had a foam hand out of there too, but it was covered in ants). Living the highlife.

The racing wasn’t as exciting as I’d hope it would be, I’m not really into trucks, though there was one that had a western theme with a helicopter and a dyslexic Virgin Mary on the back, which was quite impressive.

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