Kalyan Karmakar of Finely Chopped gives us a short primer on Mumbai’s culinary delights.
Mumbai based food and travel writer Kalyan Karmakar is a true cosmopolitan – a Bengali who was born in the UK, lived in Iran, grew up in Kolkata and married a Parsi – he moved to Mumbai 16 years ago. Nine years later (in 2007), Kalyan decided to combine his love for food and writing by starting the food blog Finely Chopped. The blog became immensely popular and Kalyan started contributing to magazines such as Femina, BBC Good Food Magazine India, Man’s World & Food and Nightlife. The crowning glory came in 2014 when Finely Chopped secured first place in the travel & food category of the Food Bloggers Association of India Awards.
Meanwhile, Kalyan had also been hosting informal culinary tours for international journalists and authors visiting Mumbai. At their suggestion, and acceding to a long standing demand from his legion of fans, Kalyan started the Finely Chopped Food Walks a year ago. Today, his walks are recognized as one of the best introductions to Mumbai’s rich food heritage.
Kalyan has also anchored a street food show for Travel Channel USA and has featured on The Foodie on Times Now and Will Travel for Food on NDTV 24X7. He is currently working on a food travelogue for Hachette India.
You are right, Mumbai has a fantastic range of ethnic food. There is Dadar for Maharashtrian food, Fort & Colaba for Parsi and Goan cuisine, Bohri Mohalla for Muslim treats, Oshiwara for Bengali delicacies, Mahim & Fort for Malayali fare, and finally Fort again for Mangalorean food.
What are some of the unique foods of Mumbai that are difficult to find elsewhere in India?
That will be Parsi food and Bohri desserts & ice creams. A must have in Bohri Mohalla are the hand made sancha ice creams in Taj Ice Creams. Go for the seasonal flavours. Also during Ramzan do try out the malpuas at Tawakkal Sweets.
Are there cuisines facing possible extinction in Mumbai?
With the entry of hospitality chains, international brands and mall food courts, many of the old school family run restaurants are finding it difficult to survive. A prime example are the Irani cafes – the 100 year old B. Merwan & Co has been a recent casualty to this trend.
What is the best meal that you’ve had in Mumbai?
A Maharashtrian thali at Dadar’s Sindhudurg, which had surmai cooked in a deliciously flavorsome curry and great puri like multi grain vadas and chicken masala. I have also written about Sindhudurg’s history on Finely Chopped.
Apart from that, I love Chinese cuisine and anything from Ling’s Pavilion in Colaba transports me to heaven!
What is Mumbai’s best kept food secret?
Most certainly Bohri Mohalla in Bhendi Bazaar – you can say it’s the Chandni Chowk of Mumbai! It’s a terrific place for treats such as kebabs, pulaos and bara handis.
Could you suggest a half day food walk for someone who is new to Mumbai ?
The best introduction to Mumbai’s food is to trace its public dining history in Fort.
Start with Puncham Puri for a bite of pre railway days history; then move on to Yazdani Bakery for the Irani café experience – you can’t leave without trying their bun maska and chai; next it’s time for some Mangalorean food, which is best represented by the prawn gassi and neer dosa at Apoorva. End this sumptuous meal with jalebi from North Indian Vidya Dairy.
Which is the most unusual eating joint you’ve visited in Mumbai?
Valibhai Payawallah at Bohri Mohalla for a fantastic meat experience. Their USP is the barah handi (or twelve pots) – there are only a handful of places in India where you can get the slow cooked barah handi, which traces its origins to Iran.
Fine dining, roadside snacking or midlevel dining – which do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy mid level dining in family run restaurants and as an Indian, can’t resist roadside snacking either!
Being a foodie, I’m sure you don’t miss the chance to go on culinary trails when you travel. Which is the best food walk that you have been a part of?
Shawn Henessey’s tapas trail in Seville. Shawn took us to a host of tapas bars, ranging from old school to modern gastro bars, told us what to eat and regaled us with histories of the each of the places we visited. Her twitter handle is @sevillatapas.
A walk that you’d like to add to your current list of offerings?
A united biryanis of India walk, as a tribute to the various biryanis of India – from Lucknowi, to Hyderabadi, Kolkatan, Malayali and of course, the Mumbai biryani.
Do you cook, what’s your favourite dish to make at home?
Yes, I cook quite often – in fact, my cooking videos are available on the India Food Network. My favourite dish to rustle up at home is Hakka noodles!
Finally Kalyan, this is a question we ask all our interviewees. If you could go back in time and have dinner with one person from history, who would that be?
I would love to accompany Busybee, as the late Behram Contractor was called, to one of his favourite places and chat about food over a meal.
You can learn more about Finely Chopped Walks here and discover Mumbai’s culinary secrets at Finely Chopped, which has a collection of over 1300 posts! You can also find Kalyan on Twitter at @finelychopped and on Instagram as finelychoppeds.
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