Take A Nostalgic Dive Into ‘Bambaiya Street Food’ - At ‘Bambai’
Image Credit: Kurla Ke Kabab pav

Mumbai is an epic city. Situated on the Arabian coast, this archipelago of seven islands combined has formed the modern-day town of Mumbai. Before 6th March 1996, Mumbai was called Bombay, and even now, many of the city’s references are made using its old name, Bombay or Bambai. 

Thus, when I learned about the newly opened street food restaurant ‘Bambai’, it intrigued me to understand what It might offer. Bombay, or as it’s now called Mumbai, has an exciting mix of cultural influences defining its array of delicious food offerings. From the Chaupatis of Juhu, Girgaum and many other hubs of ‘bambaiya’ street food dotted around the city to the colonial lanes of Coloba. Bombay cuisine speaks of its unique varieties from the Sindhi neighbourhood of Ulhasnagar to the fishermen’s Koliwadas. Each dish has its stories of evolution, and its taste is incomparable with foods of any other region. These reasons attracted me to the menu of this newly opened restaurant on Juhu Tara Road in Santa Cruz (West). 

If one has to look for a guide to what street food dishes to try in Mumbai, one needs to look at the options available on Bambai’s menu. Being in Mumbai for food exploration, I thought it would be favourable to try it out. I started with Ulhasnagar’s favourite ‘Butter Papdi Chaat’. Paapdis were unique, thick enough to carry the load of the layered masala, sev, onions and chutneys, yet crumble in the mouth at the first attempt of biting into the flavour tower all at once. It was served with Pani puri’s spicy, minty water, which played charades on the palate. The start was exciting, and it was just about to whet my appetite to try more. 

Next up was ‘Kurla ke Kebab Pav’; Chef Anees from Bambai shared that he grew up eating the Kebab Pav at Kurla and loved it. To serve ‘Kebabs’ in a pav is a very ‘Bambaiya’ thing. As with various dishes, the soft pavs of Bombay accompany, be it a ‘vada’, ‘Samosa’, ‘Missal’, ‘Bhaji’, ‘Keema’ or a ’Kebab’; their combination with pav has always been a favoured combo. This dish, conceptualised as a pav burger, serves two pieces of coin-sized chicken Kebabs with sliced onion and a flavourful and spicy green chutney. “Kebabs at Bambai does not use any binders and is made primarily of chicken and spices”, explained chef Ritesh Tulsian. These kebabs are shallow fried till they achieve their crisp exterior and the flavours of the juicy kebabs reach their optimum. It was a delightful introduction for me to savour this legendary combination. 

Whenever in the coastal region of India, I make it a point to try seafood. And just like all other coastal cities of India, Mumbai prides itself in producing some of the most fantastic seafood dishes. One such dish with a distinct Bambaiya flavour is the ‘Jhinga Koliwada’. 

Koliwadas are the localities close to the sea, where traditionally, the families of fishermen reside. Mumbai has multiple ‘Koliwadas’, and the inhabitants are one of Mumbai’s earlier and continuously living communities.  Upon quizzing over the origins of this dish in Mumbai, Chef Tulsian quips, ‘It was Sion Koliwada; where the dish was started by the Sardar community which migrated to Mumbai and settled in the Koliwada region of Sion, along with Koli (Fishermen) community’. 

Fresh prawns from the Arabian sea, dipped in the spicy batter, deep fried to a crunchy crust, served with tempered curry leaves, providing its claim to ‘Jhinga Koliwada’ to be a must-try dish at Bambai, the city as well as the restaurant. 

Last but not least, I was looking forward to trying the famed ‘Bhaji’ of Mumbai, and the one I tasted at Bambai restaurant, made me believe that ‘Pav Bhaji’ can be made equally good by the chefs, as well as done on the chaupatis of Mumbai. Pav Bhaji at Bambai completes justifying the expectations one has from this legendary bambaiya street food. A ‘Pav Bhaji’ is no good if the spices do not live up to the expectations. Chefs at Bambai have duly researched and worked hard to nail the recipe that its patrons would love. Bhaji was indeed delicious. Not thoroughly mashed into a paste, like many restaurants and ‘Pav Bhaji’ vendors do, the Bhaji at Bambai, if I have to define can be called a ‘Khadi Bhaji’. Vegetables for this ‘Bhaji’ are finely chopped. As you take a scoop full of it with the buttered Pav, you can taste and enjoy the bhaji’s flavours and the texture of different vegetables that have gone into preparing the delicious dish. 

‘Chaupati ka Kala Khatta’, the beverage that accompanied my meal, was an exciting mocktail carrying the flavour and nostalgia of the Icy ‘Kala Khatta’ of Juhu Chaupati, which can now be enjoyed in the form of a chilled and iced drink just a few blocks away from the ‘Chaupati’ at Bambai restaurant. 

The menu at Bambai is vast, with offerings ranging from Chaat to small meals, An exciting innovation of Naanizza, Some delicious bread as bases for fusion dishes, Desserts and beverages, served hot as well as cold; Bambai as a concept brings together an amalgam of so many different flavours of Mumbai, that it can be of great interest to all the lovers of Bambaiya street food, to be enjoyed in the comfortable setting and vibe of a diner, Just as it was for me. 

Sidharth Bhan Gupta is a Hospitality/F&B Consultant travelling across India exploring regional cuisines.