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Day 12 – Trip to India – Some planning tips and Departure through Mumbai

Day 12 started a full day of travel to return to Los Angeles.  We started in Goa and were leaving through Mumbai.  We had a few hours in Mumbai and finally had a chance to explore Bandra.  We checked out a few retail stores and tried a delicious western meal at Indigo.

We booked our trip to India through Kensington Tours.  It’s an expensive way to travel.  In the past I’ve always booked my own travel.  The experience was great.  We were greeted by a guide in every city and had an arranged driver who spoke English.  In addition to the logistic guides Kesington arranged to take care of our transfers from airports and hotels, we had a professional tour guide nearly every single day to either take us through historic sites such as those in Jaipur or Agra, or show us the living city as we did in Mumbai.  I recommend booking an India tour through Sunita at Kensington Tours.

If you want to book your tour on your own then I recommend checking out the Love tour guides selection of guides for the luxury vagabond Love Travel Guides  Guides currently exist for:

  • Love Delhi
  • Love Mumbai
  • Love Jaipur
  • Love Goa
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Categories: Bombay, India, Mumbai

Day 8 – Trip to India – Eating like a local in Mumbai while sampling flavors from around the country

I’m fortunate enough that one of my friends put me in touch with Reshmy author of http://bombaychowparty.com/.  She planned a survey of food from different regions of India:  Maharashtan (state in which Mumbai is located), food from Southern India, and Bengali food (from Bengal located on the Northeast coast of India against the Bay of Bengal).  We also stopped at Juhu Beach to walk around the chaat stalls.

The focus of our first stop was to sample Misal Pav. The preparation of this dish by our destination restaurant won an award earlier this year as being one of the best vegetarian meals I the world. Reshmi said she was a little skeptical that the dish could be claimed the best tasting vegetarian meal I the city given how much competition there is I the terms of options for vegetarian plates. Whereas Erin and I were not familiar with the dish, Reshmi had had the dish elsewhere many times. The restaurant is very popular and we waited 30 minutes for our table. We made the most of it by ordering about 10 dishes:

Misal Pav

Sabudana Wada – a fried “tapioca dumpling” which was our favorite, similar in concept to Chinese sesame seed dumplings had with dim sum

Thalipeeth

Kulfi Falooda – Kulfi is similar to ice cream and tips the Falooda which is a sweet drink in itself with a sweet, extra fine noodle and tapioca

Kharwas is another dessert it is steam colustrum milk which is the milk drawn from a new mommy cow

Our second stop was for traditional breakfast foods from Kerala. We had Upma that was perfectly prepared, I’ll describe it as a king’s “cream of wheat” the preparation was perfect in texture and temperature and achieved from decades of making the dish exactly the same way tens of thousands of times. Semolina is the grain used in this dish.

Rava Dosa – Wowza! What a dosa. This is a crispy dosa. A dosa is similar to a western crepe. It is flavored with  chopped curry leaves, coriander leaves, onions,green chilies and cashew nuts.

Neer (water) Dosa is a thin, silk-like dosa made of a thin batter. It was quite a treat

Masala Dosa – the masala (in this food a spiced potato and onion filling) was better than in any of the five star hotels in which we’ve stayed

Paan Poli is a dense sweet made of eggs, milk, and coconut milk that has been condensed

We then went to Juhu beach to see the waves – the ocean waves, the waves of clothed indian tourists entering the waves, and the waves of chaat coming from the beach snack stands. Our friend and hotel advised us against ordering street food during the monsoons. However when we told the butler at the Taj that we were interested in street food he had the kitchen prepare an excellent selection of snacks so we were able to have:

Vada Pav the king of Mumbai street food. Pav is a fluffy roll available from the Portuguese influence. Vada is a mashed potato veggie burger. The dish is the size of a “slider”. A masala (spice sauce) or chutney is spread on the bun

Dahi (cream) Puri. Puri is a crispy, mouth sized bowl about twice the diameter of your thumb. In this case the little bowl is filled with cream. One of my favorites

Bhel Puri – uses the same rice batter but in this case the Puri is flat instead of bowl shaped. Westerners will think it looks like a mini taco salad because the thin, crispy noodles on top looks like shredded cheddar cheese and the cream looks like sour cream

Pani Puri – a favorite Mumbaiker dish is not one of my personal favorites. In this preparation of the bowl shaped puri you pour a tamarind water into the puri immediately before popping it in your mout

