Mumbai foodies miss beef dish this Ramzan

Mumbai foodies miss beef dish this Ramzan

For foodies, the Mohammed Ali Road, Nagpada Junction, Bhendi Bazaar, Minara Masjid, Bohri Mohalla, Dongri are a must visit. During the holy month of Ramzan, the attraction is more as in the evenings the area dazzles with light and aroma of food – both vegetarian and non-vegetarian and a variety of desserts.

The eateries on these streets serve food so delicious that even non-Muslims eagerly wait for the fest all year long. Be it the tandoor items, falooda or firnis, they are really tasty. The aroma attracts one and all and is really tempting. And this area of south Mumbai has a rich history with who’s who frequenting these places and several of the prominent personalities growing up here.

There is something more than food here. “It was a happening place and it is a happening place,” says Rafique Baghdadi, a veteran journalist, writer, film critic and expert on Mumbai. Whenever he conducts heritage walks, he makes it a point to take people to this place around – and tell the history of the place, its food and culture.  “What makes the place interesting is that it suits everybody’s pocket,” he adds.

“It is full of life,” adds Zubair Azmi, the Director of Bhendi Bazar Urdu Festival, which he curated last year.

So, what has Saadat Hasan Manto, Kaifi Azmi and Jan Nisan Akhtar has in common? They all have worked or stayed in the Bhendi Bazar area of Mumbai. Do you know that melody queen Lata Mangeshkar has been associated with the Bhendi Bazar gharana of the Hindustani classical music? Or for that matter that legendary music composer the late Salil Chowdhury used to conduct music classes here. “It used to be place for artistes and writers and they used to mix up with the common man and enjoy food. Manto used to sit in one of the corners of Sarvi restaurant,” points out Baghdadi.

“Late M F Hussain used to visit our hotel,” said Khalid Hakim, who runs Noor Mohammadi, which also happens to be one of the famous joints for Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt. Here you can order a Chicken Sanju Baba as you gaze at an MF Hussain original that the legendary painter has done for Hakim’s father.

Besides Noor Mohammadi, some of the other places are – Al Rehmani Restaurant for seek paratha and chicken fry, Zayka for tangdi kabab, JJ Jalebi for jalebi, malpua, gulab jamuns. There are several bakeries and sweet shops in the area and the sweet aroma is too tempting for “aam aadmi” and “hi-fi aadmi”.

Interestingly, when Baghdadi conducts heritage walks, he also takes you to a sweet shop that opens once a year. “The Iranian Sweets Palace is the only sweet shop that opens for a day in a year, on the occasion of Navroze, the commencement of Iranian New Year,” he says.

Mohammed Hasan Hajati, the owner of the Iranian Sweets Palace, is an interesting person to talk to – as he laces his statements with humour. “This is a 105-year-old shop....when my grandfather purchased it for Rs 30 in 1909, his friends and wellwishers told him that he was cheated and that the property was actually valued at Rs 15.....well, today it is over Rs one crore,” says Hajati.

“So, as far as a business proposition is concerned, even if I sell one kg of sweets today, I make a profit,” he says as the audience breaks into laughter. Today, he is into share market and real estate. “But, I still want the sweet shop to run....it is very important for our family, the Iranian community, the Parsees,” he says. “Whatever you get here is original – and the baklavas are famous here,” he said.

“We get the ingredients imported from Iran....walnuts, almonds, nuts and even camel's milk,” he said. The balkavas sell at around Rs 780 per kg. “We have our patrons, where ever they are in the country, they ask for it and we send it across to them....it is bonding between us,” he said. Around two lakh people from the Iranian descent now stay in Mumbai. Mumbai’s Irani Zorastrians, as well as Irani Muslims – celebrate Navroze every year with the same enthusiasm.

This Ramzan a lot of people visited these places, but, this time around, the food lovers missed beef because of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1995, which bans the slaughter of bulls and bullocks, along with the earlier ban on slaughter of cows.

The kebabs of Sarvi Hotel at Nagpada, the nalli-nihari of Noor Mohammadi Hotel, the kormas and bheja-fry at Shalimar, the biryani of Zaffar Bhai's Delhi Durbar, seek-bababs at Al-Madina Fast Food, have been attracting Mumbaikars for long, but the thrill of beef is missing.

“Sadly, this year, for the first time in decades, the menu havd changed and we had to do without our favourite beef items,” Samir Pandya from Kandivli rues.

K A Hussain of Kurla says the biggest fallout of beef ban is budgets have gone haywire and regular beef-eaters don't get that level of satisfaction from mutton, chicken or fish. “Beef is considered manly or masculine (mardana), the rest all are just so-so...,”  he smiled, preparing to buy some more chicken .

A S Shabbir of Byculla said his family was used to beef items on the menu both during Ramzan and round-the-year, mutton was a rarity, fish was a delicacy and chicken was treated with contempt.

“Now, priorities have changed - with beef disappearing, we eat mostly mutton, fish and chicken... You can say, 25 per cent of our regular diet has been ruined due to beef ban in Maharashtra... The only saving grace is our native place  which we visit during vacations..." Shabbir said longingly.


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