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How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Bombay

(11) The duck that isn't a duck Even now, after centuries of land reclamation along the waterfront, Bombay is defined by the sea. The original community of Koli fishermen remains intact, although their bungalows are now shadowed by high-rises, their colorful boats dwarfed by freighters from Yokohama and Peru. The Kolis still ply their trade at Sassoon Dock, laying out racks of prized Bombay duck to dry in the blistering sun.

"Bombay duck" is not, in fact, a waterfowl, but a foot-long, slimy-looking fish, more accurately known as bombil. The nickname was borrowed from a term for British residents during the raj—"duck" was a corruption of the Latin duces, or ruler. (See what I mean about the names?) What bacalao is to Barcelona, bombil is to Bombay. The dried, salted fish are fried and served whole, and have an alternately crisp and mushy texture, reminiscent of the best soft-shell crab. Get it at Konkan Café, a terrific seafood restaurant in the Taj President hotel.

(12) Kwality ice cream Well, the name, for one—you've gotta love the name. But it's the rose water—flavored ice cream that makes the Kwality brand so beloved. Who cares if it's the nutritional equivalent of a Bollywood film?You can find it at stands all over the city for just a handful of rupees.

(13) That amazing thali joint you'll never find again Even more remarkable than the variety of cuisines is the range of places where you find great meals: high or low, under chandeliers or fluorescent bulbs, either way, the food in Bombay is fantastic. I had one of my top-five lunches ever at a humble Gujarati joint called Thaker Bhojanalay, hidden off an alley in Kalbadevi. The windowless dining room seats about 40, almost all men who work in the bazaar. A giant factory-floor fan roars away in the corner. Give the door guy 100 rupees (two bucks) and take a seat at a long communal table. Servers make their way down the line with big pots of rice, dal, chutney, and curry—drizzling butter over your puranpuri (a puffy wheat bread filled with sweet lentils), refilling your glass with velvety mango juice. They'll keep ladling it out until you say "Stop." Which you won't.

(14) Pan-seared rawas at Indigo The beau monde heads for dinner at Indigo, the best restaurant in town. Executive chef Rahul Akerkar worked as a chef in New York for a decade, and then returned to Bombay in 1989 to take over a lovely old mansion on a Colaba side street. With its candlelit dining room and terrace shaded by frangipani trees, Indigo could get by on looks alone. Thankfully, the East—West fusion menu measures up. A green tea—scented duck breast arrives with delicately grilled shiitakes and a tart black-grape sorbet. Another sorbet, tomato and olive, accompanies tequila-cured tuna tartare. But it's the pan-seared rawas—a type of salmon native to India—that you came for. It carries a hint of anise and is served with artichoke hearts and coconut-braised spinach (really, it works).

(15) Classic Parsi cafés This is, above all, a city of immigrants, and no group has made more of a mark than the Parsi community, which emigrated from Persia. Though small in number, they have dominated society and industry; many of Bombay's richest families were Parsis. (So was Freddie Mercury from Queen.) Their wealth and influence is on the decline, but traces of the old Persian culture remain at so-called "Irani cafés" like Brittania in the Fort district. Neighborhood workers drop in for tea, conversation, and Persian staples such as "mutton and berry pulau," a sweet-and-savory blend of lamb, basmati rice, and sour cherries.


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