When Stella Aunty told me about the long list of ingredients comprising her secret bottle masala, I was pretty sure the Kolambi (prawn) preparation, with its burnt crispiness and crumb-like texture, and fish curry would come with not just love, but searing spice levels as well. Little did I know that traditional East Indian cuisine surpasses our conventional use of overpowering masalas and instead, focuses on a unique flavourful experience.
Despite being the city’s original inhabitants, the East Indian Community of Mumbai, which originally resided in Dharavi Island, is striving to ensure that culture and traditions of the community continue to live. While the East Indian churches remain deserted and the beautiful Portuguese-influenced homes have now been abandoned or converted to ‘resort-like’ stays, it’s the food, the delectable flavours of the East Indian cuisine, that continue to carry forward the vanishing legacy.
Influenced by Portuguese, Marathi, and Goan cuisine in equal measure, East Indian fare is predominantly non-vegetarian and makes abundant use of spices that are (surprisingly) kind and flavourful. Whether it’s the traditional East Indian chicken curry or dried bananas with sprinkled honey on them (known as sukeli), or vegetables that are mixed in a batter made with flour, coconut toddy, and yeast (known as fugias) — each dish has its own unique flavour depending on the masala used.
Bottle Masalas are another treasured secret of the community — a secret that’s never let out to anyone. A proportioned blend of 30 (or more) spices, these bottle masalas are an irreplaceable part of every East Indian kitchen and honestly, make all the difference. Traditionally, stored in alcohol bottles (which is where it derives its name ‘bottle’ masala from), each family has its own unique concoction that is passed down from generation to generation. And is today, a huge part of the culinary economy with many East Indian home chefs selling their own bottle masalas at reasonable prices.
But, one thing that makes the East Indian cuisine truly stand out is its varying identity. Every household prepares its chicken vindaloo differently. Perhaps, the only thing that links them all (apart from their allegiance to their bottle masala recipe) is the rice handbread — a flatbread made out of rice, water, and salt.
As a lesser-known cuisine that is so hyper-local and ingrained in Mumbai’s ecosystem, it wouldn’t be fair to simply let it go unnoticed. So we’ve chalked out a handy East Indian food guide to the city. From home chefs to lesser-known restaurants and roadside food stalls, let this guide add the much-needed piquancy to your otherwise bland palates.
Places To Eat
I. Ruby Aunty’s Kitchen
Where: Due to trouble with the local police officers, Ruby aunty’s kitchen doesn’t exactly have a board with an address. However, just ask any rickshaw driver in Manori and they’ll help you navigate your way.
Undoubtedly the most famous home chef in the area, Ruby Aunty’s kitchen is Manori’s best-kept secret. A quaint little tumbledown home, hidden behind one of Manori’s many colourful houses, that has a unique old-world charm to it. Ruby aunty started her kitchen two decades ago with the aim of fetching some extra income. From fish curry to chicken vindaloo, her food is made with a lot of love and her secret bottled masala – which she also sells at INR 1,200 per kilo. Other dishes include Sorpotel, Fugias etc. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the Gomes family is always open to anyone wanting to try out authentic East Indian delicacies. Although you need to call a couple of hours in advance if you’re planning on stopping here for lunch. In case of larger group orders, Ruby aunty needs to be informed 24 hours in advance.
Cost: INR 500 for two people.
II. Stella Aunty’s Dhaba
Where: Ahead of Gorai road. We’d suggest asking one of the rickshaw drivers to drop you there.
A go-to place for delicious seafood prepared with Stella aunty’s (or ‘maushi’ or ‘bai’, as locals call her) secret bottle masala recipe that comprises 64 ingredients, this decrepit dhaba is located pretty much in the middle of nowhere and has been around for 4 years, ever since Stella aunty decided to give up her previous job at a nearby restaurant. Her menu includes a range of East Indian dishes like fried pomfret, fish curry, and East Indian chicken curry. We’d recommend her Kolambi preparation (prawns) for its burnt crispiness and crumb-like texture. The rice handbread — a flatbread made out of rice, water, and salt — is her speciality and pairs perfectly with her Gowthi chicken. Her vegetarian dishes are limited to mixed veg and dal.
Cost: INR 400 for two people.
Timings: 7 am - 9 pm, all seven days a week.
III. Joan’s Garden Cafe
Where: On Uttan Naka, opposite the Uttan police station.
Located in the heart of Uttan, one of the most commercial villages of Dharavi island, Joan’s Garden Cafe isn’t as much a cafe as it is a home kitchen serving scrumptious East Indian cuisine. Try their sorpotel – a spicy pork curry of Portuguese origin. Their fish curry and rice is probably the most homely, comfort food on the menu – along with their flatbreads to go with it, in case you’re not big on rice. Even if East Indian fare isn’t your thing, you can always pick something from the regular seafood menu. At Joan’s, there’s something for everyone.
Cost: INR 70 onwards.
Where: 3/A, Kolovery Village, Kalina Masjid Road, Santacruz (E).
Brainchild of Christina Kinny, East Indian Cozinha (Cozinha is Portuguese for kitchen) sells a variety of traditional bottled masalas and pickles, along with ‘lugras’ - traditional 10-yard saris worn by the community women. “I started East Indian Cozinha with an attempt to preserve and highlight our cuisine and culture,”, says the 24-year-old entrepreneur who sells six different varieties of masalas - namely, Kujit Masala, Tem Che Rose, Khuddi, Chinchoni (fish) Masala, Vindaloo Masala, and Roast Rub. Look out for the ‘Wedding Pickle’, one of Kinny’s specialities made out of carrots, dry dates, and raw papaya.
You can get in touch with her on 9167442267.
The East Indian Cookery Book
Published in 1981 by the Bombay East Indian Association, The East Indian Cookery Book is a first-of-its-kind attempt to record the traditional recipes that are today common knowledge within the community. Considering how East Indian families are normally reluctant to share their culinary ‘family secrets’, this book is quite fascinating as it captures a diverse range of recipes from several East Indian families. This cookbook has specific sections dedicated to rice, pickles, fish, masalas etc. Unfortunately, it’s now out of print and only East Indians who bought it years ago can now access the treasure trove of unrevealed family recipes.
Feature Image: The Culture Trip
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