Mumbai – City of Undaunted Spirits and exploring Colaba

MUMBAI ON THE GO….

“And at the moment of contact, they do not know if the hand that is reaching for theirs belongs to a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Brahmin or an untouchable or whether you were born in this city or arrived only this morning or whether you live in Malabar Hill or New York or Jogeshwari; whether you’re from Bombay or Mumbai or New York. All they know is that you’re trying to get to the city of dreams, and that’s enough. Come on board, they say. We’ll adjust”.

Mumbai has a unique history. Pre 16th century, it was made up of seven separate islands – Colaba, Mazagaon, Old Woman’s Island, Wadala, Mahim, Parel and Matunga-Sion. In 1662, these islands came into British possession from the Portuguese as a wedding gift when Prince Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza, daughter of the then Portuguese king. Over the centuries, these islands have been connected together by land into the single bulk of Mumbai that exists today. More land is being reclaimed to house the ever-growing population.

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Fountain

Mumbai – an abode of an estimated 20+ million people, most of them immigrants from other parts of India. What drives people from various states in India towards Mumbai is the ample job opportunities and fast-paced life. It is said that no one can ever go hungry in the city as there is always some kind of a job for people to do. Also, it is considered easiest to earn money in the city. People often reach dizzying heights of success and richness. People from rural areas come to Mumbai to pursue their dreams, mostly of becoming a film star or a cricketer or even a politician or businessman. This has provided Mumbai with the title of ‘The City of Dreams’.

The diversity in Mumbai is enormous. On one hand there are posh areas like Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Lokhandwala, Walkeshwar, etc. where the rich and famous live in swanky apartments and bungalows. While on the other, there is Dharavi, the biggest slum in the whole world. The suburbs of Mumbai, from Bandra to Virar, houses the huge number of middle class Mumbai residents. Even in the nights, there is movement, whether in the form of discotheques and pubs or the omnipresent auto-rickshaw drivers plying the roads all through the night.

Life in Mumbai is extremely hectic and that is why they say the City Never Sleeps.

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COLABA

The place I was born and raised.  I am always nostalgic about this place and certainly biased! Living in Colaba was considered prestigious and I luckily happened to be one living in this area 😉

Colaba is one of the best places for street (rasta) shopping, eating, chilling, walking by the Gateway of India and taking in what old and new Mumbai has to offer. The Causeway (aka the main street) is filled with cafes, bars, budget restaurants and expensive places with quality food and beer.

The Gateway of India is one of the monuments which has stood tall since the British Raj in India.  Though the Gateway was built in order to monumentalize the British Rule in India, it is now majorly used as a tourist spot and has become one of the most important sights for tourists who come to Mumbai.

Visiting the Gateway is always a crazy experience as the crowd in the place is always lively and amazingly varied, people from all the walks of life can be seen here. While for some it is just another tourist spot, for some it is a place from where they earn their daily bread. The place always has an array of photographers who welcome you and promise you to provide a memory of a lifetime. Moreover, there are also people who sell different things such as bhelpuri, cotton candies, balloons etc. Try visiting this place just before the sunset and you will surely admire the place a lot more.

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Horse Car ride @ Gateway of India

This glittering ride can be found only at one place all through out the city – In Colaba. Take a trip all around Colaba in this unusual ride. 

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Besides the Gateway of India, there is also one of the most famous and luxurious hotels in India, known as Taj Hotel which is also a famous tourist spot in Mumbai.

A large number of tourists, both National and International visit this place frequently. Also, as the place provides a great view a lot of news channels send their journalists to do their stories which requires a strong audience. The footfall of tourists has increased a lot after the infamous 26/11 attacks which took place in Mumbai. The people who visit this place are always interested in seeing the place from where the terrorists had entered the city.

In the end, I would like to say that both Gateway  and the Taj must be explored whenever you are in Mumbai because it is a place which provides you with a lot of extra added benefits. It has a historical, a geographical and also a cultural aspect attached to it.

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Colaba Causeway

Colaba Causeway (known just as Causeway by the locals) – which to many is the centre of the culture and spirit of Mumbai. It is here that you can find a variety of eateries – from the posh restaurants to the street vendors serving local delights – to varied shopping destinations, to various art galleries. Besides, the best hotels in town are a stone’s throw away from here, ensuring a steady supply to foreign tourists around here.

The Causeway was built by the British East India Company in the 1830’s, to connect the island of Colaba to the others that made up the great city of Bombay.  When the Causeway was completed in 1838, it established itself, and Bombay (now Mumbai), as the centre of commerce in the region.  Colaba Causeway was Bombay’s elitist  area  in those  days.

Probably one of the most famous shopping stop for the majority of Mumbaikars, Colaba Causeway is a colorful stretch of a huge number of items that range from small and sundry articles like beads, slippers, chains, faux leather purses and artificial jewelry to everyday commodities like fancy kurtas, designer handicrafts and items made of jute, wood and cane as also antique items like hookah and gramophones. The road stretching  from Regal cinema to Colaba market is a paradise for shoppers.  Evenings (just before the shops close) is the best time to negotiate at the Causeway.

After browsing through the market, you can either relish a cup of refreshing drink from Café Leopold or savor the cool breeze of the Arabian by taking a walk on the street outside the Taj Hotel.

Café Mondegar, along with the equally famous cousin Café Leopold were started by Irani immigrants, when Mumbai was still a small trading town, with fishing and shipping being a major occupation of the people in this part of town. These two iconic establishments have now come to signify the major landmarks of the Causeway.

Strand (where I live) is right in the midst of Colaba market which sells variety of vegetables and fruit (both exotic and local). Fish is procured from the nearby Sassoon Dock.

