Sunday, February 24, 2013


Tavaa is a Bandra landmark. Literally. When giving directions, people will more often than not base their directions around Tavaa. `Tavaa ke aagey’, `Tavaa ke baju mein’ and so on and so forth. Oh, by the way, Tavaa is at Turner Road in Bandra, Mumbai.

Tavaa has been around since 1984. It describes itself as “The Exclusive Place For Grilled and Fried Dishes”. We have been eating here for years and years. Earlier, we used to order take out from Tavaa, so basically we have been long standing customers.

The food at Tavaa has always been remarkably consistent and remarkably good, time has been kind to Tavaa. It has had its share of troubles with the law but none of this has had any impact on the food. The food is reasonably cheap and of good quality. Tavaa is rather non vegetarian so do not venture in if you want a `Hara Bhara Kebab’.

The food here is slightly different from what most Mughalai restaurants serve. A lot of the food has its origins in the street food found in the Bohri Mohallas in Bhendi Bazaar, a Muslim neighbourhood in Central Mumbai. This means that you get  a variety of `Baida Rotis’, `Egg Rolls’ with various fillings like Mutton, Chicken, Brain, Gurda [Kidney] and Khiri [Udder] and Sandwiches of various kinds like Iraqi, Mutton Bhuna and Kheema.

A `Baida Roti’ is a typically Mumbai dish with a typically Mumbai name. `Baida’ is Bambaiya for Egg. A `Baida Roti’ is made with refined flour dough that is thinly rolled out. On this a beaten egg and your choice of meat – be it Minced Meat or Minced Chicken – is poured on, spices and chopped onion added and the dough folded over to make a parcel. This is cooked on a griddle. You eat it with lashings of Lime juice drizzled on top.

Baida Roti

An Egg Roll is shaped somewhat like a Chinese Spring Roll except that it is not deep fried but once again cooked on the griddle. The filling also has egg but the meat is not plain minced meat but a more curried meat. This could be Bhuna Gosht or Bhuna Chicken which are mutton or chicken cooked in a thick gravy or you could ask for Liver, Kidney or even Udder as a filling. The Roll is cooked sliced and served.

Mutton Egg Roll

The Sandwiches, for which I do not have a photo, are made not with your normal white bread but with what is called `Bread Naan’. This is shaped like a flatter Hamburger bun. `Bread Naan’ is a Muslim speciality. The bun is sliced horizontally and toasted on the griddle. Inside go the fillings. My most favourite sandwich is the Iraqi which has a minced mutton patty inside, a sort of desi burger.

The menu also has what they call `Two In One (Thick Gravy)’. These dishes are the stars of the restaurant. The Kheema Palak Mix Fry is absolutely delicious. If you like Offal you could have the Kidney, Liver, and Brain or Udder Thick Gravy dishes. Each is outstanding. The Bhuna Gosht is also excellent, though it is not a Two In One dish. Tavaa also serves some reasonably decent kebabs.

The Nalli Nehari which was a special that evening

Mutton Biryani 

Kitchen and take away packing section

As I said the food here is different from most restaurants. You will not find the clichéd Jalfraize, Kolhapuri  and Hyderabadi dishes here. Butter chicken is served though I advise you to stay away. Lots of Chinese food is served too, but once again, stay away. Stick to the Tavaa specials and the daily/weekend specials and you will have a great meal. Remember that the restaurant is not fine dining and is situated open air at the corner of a very busy road. It’s noisy and has mosquitoes. If you cannot stomach this do not despair. Please ask for the food to be packed. It’s delicious at home, and remember, you can always reheat the curries at home.

Tavaa is wholly worth going to.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Amritsar - The food

To modify a few lines from Shakespeare, if you, my friend, demand why I go to Amritsar, this is my answer. It’s not that I like Amritsar less but I like the food more.

Yes folks the food in Amritsar is really good. As far as Indian food is concerned, according to me, the finest examples of Indian food are available in Amritsar, at Karim’s in Jama Masjid in Delhi, Bukhara and Dum Pukht at the ITC Hotels. Unfortunately, all these are examples of North Indian food. But then this is my opinion.

