Bademiya, Mumbai, India
For a taste of Mumbai, go directly to Bademiya.
On a recent trip to visit family in India, we flew through Mumbai. We extended our layover there so we'd have a chance to see a little bit of the city, and so we could eat at Bademiya. Bademiya is a legendary kebab stand behind the Taj Hotel, near the Gateway of India. What began as a young man selling kebabs from a cart in 1946 has grown into one of the most recognizable names in Mumbai's vast and varied culinary scene.
"Bademiya" translates to something like "elder brother," a name that customers bestowed on Mohammad Yaseen when he began selling his kebabs in a nearly desolate alley over 70 years ago (see the history of the restaurant here). At that location now, we found one meat stand, one vegetarian stand, a seating area, and a maze of bustling customers and food runners.
And Bademiya is definitely hoppin', even relatively early in the evening. It's so well-known that one can merely tell the cab driver "bademiya," and he will nod with understanding (and probably a little jealousy). The restaurant is generally considered a late-night go-to, but even at around 8:00 PM, we had to bring our patience with us, along with an appetite. As we left, we saw folks eating dinner on the hoods of their cars in the alley. They had spread out paper and gathered around their food for a Mumbai-style picnic.
We had to wait about ten to fifteen minutes for a table across the street. Simple metal tables and plastic chairs have been set up in an otherwise empty building, and a runner took our order and retrieved our food for us. We shared our table with another couple, with whom we shared nothing else but smiles over our food.
The food is the star here, so there are literally no other frills. At all. And they aren't missed a bit. The tables have two sauces and some well-worn menus. There will be no flatware, so get ready to use the rumali roti -- soft, thin, warm bread -- to scoop some culinary gold directly into your food hole. Dhrubo ordered a Thums Up, the Indian answer to Coke, and was instantly at one with the universe.
That dough cloud below is the roti. It is delicately settled on the plate like a little carb cloud of happiness. We tore off small amounts and used it to pick up mutton bheja fry, chicken kebab, and mutton bhuna (in order from the roti to the foreground). The mutton bheja fry is goat brain, which was gamey with iron undertones. The chicken had a beautiful heavy smokiness to it, and was covered in a delicious and cooling green chutney. The mutton bhuna, a curry prepared in such a way as to create a very thick sauce, was my favorite. It was not greasy, and it simply exploded with flavor. It also had that most lovely effect of spices: the accumulating heat that taunts and punishes at the same time. More roti was ordered and victory was mine.
After dinner, a man brought to our table a pitcher of water and a basin. He poured water over our hands and gave us a napkin with which to dry off. As someone unaccustomed to eating such dishes with my hands, I appreciated this ceremony. Not only did it signal the end of our meal, but it also felt like the cleansing that concludes an initiation. "Welcome to Mumbai," it says. "You're one of us now."
Bademiya stands as a testament to the centrality of street food to the Mumbai culinary scene, as well as to the power of simple food prepared with passion. It is iconic Mumbai, the gustatory equal to the city's Bollywood glitz and the Gateway arch a few steps away. The flavors of the perfectly balanced spices, the tenderness of the meats, and the soft, warm roti all work in concert to ensure that my memories of Mumbai will forever be linked to involuntary salivation and hunger pangs.
Tulloch Road, Behind Hotel Taj Mahal
Apollo Bandar, Colaba
Mumbai, Maharashtra 400039
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