Mumbai Rains and Chai… The Eternal Romance!

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Rains in Mumbai is not just a season. It’s like an actual person, swishing and swaying and soaking and splattering everyone in its path. But the Mumbaikar is not an easy one to subdue. Treading all kinds of water-bodies, from puddles to potholes to ditches to even ponds, he arrives at a roadside ‘tapri’ or tea stall and reaches out for a rain-soaked version of that hot, thick, sweet and milky ‘cutting chai’, served in a small ribbed glass.

A typical tea stall or ‘tapri’ in MumbaiEvery Mumbaikar worth his Vada Pav will have his or her own favourite roadside tea-stall, close to work, or home, or located on the daily route between the two. And every Mumbaikar worth his Pav Bhaji will swear by that tea stall, fiercely defending it in heated debates on ‘Mumbai’s best tapris’. Truth be told, some of the best teas are those that emerge magically from little cut-away tin windows at construction sites, that entice passers-by next to key railway stations like Dadar and Chembur, that mollify men in khakis at police stations and chowkies, and that get the seaside walkers flocking towards the casks clanging on the side of bicycles for the iconic ‘cycle chai’. But not everyone can stomach the drenching, much less the hygiene standards of these places. Does that mean you will be deprived of this all-important monsoon initiation ritual? No!

Thankfully there are a few special tea places away from the torrential rain that I can nudge you towards, and the reason why you should visit them is as varied as the monsoon itself :)

My first pick is Irani Chai served at the Iranian cafes and bakeries that dot a large part of South Mumbai. There’s Yazdani in Fort, Kyani and Sassanian in Marine Lines and Koolar & Co in Matunga. All these places offer milky tea with the inimitable combination of ‘brun-maska’ – liberally buttered, crusty bread rolls. But at Koolar, you will find the even more decadent Honey-Cheese served with your brun-maska, to bite luxuriously into along with little sips from your hot tea. Pick a marble-topped table close to the doorway, lean back into one of the curved antique wooden chairs of Polish design, and stare out into the rain, and life, as it scurries by.

The aromatic Kashmiri Kahwah Tea

Poush in Thane West or Phoenix Market City gives you a taste of pure Kashmiri tradition. Drink in the heady aromas of the Kahwah tea, fused with saffron, cinnamon, cardamom and honey, served with slivers of almond. The herb-brewed tea is a great way to toast your bones, making you feel warm and fuzzy inside when the rain refuses to let up.

At Prithvi Café in Juhu, soaking up the culture is as important as sipping from a glass of the Suleimani Chai, a black tea with lemon and mint. Slip into one of the tables close to ‘Guruji’, flautist Suhas Joshi, and soak up the soulful notes of the flute drowning out the chatter of thespians and fledgling actors alike, rising above the drumming of the rain on the temporary roof.

Tea Centre in Churchgate is an old darling. The feel is completely and undeniably colonial with silver bells to call waiters, a selection of ‘Tea Fancies’ like scones and crumbles, and, of course, a long, long list of teas from all over the country. But the one to definitely try here is the Hot Buttered Apple Tea. The delicious taste of the cloudy concoction lingers on, and long outlives the slow ‘tea room’ style service. Perfect when you are in no hurry to jump into the deluge outside!

A small place called Tapri Tea Lounge in Sion has recently joined the city’s tea bandwagon, offering a surprisingly good selection of specialty and exotic teas, including one that’s for glowing skin! If you pride yourself as a seasoned tea drinker, take up the challenge of the Truck Driver’s tea. It’s a strong and robust brew, guaranteed to keep you going through a few soaking showers!

The ‘umbrella clause’ at Mumbai’s corporate hub, Bandra Kurla Complex :)

And finally for a taste of distant lands, head to the tiny Tea Trails in BKC for international teas like Japanese Sencha and Taiwanese Bubble Tea. Pick a table facing out through the large glass windows, wrap your palms around the hot cup, and stare out at the skyline of the business district. The rain-washed glass facades of the towering buildings will stare right back at you enviously, collectively craving a ‘chai break’!

[This story was originally published on the popular and unique dining out concierge website Eazy Diner. Link here.]

Melbourne in my heart… and my coffee cup!

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Who doesn’t like a bit of fun in their food? Most of us are thrilled to be served star shaped sunny-side eggs, pancakes shaped like our favourite cartoon characters, or a fruit salad in the form of a butterfly, or maybe even a grisly, gaping shark head!

Breakfast loaded with protein, fat, vitamins and… Ironman :)

Shark Attack Salad!

It’s not just kids, ‘grown-up kids’ too love to dig into a superhero pancake, or marvel at the entire globe mapped out on a luscious red apple… or gawk unblinkingly at Lady Gaga’s hell-raising ‘meat dress’!   Someone wise once said art is everywhere you see, and if you look closely it might just be sitting atop something as humdrum as your humble coffee cup. That’s how Latte Art elevates your regular cuppa to an immersive artistic experience! Simply put, Latte Art is about making patterns on your coffee… a flower, a heart, or a smiley in white foam that sits prettily on top of your favourite cup of coffee, cajoles a little smile out of you, and dissolves away as soon as you press your lip to the brim and draw in your first tentative and thoughtful sip of the aromatic and heady goodness of coffee! But there’s nothing simple about this art. Your ‘crema’ or espresso needs to be just right, your ‘microfoam’ or hand-foamed milk needs to be just stable, the barista’s hand pouring foam out of the jar needs to be sturdy and nimble, and, most of all you, the receiver of this little piece of art, need to be patient. That’s because a simple ‘pour’ design like the classic ‘fern’, that you may have casually noticed on your cup and devoured unthinkingly, will take only a few seconds. But a more complex image like an eagle, a peacock or even Harry Potter’s bespectacled face can take several minutes to ‘etch’ out on the foam.