On this visit, in chronological order, we ate at:

The Ista
Surjit Food Plaza
The Langar at the Golden Temple
Ahuja Lassi
Kesar Da Dhaba
Kanha Sweets

Let me assure you that getting to these places by taxi and then on foot or cycle rickshaw is reasonably easy. Getting back after dinner is the challenge, unless, you make your transport wait for you while you eat. To us it seemed that Amritsar shuts down very early. Restaurants [except Kesar Da Dhaba] do not have the large custom that we in the larger cities are used to seeing. Things are far more relaxed.

As far as the food is concerned, two aspects that struck us. First; across all the restaurants the temperature at which the food was served was amazing. The food was consistently served steaming hot, and I mean hot. Mind you it was winter so ambient temperatures, were, by Indian standards, low probably 15C or 60F. Also bear in mind that the food was being cooked in primitive kitchens with most cooking done on wood and coal fires. No combi ovens, no microwave ovens, no heat lamps, no salamanders. Just huge Tandoors and, at times, LPG cylinders. If they could pull this off in such adverse conditions, our Mumbai restaurateurs should hang their heads in shame when they serve us tepid, obviously, barely reheated food. I agree that most curries were premade and therefore easy to heat, but that is the case in Mumbai too. Consistently Rotis served were so hot that they could not be handled. The food served at the Langar in the Golden Temple was hot too. That was being served from buckets to 3000 to 5000 people at a time.

The second aspect, this is slightly more philosophical, was the sheer generosity that we felt in the food and the restaurants. The food seemed large hearted, seemed to be made with a feeling of pride and probably fear of losing one’s reputation and consequently the business and custom. If a man did not perform he would lose his job. Presumably with that his reputation. In a small city this would make a difference. In Mumbai Delhi Bangalore would this make any difference? The line cook would get another job easily. Restaurants are run by managers who themselves have no real reputation or business to protect. Maybe I am being simplistic, but the sheer - that word again - generosity, in the food was touching. We get that feeling when we eat in many places in Europe too. No its not free food, it’s not really the chef sending out Amuse Bouches, it’s something more. It’s probably honesty. Then again it’s probably not. Lets close this by saying the food in Amritsar is really good.

On landing we wanted to have something quick so we decided to eat at the Ista itself. We ordered just one dish. Alu Wadiyan with a Roti each. Wadis are dried lentil cakes that are flavoured with chilli, coriander seeds and other spices. They are shallow fried, crumbled and added to a Tomato based gravy with green peas and/or potato. This is a typically Punjabi dish. The Ista served us a good version of this. Suitably fortified we set out to the walled city.

Alu Wadiyan

Dinner was to be at Surjit Food Plaza. We had been here the last time we were in Amritsar. It’s owned by a Sardar Sucha Singh who sits at the counter overseeing all the activities. The two most famous dishes on offer were the Tandoori Chicken and the Amritsari fish. We also ordered a Daal to accompany the food. The Tandoori Chicken was very good. None of the lurid red colour we are so used to. Juicy hot and spicy. Delicious. The Fried Fish Amritsari was top class. Crisp batter and once again no red colour. A strong dose of Ajwain or Carom seed powder was mixed into the batter. The Daal was decent. The portions are all half plates!!

Amritsari Fried Fish

Tandoori Chicken

Black Daal

After our lunch at the Langar we went to Ahuja Lassi to try that out. This place is very highly recommended for the Lassi. The TV programme `Highway On My Plate’ which we quite like, has said that this is the best Lassi in India. We were underwhelmed. It was perfectly good Lassi. But to say it’s the best is a long shot. On the other hand let’s get a bit real. What can you really achieve with a preparation of just 3 ingredients, yogurt, sugar and ice? You could easily give this a miss. The interesting thing was there were so many people ordering a bowl [and that was a MAN sized bowl] of Dahi with sugar which they happily ate. I have never seen this ever in Mumbai. When leaving we bought a half kilo of their pure Desi Ghee to take back to Mumbai. Hope it’s good.

Ahuja Lassi

Dinner was at the legendary Kesar Da Dhaba. This is really difficult to find. Going by car is simply not possible. Our Bentley was parked at the top of the lane and Vijay the driver walked us to the restaurant. This Dhaba had 4 units. One was the kitchen, one the takeaway and two were dining areas. It was 8.45pm, very late by Amritsar standards and there was not a place to sit, it was packed. We soon got a table and ordered. The most famous dishes are the Daal Fry and Channa Fry. Along with this we got an Aloo Gobi which I really like, a Lachha Paratha and an Aloo Paratha. Absolutely delicious food. I have not eaten better vegetarian food ever in my life. Depth of flavour, seasoning, temperature and quality of ingredients were superlative. This was the pinnacle of our journey. The Parathas were flaky, tasty and perfectly cooked. I wholeheartedly recommend that you eat here. Can you guess how much we paid for all that food? Rs. 300/- Yes friends USD 6 yes six dollars.

