Bombay Belly

It is not funny how food becomes the atom of our molecular existence when we leave home. Hyderabad, Bombay, Delhi, Pune... there's no food better than home. It stops to matter whose home even! You begin to appreciate thick फुल्काs with Amul butter instead of ghee, slightly undercooked rajma and lacklustre saltless दाल - so long as you've witnessed its preparation in copper bottomed हांडीs or aluminium sauce pans.

But some of us are bizarre that way. The addiction of that 'outside' taste practically gags us on our shortest visits home and we see the path to moksha clearly etched on a longer return. Lots'a oil, even more spice, crazy quantity and a crazier budget. They say that while the world eats to live, we Indians live from one meal to the next. Punjus and Gujjus specially mascot the cause.

Quite unlike my two-year hiatus in Hyderabad, Bombay inculcated in me an opposite kind'a taste in food. I enjoy blandness streaked by just one or two dominant flavours now. Whether it was the रोटी-सुब्ज़ी with खट्टा अचार & लस्सी at Crystal, mushroom risotto at Tea Centre, pesto sauce pasta at Under the Banyan Tree, मूर्घ काली मिरी at Maroosh, mint-barley-tofu salad at Moshe's, classic pizza at Indigo Deli or sandwiches at Kala Ghoda Cafe.

Oh. I realise I've just listed the best food there is in Bombay. Apologies to all who read this post at 12 o'clock - am or pm *wink*.

Coming back to blandness, I wonder if it is a weakening of the tongue's sensitivity or sharpening. I consume an almost spiceless diet now. And when ma gets छोले made here at home, I crave for Veg Felafel's hummus with the ancillaries - tahini, pickled salad, pita and their special lemonade-in-a-bottle [!] I remember the time Nina accompanied me to the outlet near my hostel. After the third morsel, he was almost force-feeding himself like those ducks in Sweden are to fatten their livers (Europeans consider this a delicacy). "Hate" was mild.

Veg Felafel became my Saturday afternoon lunch place early in my stay. It was one cuisine I had never tried - and couldn't in Hyderabad - and was most curious about, after an Ian Wright episode of Lonely Planet, on Israel. The first time I walked into the tiny two-storey outlet opposite East at Kemps Corner, I was given ample time to take in the yuppie interiors. Simple, bright and unmistakeable – their grey & green lettering and the steel & wood furniture through the glass facade made it easy to spot the little deli in other areas [there's one opposite the Citibank ATM near Regal Cinema] where I often fell prey to hunger on my Saturday post-work jaunts.

It was THE place that whisked away my inhibitions about eating alone. Not that I was ashamed of appearing a hog, but I hated eating without company. It brought home loneliness in flower-power-print-size and tones. VF was warm. And it was always interesting to see the sort of people who came in, Couples my age, groups of school kids with a mom supervising [and paying for their insatiable appetites], solo Parsi or third generation Gujarati men from the neighbourhood often waiting for their takeaways being packed.

I was never tired of reading the framed newspaper reviews on the wall near the door. There was even a health-benefits-of-hummus chart there [how nutritious and high-fibre it is, etc.]! The wait was never long, yet entertaining. The whole experience gave me time to introspect on the week's madness. The fact that the place was a hop, skip & jump away from where I lived made time a non-factor.

Any place alien becomes real - one's own even - by the variety of culinary stimulation it has to offer. Bombay is perhaps the most widespread and bustling kitchen all the time - beach side food stalls, खाऊ गल्लीs, Mohammed Ali road's Idi festivities that send the palate into a scrumptious frenzy, or the numerous takeaway places and fine dining restaurants that dot the geography of South Bombay.

Unlike most people who miss घर का खाना, I stopped a long time ago...or did I even begin?

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