Your average, lidded, take-away paper cup of cappuccino doesn’t count here. What does, is a wide-brimmed, fat mug of coffee that you can sit down to for a few minutes, something you can savour for those few snatched moments of ‘pausing and smelling the flowers’ (or coffee in this case!) while the rest of the world hurtles past you… Many years ago, it was in Melbourne that I had squealed in delight and had almost fallen in love with the barista when my hard-earned cappuccino, a luxury on a student budget, arrived before me with a beautiful white foamy heart sitting prettily on it. And last week, it was Melbourne again playing with my heartstrings, showcasing its hip and happening ‘Cafe Culture’ through young Melbournian expert Ben Morrow’s Latte Art.

Ben places cups with Latte Art on Rob's paintings made using coffee liquor

Ben places cups with Latte Art on Rob’s paintings made using coffee liquor

Ben in action, etching his favourite eagle on a coffee cup

Ben in action, etching his favourite eagle on a coffee cup

Coffees and conversations never blended so seamlessly as the usual suspects of food aficionados shared special café experiences and coffee art memories. Ben pitched in with stories of his stint at the World Latte Art Championship, and then gave us a tasting of some great coffees from around the world.

Lights! Camera! Coffee! Prachi, Nikhil, Me, Ben, Varun and Rob share a much-sought after frame!

Lights! Camera! Coffee! Prachi, Nikhil, Me, Ben, Varun and Rob share a much-sought after frame!

Everyone’s favourite TV personality Rob aka Harun Robert, the smiling, energetic artist on Pogo channel’s M.A.D show, who taught millions of kids how to have fun with art and craft, came up with his own coffee art on the spot – this on canvas with a brush dipped in varying strengths of coffee liquors to create spectacular pop art out of urban scenes, in varying shades of brown and black! Well, beautiful art can smell and taste good too ;)

It’s Monkey Time in Mumbai!

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Monkey Bar is a repeat offender!

A few months ago, I had one of the most memorable evenings of my life at the outpost in Indiranagar, Bangalore. My sister Pami and I left her place, planning to take a leisurely 15 minute stroll through the quiet lanes of the neighbourhood, past the now-peaceful school building, along the softly-lit 12th Main Road to Monkey Bar for some sisterly bonding over a few (dozen?) drinks. But a minute into the walk, a sudden cloudburst caught us by complete surprise, making us run through the evening downpour, to arrive panting, soaked and giggling at the bright, happy and welcoming gates of our destination. The rest of the evening flowed in a daze of cocktails (mixing spirits be damned!), a friendly server who made us feel like princesses, and a few pops of hazy memories of my now-favourite Mobar Burger and Pami’s all-time favourite Chorizo Pav. Incidentally, I think I came to be identified as ‘That Chorizo Girl’ at the Mumbai airport security, because I HAD to carry spicy, piquant, and gorgeously aromatic Goan Chorizo Sausages for her EVERY time I visited her, for more than a decade now. Thank you Mobar for taking that errand off my hands! :)

That's the OTHER 'Chorizo Girl' ;)

That’s the OTHER ‘Chorizo Girl’ ;)

Last week, Monkey Bar hadn’t even officially opened its doors to the gastropub-hungry Mumbai crowds when it happened again! No, not the cloudburst, although heaven knows we need a shower or ten to make things just about bearable around here. But the rest of it was… ‘same same, but different!’ ;)

Teddy and I ambled into a monkey house stuffed to the gill with friends… Aditi Chakaravarty and gang at a booth here, tucking into the Kurkuri Bhindi and Butterfly Chicken, Deepti Dadlani and Ashish Chhabria hanging out at the long wooden bar, Sameer and Saloni Malkani, and Bhisham enjoying the fun of choosing funky drinks off the wall menu, a bunch of 8 squeezing around a table for 2, sipping on the signature Copper Monkey and waving wildly at us to say ‘get over here NOW!’, another quieter bunch hanging out in the outside area, ciggies winning over sweat for now, a few more working up an appetite at the Foosball table, and last but not the least, the gang of heavyweights – Chef Ranveer Brar, Rushina M Ghildiyal, Kalyan Karmakar, and the star of the evening, Chef and co-owner Manu Chandra, all toasting the arrival of this monkey business in Bandra :)

Hangin' a toast to the newest Monkey in town... with Chef Manu Chandra, Rushina and Chef Ranveer

Hangin’ a toast to the newest Monkey in town… with Chef Manu Chandra, Rushina and Chef Ranveer

Bandra only yo!... with Gaurav Sharma, Kalyan Karmakar and Riaan George

Bandra only yo!… with Gaurav Sharma, Kalyan Karmakar and Riaan George

And, like that trippy night in Bangalore, this night too tripped by in the company of new friends Mangaa, Don Drapper, Ginger Rogers and Shazia Imli (truly amazing cocktails these, mixing spirits be damned again!). A few pops of hazy memories are surfacing now… of deliciously spicy Galouti Killers and burst-in-the-mouth Adhunik Panipuris. And also the friendly, omni-present host Sidhesh who made it his business to fuss over Teddy and me all night!

Butterfly Chicken at MONKEY BAR  IMG_9384 Copper Monkey @Monkey Bar - Photo Credit Kunal Chandra

So how does that make Monkey Bar the repeat offender, you ask? Because, with the friendly neighbourhood bar opening its doors bang in the middle of my friendly neighbourhood, it looks like there will be many repeats of offenses like these in the near future! :)

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