Laccha Paratha

Alu Paratha

Channa Fry

Daal Fry

Alu Gobi

Kesar Da Dhaba - Kitchen

That meal would be difficult to top. But Amritsar had more in its armoury. Kanha Sweets. This is a place for breakfast. They serve just one thing for breakfast. A plate with 2 Pooris, unlimited Choley, unlimited Potato vegetable and unlimited pickled carrots and onions. You know how much that costs? Rs. 45/- yes folks less than a US Dollar. This was truly the breakfast of champions priced for paupers. The Choley beat the Channa Fry at Kesar Da Dhaba hollow. The potato vegetable was truly delicious. It was sweet, soured with tamarind and with a lot of bitter undertones brought in by liberal additions of Methi or Fenugreek Seeds. Perfectly balanced dish which cut thru the rich spices in the Choley. Fantastic. If you like you can have more than 2 Pooris but then you pay more. You could order Gajar Ka Halwa or any other sweet from their counter outside too. But this was a really good breakfast. We were fortified to handle the low cost no food Spice Jet flight back to Mumbai.

Left - Alu Bhaji Right - Choley

Breakfast at Kanha Sweets was the last time I have smiled.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Amritsar Revisited - Wah E Guru


Without a moment’s hesitation or doubt, my favourite city in India. A place that makes me smile from the moment I step into the aircraft to the time I get back to Mumbai. Oh yes! I like Amritsar. The only other place that induces a constant smile is London. It was our second visit to Amritsar in 2 years to the day. Coincidentally, we were in Amritsar from 18th to 20th February 2011 and here we were in Amritsar on 18th to 20th February 2013. You could read about our last visit here

Sardars are great characters. Like me they seem to smile when they are going to Amritsar. Like me, all the nastiness, anger and irritation disappears when going to Amritsar. The flight from Mumbai to Amritsar was full of happy, bubbly, smiling Sardars and their extremely cute little children. They look absolutely adorable with their little `patkas’ full of the innocent mischief and naughtiness that we see so little of in children nowadays. All of them little eating machines constantly eating without fear or favour and with not a thought for their waistlines – chicken puff, veg puff coffee, nuts, chocolates all consumed with wholehearted joy. To me it seems that Sardars travel in packs, all large [both packs and Sardars] with many mummy’s, daddy’s, betas and betis all shouting, laughing and eating all at the same time. There was however one grim family at the airport, I kid you not, holding `Papaji’ in their lap. `Papaji’ had died and his ashes were in a casket which the family was going to take to presumably immerse. These sad Sardars were thankfully not on our flight to Amritsar but were on their way to a more sober Chandigarh. Phew!

Landing in Amritsar we were booked at the Ista, an absolutely top class hotel. The hotel had not slipped and neither did it show its age despite 2 years since our last visit. It’s really a good hotel with rooms that are as good if not better than the rooms at the Taj Lands End or the President in Mumbai. Point is the rooms probably cost 1/3 as much.

The Ista

The adjoining Mall - Hypercity and Shoppers Stop too!!

Prices! Kingfisher for Rs 150/-

The Hotel is about 20 minutes away from the Golden Temple and there is an elevated expressway straight in. You could go by car/taxi but the problem is that cars are not allowed inside most of the walled city where the Temple is located. We hailed a 4 wheeled rickshaw and asked the driver (i) if he had a mobile phone and (ii) if we could hire him for the day. He said yes to both questions so for a princely sum of Rs 800 per day we had our own Bentley to take us where we wanted. Most importantly, he would be there at night to get us back from dinner in town.

The `Bentley' with Vijay the driver

The walled city is where all the action is in Amritsar. You have almost all the eating places, Jallianwalla Bagh and of course, the majestic Golden Temple. The walled city is rather dirty, chaotic and dusty with small narrow roads in which motorcycles ply at frightening speeds with horns blaring. The cacophony is quite something. We spent lots of time just walking in these bylanes. For some reason Amritsaris do not like to walk. They will hop onto a cycle rickshaw for a distance of even 500 meters. People are almost always friendly and helpful; we asked several policemen who were on duty for directions. Always answered with a smile and some free advice; `take a rickshaw’, `don’t pay more than 20 Rupees’.