Bhaji Pav. Bhaji is a dish/sauce prepared my smashing an assortment of vegetables and stewing into a sauce. It looks like tomato sauce primarily because of the curry powder added even though it will also contain tomatoes. At the beach every bhaji stand has a large circular griddle about 2.5 feet in diameter that will be half covered in a thin layer of bhaji that can be pulled toward the hottest central part of the slightly concave griddle to hear an individual serving. It is served with griddles Pav (bread). There are about a dozen ways to order the dish and any Angeleno will feel they are having an In N’ Out secret menu experience

We briefly stopped at the posh Indigo Deli in Andheri for fancy cocktails before heading to our final dining place, a Bengali restaurant.

sorsebata ilish mach Hilsa’ fish is the highlight of the local cuisine. The fish is marinated with turmeric and delicately simmered in a mustard-poppy seed paste along with the five-spice mix (panch phoron).

Lamb marinated in the comforting flavour of yogurt and cooked in mustard oil along with mustard seeds, almonds and castor sugar that adds a sweet undertone

Doi machch is a comforting fish curry. Tender chunks of fish are cooked in the soothing flavor of yogurt along with mild spices. It tastes best when served with plain rice.

Baigun Bajja is pan fried eggplant

Bengali fried prawns

Bengali fish curry

I sourced the Bengali descriptions fromhttp://m.food.ndtv.com/lists/10-best-bengali-recipes-695796. I wrote the others myself. For other food links try:

Maharashtra Food http://m.food.ndtv.com/lists/10-best-maharashtrian-recipes-695953

Kerala Food http://m.food.ndtv.com/lists/10-best-kerala-recipes-705255

What to eat in Mumbai, written by the friend who planned our food tour: http://m.food.ndtv.com/opinions/blog-10-meals-you-must-have-in-mumbai-705431

Categories: Bombay, food, India, Mumbai

Day 7 – Trip to India – Making a living in the city

Day 7 - Mumbai - Dabiwallah
We started our day in an expensive hotel and ended our day with a tour through the industrial production centers of Dharavi.
We joined our guide and drove past the same architectural sights we viewed the prior day. We first stopped at C.S.T. the final terminal from the train. We wanted to see the activity of people getting around Mumbai by train. Our guide takes the train everyday and said overall it’s a pleasant experience. However when we spoke to friends who could afford private transport they told us they have ridden the trains but tend not to. It sounds a little bit better for woman who have their own cars on each train. The terminal is busy.
We next went to see the activity of the acclaimed dalawallahs that deliver mumbaikers home prepared hot lunches. The management of the complex transfers is impressive, but the scale of the number of tiffiins (steel lunch containers) underwhelmed me. I had imagined towers six feet high of tiffiins building as deliveries came off the train and were stacked for office delivery. Instead only one layer of tiffiins is assembled and this is done on a spread out manner.
Here is how the service works. You set up a recurring dalawallah service. Everyday thereafter a man will arrive at an appointed time to pick up the tiffin that you or your spouse has prepared or packed that morning. Alternatively, you can hire a caterer who prepared the meal. These collection appointments happen in the morning throughout the city and its distant suburbs. Your tiffin has a unique code that each person on the logistics chain will recognize by mode and know how to route to the next leg of the journey. Let’s say you do live in the suburbs, 90 minutes away from your office. The person who received your tiffin will hang it on his handlebars, along with the other 60 he is collecting that morning. He will bike to your local train station and hand off his load to a man who will accompany it to the train stop closest to your office. Your  tiffin will arrive at the station between 11:30 and 11:45. The dalawallah will take his lot of 60 tiffiins, including yours and drop each tiffin in an appointed spot destined for a different destination. Your tiffin will be removed from the lot that left your neighborhood and be gathered with a new lot that is destined for the area around your office. Between 11:45 and 12:00 pm the porters completing the final leg of the journey will collect the newly assembled lots and take their 60 tiffiins to their individual destinations. Your tiffin will arrive before the traditional lunch hour of 1pm. You will be able to enjoy the fresh meal prepared that morning and the steel case (and optional insulation package lunch sack) we’ll have kept your lunch hot/warm and ready to enjoy. An Indian would not think of “heating up” a dish in microwave.
That afternoon, your tiffin will take the reverse route home and be ready to be washed and cleaned (by you) for the next day’s use.
We took a driving tour after witnessing this logistics miracle which has received Six Sigma certification meaning they make less than 1 error in 1 million transactions.
Our driving tour went to and through Malabar Hills. On the way we past the beach. I asked my guide it we were passing Chowpatty Beach. She lifed amusedly but excused herself and would not tell me why she laughed. It was not until the next day that my Indian friend explained that chowpatty is the Hindi word for beach.
We stopped at the hanging gardens atop Malabar Hill. I had forgotten that the garden is called hanging because the land itself is cantilevered and hangs to cover a local water reservoir. I imagined instead a garden of tropical mosses, ferns, and bromeliads. It is instead flowers and shrubbery well laid out. There are fantastic views of the city on the opposite side of the street.
The Jain temple I visited 10 years ago has closed to non-Jains as some tourists had rudely defiled the temple by wearing leather and not removing their shoes. It was too much for the Jain community to bear and they subsequently shut the temple to all non-worshippers.
We also saw the world’s most expensive $2 Billion private home

