Mumbai Munchies

by Uzra Khan:

This past week has been a whirlwind of writing and reporting. Things I have been sent to cover in the past week include a journalists’ hunger strike in the city in opposition to slow investigation into the murder of a veteran crime journalist, a young boy drowning in the waves of an un unusual high tide over the last few days despite rescue operations, the attempts to salvage a large boat, headed for Gujarat, now stuck on the shores of Juhu beach in the city. Two more bylines, getting splashed in the salty tide, clutching my moleskin, working on my Marathi; it’s been a good week.

One thing that stays constant every time I come home, despite the ups and downs at work, the alternating rain and sunshine in Mumbai, and the month of the year, is the sheer excellence of all meals I eat here, and so this blogpost is dedicated to my true love in life– FOOD.

India epitomizes the cliché: living to eat, not eating to live. Meals at home are elaborate, and it is only at home where it is borderline offensive for me to say I want boiled vegetables for dinner, that I am trying to follow a diet, that I don’t want a mango for dessert, or that there should be a tad less oil in my food. Food is to be savored, in all its glory, with its sprinklings of spices and fullness of flavors. Here are a few highlights of my gastronomic life in the last few days. Excuse my ineptitude at describing these flavors as they burst on my tongue; I try my best.

Daal: Daal, or lentils, is an Indian staple, to be had with rice. In my house, dal could be had plain. Slightly thick, with a rich yellow-mustard color, it is topped off with a baghar—dried chillies, garlic, and cumin fried in oil that give the dal its slightly spicy, full flavor. Vegetables are usually put in too- tomatoes, or drumsticks, or pumpkin, and it is flavored to be just a little sour, earning its name ‘khatti daal’, or sour daal.

Dal is a common feature of most South Asian meals. (photo courtesy

Tomato chutney: If you visit me in Mumbai, this homemade accompaniment (which I finally learned how to make to perfection) will be at every single meal. It is a perfect mix of sweet and spicy, perfect to eat with steamed rice, or rice and dal, ot basically anything.

Homemade cookies: Readymade cookie dough and canned frosting were a novelty for me when I got the US, for all my life, I have baked from scratch. This week was no different. Butter, brown and white sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla essence, baking soda, and hunky chocolate chips, and voila! A large box of even larger cookies– round, browned, firm on the outside but soft and slightly sticky on the inside, with chocolate chips that melted in the mouth. Perfect to snack on while reading.

North Indian snacky food is a far cry from American late night fare. (photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons)

Drunk food: While at college we seek out pizzas, wenzels and chicken teriyaki rice bowls to satisfy our post-revelry hunger pangs, in Bombay the top haunt is Zaffran. Open until 4am, it serves the best north Indian and tandoori fare. Try their rich, red and creamy butter chicken with hot and puffy butter naan, and pizzas may seem drab for ever after.

I’m staying far away from my weighing scale…