Electric carts also available inside the walled city

We did have a list of things that friends wanted us to buy. `Papar’ or `Papad’ as we call it, Almond Oil [don’t ask why people wanted us to buy it], `Kadas’ [the steel bangle that all Sardars have to wear], `Besan Laddus’, natural Pumice Stone and aam papar. The Empress needed new clothes so we [the Royal we] wanted to buy fabric and have Salwar `Suits’ stitched. This would be fun and we set about walking. The best `Papar’ was available at Ujagar Singh Karam Singh. We did eventually find the shop after much asking for directions and we were not only told how to get there but everyone seemed to give the shop their seal of approval. We were obviously heading to the right place. Once we bought the required ‘Papars’ and ‘Aam Papars’ we asked the owner where we could get the Salwar `Suits’ stitched. He was most helpful and sent us to Beauty Collection in Katra Jaimal Singh. Great shop, greater salesmen and much money spent.

I spent my time taking photographs of shop fronts that were so normal in Amritsar but either hilarious to us outsiders or just so caught in a time warp.

People actually use the word `backside'

At one of the places we ate (there were many) we tasted very fresh, young ginger. So, of course we had to buy ginger. One request to our Bentley rikshaw driver to take us to the best sabzi mandi or Farmers Market had us careening off to a distant suburb of Amritsar where we found a large (football field large) open air wholesale vegetable market. Farmers were steaming in carrying their produce on Tractors. The quality and quantity of vegetables was truly staggering and even though we stood out like obvious outsiders, we bought our ginger and headed back to our rikshaw. Right in front of us was a store selling pesticides and seeds. Of course we had to go in. Ten minutes later we left with two packets of seeds (bitter gourd and bottle gourd) and four bunches of saplings (tomato, chilli and brinjal) neatly packed in a damp hessian sack to keep them fresh till we re-potted them in Mumbai. The man at the stall probably thought we were a little strange talking about gamlas (pots) when all his other customers were large Sardar farmers who had fields to sow!

You cannot go to Amritsar and not go to the Golden Temple. We went the last time too. You can read about it here

I am not a `God’ man so you will not get the usual clichés from me – I felt something when I went to the Temple or I felt peace or whatever else that the religious among us feels. The Golden Temple is simply beautiful, its scale, its design its colours are all a joy to the eye. To me it’s much like the Taj Mahal, just very very beautiful. The Sikh community has put a huge amount of effort to keep the Golden Temple in such pristine shape. Of course they have the money, which Temple in India does not? That is not the question. The management of the entire process of visiting the Golden Temple is so well worked out, so well organised and such a pleasure to visit. No security checks, no horrible touts or tourist guides, no beggars, no one asking you for money. Nothing. It’s simply a pleasure to visit the Golden Temple. The well calibrated Bose public address system broadcasting devotional songs being sung live in the Harminder Sahib is a work of art by itself.

These guys were buskers inside the Temple.

You all know about the Guru Ka Langar. It is quite something. We ate there. A simple tasty Daal, a spicy potato vegetable, some rice, Chapatti and Rice Kheer is what we got. Each of these was served hot and was really tasty. No, do not ascribe divinity to this. They cook well here and with care. I walked about after the lunch and took a few photos. No security, no one to question you no one to hassle you.

Greedy guts me - half eaten chapati.

Washing up area

Chapati making



Why oh why are the Hindu temples not as much of a pleasure.

Well, why do we like Amritsar so much? It’s a cool fun place that reminds me of Europe. A beautiful monument to visit [the Golden Temple], great food, a small compact town with friendly people and a nice hotel to stay at. What more can one want really from a place? Think about it, is there any Indian city that can fulfil these criteria? Goa? No chance boss, you will be ripped by the hotels and flayed by the taxi mafia? Delhi? You must be joking? Bangalore? Chennai? Vizag? I don’t think anything compares.

Go to Amritsar. Spicejet flies directly from Mumbai.I promise you, you will come back happy. You will have eaten well and if you are a `God' man, you will have had your fill of `Him'.