Day 7 - Mumbai - a $2 Billion quote house quote
We stopped to observe the cities washermen or dhobis at dhobi ghat. Here in over 800 small concrete tins men wash and scrub the coarsest and finest fabrics for rupees.
We next went to the industrial quarter of the Dhatavi, largest slum in Mumbai. I was apprehensive of walking around the area before arriving. Even though we were going with a guide I expected my presence as a relatively affluent westerner would be an affront or at least a nuisance. This I was surprised wen our presence did not even raise one eyebrow. The tour goes through narrow lanes of what is essentially a factory of 1000 production centers that generate $1 billion a year for businesses with workman doing unskilled and skilled jobs in unregulated conditions.
It felt like a microeconomics course. We saw production (mostly through recycled materials) of plastic and steel for industrial purposes, textiles, furniture , and cardboard boxes I the small section we toured for 2 hours. Our guide has been visiting and leadingn tours through this working portion of the slum.  It would be imposing to walk through the residential areas. That makes sense, it’s one thing to have visitors in a public space, but completely different to allow visitors into your private life. As a measure of the lack of regulation, no one prevents anyone from entering what in the U.S. would be considered to be a factory. This is a very cottage industry scale of production. There are not many machines and those there are are built and maintained on premises.
We had the juxtaposition of leaving Dharavi and returning to the most expensive hotel in the city to nap beside a giant pool in a city where every square foot of space is precious. We had dinner plans with a classmate from Duke who is Indian but only recently moved to Mumbai. He works as controller or financial executive at an investment bank, yet another juxtaposition between the many jobs I learned about during the day.
We refreshed put on dinner clothes and fancy shoes to meet up with my classmate at Trishna for dinner. We walked to the restaurant and on our way stopped at Cafe Mondegsr for a beer.
Trishna is one of the best restaurants in Mumbai. It is a seafood restaurant and prepares dishes inspired by all the different regions of India. We were able to discuss the current politics, economy and philosophies and goals of 20 year olds entering the workforce over dinner. The conversation and dinner were excellent. We enjoyed deep fried chili prawns, a pomfret prepare in a Hyderabadi style as appetizers and a Konkan shrimp preparation in chili sauce and a local crab in a bitter and garlic sauce. Feasted as sea kings.
We strolled home and plumply fell asleep.

Categories: Bombay, India, Mumbai

Day 6 – Trip to India – Mumbai – Taj Mahal Palace

Day 8 - Mumbai - Taj Mahal Palace (our hotel)We departed Varanasi for Mumbai. The first night was filled with checking into th Taj Mahal Palace in Colaba, going for a walking tour of the British Heritage district that Erin self-led, and having dinner at Golden Dragon in our hotel.
If you plan to stay at the Colaba Taj, I recommend asking for a Sea Harbor View room I the original palace hotel instead of seeking a room in the tower built in the 1970s. The hallways turn a walk to your room into a fascinating stroll as each hallway is minimally arranged with antique furniture, paintings, and sculptures. The rooms are roomy with a combination of marble and hardwood floors. Best of all of you have a Sea Harbor View room you can sit in the comfort of your room and gaze at the Gateway to India in the square below.
The walking tour Erin led was the first time we had ventured out in our own. We did so I the poshest of neighborhoods. Normally, we manage all of our own travel arrangements. This time we booked through Kensingtom tours and they filled our days with guided explorations which superceded the need to explore on our own. This first excursion was focused on seeing the grandeur of British colonial architecture in Colaba. We also stopped in to a famous cafe , Leopoldt’s for a beer.

Day 8 - Mumbai - Mandatory pic in front of Gateway to India

Categories: Bombay, India, Mumbai