Anshu Ahuja: my Mumbai food recommendations

Anshu Ahuja moved to London from her native Mumbai where she worked in television before setting up DabbaDrop, the no-waste, plant-based delivery service of glorious South Asian food that arrives weekly in a stack of shiny tiffin tins. She shares her pick of her home city’s best places to eat

Mumbai is an electrifying place. The terrible inequality is in your face all the time. It’s noisy, crowded and the traffic is unbearable. But millions still arrive every year. To become Bollywood stars. Or earn their fortunes. A few succeed, most fail. But they all bring their food and as a result, the city has one of the best food cultures in the world. Here are four of my favourite places and dishes to eat. 

Shree Thaker Bhojanalay 

A thali is a never-ending meal, served in a dozen or so small bowls that contain savouries, pickles, chutneys, curries, dals, subzi (fresh stir-fried veggies), roti, rice and a little pudding too. The servers keep filling you up until you’re done, which you signal by the raise of a hand and then roll out of the restaurant and find a place to fall asleep instantly. One of the best places to experience them in Mumbai is Shree Thaker Bhojanalay, family-run since 1945. It’s an up-a-flight-of-stairs, wipe-clean-tables sort of place, and since there’s no menu, service begins immediately. The food is from Gujarat and is mouth-wateringly delicious and fresh. If you’re around in the winter, be sure to try the winter root delicacy undhiyu, my favourite. 

Shree Thaker Bhojanalay, Building No, 31, Dadiseth Agiyari Ln, Kalbadevi, Mumbai 

Elco Arcade 

Chaat is a snack eaten between lunch and dinner, somewhere around 6pm, and it’s a bit of a ritual in Mumbai; aunties and uncles will go out on their moped to the local chaat house for a snack, lovers will meet for a chaat date. It’s the thing I miss the most living in London.

I grew up in the Bandra suburb of Mumbai, and we’d go to the Elco Arcade shopping centre every weekend, mostly for the chaat. We’d start with pani puri, small puffed puri shells filled with lentils and dunked in a chaat masala and tamarind jus. Then we’d have puris, flat this time, like tostadas, piled high with potatoes and chutneys, sweet, tangy and hot. And then a sweet bhel to finish. Dishoom has introduced the UK to bhel, but go to Elco Arcade if you want the real deal. 

Elco Arcade, Hill Rd, Bandra West, Mumbai

Vada pav

Everyone in Mumbai – from factory workers to Bollywood stars – has an audacious, passionate love for the city’s signature snack, vada pav, a humble dish, made of potato and bread, like a chip butty only with serious spice and heat. The dish is believed to have been invented in 1966 by a Mumbaikar, Ashok Vaidya, who opened the first vada pav stall opposite the Dadar train station, through which hundreds of thousands of workers passed on their way to the textile mills in Parel and Worli. McDonalds launched their own version of vada pav, but nothing compares to the original. You can find it on railway platforms and most street corners – try it with all the sauces, the garlic and chilli crumb, and all the gram flour sprinkles the guy will give you.

Madras Cafe

This café in Kings Circle, Matunga is Mumbai’s most cherished South Indian restaurant. The owners are from Udipi in Karnataka and they serve the best dosa in town. Imagine a crisp, rice and lentil flour pancake, smeared with ghee and turmeric potatoes and homemade sambhar. I also love the light and airy medu vadas (deep-fried savoury doughnuts). Start your meal with a cup of coffee, it’s a South Indian speciality, and once you’ve eaten go for a walk in the nearby market, where you can buy everything from incense sticks to freshly ground coffee. 

Madras Café, Kamakshi Building, 391/B, Bhaudaji Rd, Matunga, Mumbai 

Anshu Ahuja’s DabbaDrop delivers weekly plant-based South Asian meals in reusable metal tiffin tins to neighbourhoods in East, North, South-East and North-West London. dabbadrop.co.uk

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