So what did I do during my recent trip to Mumbai in Dec/Jan 2016?

Christmas in Colaba

December is the season to celebrate and enjoy the Christmas cheer! Christmas happens to be my favorite time of the year. In India, Christmas may not be one of the most exuberantly celebrated festivals, as opposed to our Hindu festivals. However, certain parts of India, such as Goa, Kolkata and the North East, with great Christian populations, celebrate Christmas in full swing. You may be surprised that even Mumbai has some fun surprises up its sleeve during the holiday season.

Here are a few things that I do to celebrate Christmas.

 

Christmas sweets:
In the weeks preceding Christmas, Christmas sweets are made in every catholic household.  Usually the mother is in charge of this sphere of Christmas and the children who could also be young adults, help her out.  There could be 10 to 15 different types of sweets and cakes.   In the beginning everyone gleefully helps out and the activities involved seem like fun chores. Some of the activities include using something like combs in order to create snail looking sweets called “Curls Curls” which are later deep fried; or colouring marzipans and using molds to make them look like santas, shells, stockings and so on.  The craftier among us put different coloured marzipans in each mold so that each marzipan looks more realistic.  There are a wide variety of sweets made including marzipans, milk cream, guava cheese, chocolate fudge, snowballs, date rolls, sweet puffs, curl curls, cookies, walnut-drop, plum cake, coconut cake, Christmas pudding and so on.

The Christmas sweets are made for everyone in the family including guests visiting the household, in the weeks immediately prior to Christmas, up until a few weeks into the New Year.  Many Indian Catholics are of the belief that the various preparations involved prior to Christmas make one feel the spirit of Christmas more strongly.

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Before Christmas little children and adults go around the neighbourhood and sing Christmas carols at selected catholic households although in more recent times this fad seems to be fading.   We also decorate our houses fairly richly with Christmas decorations.

On Christmas morning, we Catholics don smart clothing and distribute Christmas sweets to our neighbours in our building plus a few other friends.  We are usually more generous with sweets with our non-christian neighbours as they do not normally make these kinds of sweets, moreover our Christian neighbours would have made their own set of Christmas sweets. Sometimes there is a little bit of social envy between catholics over whose sweets are tastier!! 🙂

Midnight Mass:
This city has a dynamic Catholic community, scattered in parts all across. Thus, many of the churches light up for midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and are most definitely worth visiting.

If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas in Mumbai, the city has a vibrant Catholic community, with numerous churches where you can attend a midnight mass. Since I live in Colaba we attend midnight mass at the Holy Name Cathedral.  Also known as Wodehouse Church, the opulent Holy Name Cathedral was built to replace the older one in nearby Bhuleshwar, and is decorated with an array of artwork. It opened its doors for worship in 1905.

A full ceremonial Christmas mass is held for around 3,000 people. The Cathedral Choir starts singing carols at 9.30 p.m., and the mass gets underway at 10 p.m to finish around mid-night.

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Post midnight mass we always make it a point to eat at one of our favorite eatery next to the Church i.e. Delhi Darbar followed by sugarcane juice at Canteena or Varanasi Juice Centre and usually walk home via Gateway.

Burning Old Man on New Year’s eve:

As the New Year approaches, there is so much to leave behind and let go off before the old year ends. And what better way to do this than to bring in the new year by burning the old man.  This tradition is passed on from the older single boys to the younger boys who pick up the threads once the previous lot marry and settle down.

The work on the dummy begins a day or two before New Year’s eve and is usually done by a group of neighborhood friends. It is always a self-initiated project and the only direction they receive is from the older boys.  The dummy is made up of straw and fully clothed with donated shirts, pants and fashion accessories. There is usually a theme to design the old man along with quirky elements that reflects the mood of it’s creators. Almost every neighborhood has its own ‘old man’ so sometimes it can get competitive 😉

The highly celebrated Nasik Dhol, a special form of rhythmic music played with the big drums or locally known as dhols makes everyone dance on it’s magical beats, followed by the burning of the effigy at midnight.

Having grown up in Colaba, I’ve been accustomed to seeing this happen every year, however its popularity is waning.

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Ballard Estate Festival (2016)

Mumbai’s Ballard Estate, one of the places in South Mumbai located right next to the Mumbai fort, is a 100 year old neighbourhood known for British lineage and architecture. For the first time, Ballard Estate and the Mumbai Port Trust (MPT) in partnership with Ferriswheel Entertainment organised the Mumbai Ballard Estate Festival 2016 (MBEF), a festival that celebrates Mumbai and the spirit of Mumbaikars.  100 kiosk stalls display art, food, kitsch products and a lot of other interesting things. The festival also features an art display along with various music performances.  All the images below are of the pre-setup.

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My nephew managed to pull some strings and book a tour of SJ Studios at the last minute. We drove to S.J. Studio in Andheri from Colaba. This is a large studio where Bollywood production houses shoot their movie scene.  The property is spread over 100,000 sq feet of area and 14 shooting floors along with empty floors and countless permanent sets and props.

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SJ Studios offers an authentic Bollywood tour to its visitors. Lavish bungalows, real life like hospitals, conference rooms, a police station along with real jail cells are just a few of the many sights on offer at this sprawling establishment.  We managed to see the shooting of the popular bollywood teleserial “Yeh Hai Mohabattein” which was exciting.

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And the three of us killing time in between replicating the drama in these Bollywood teleserials 🙂

20151226_16285720151226_16351220151226_163805_001We were then taken to their gallery full of movie posters, autograph, statue of Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Amitabh Bachan etc…

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SJ Studios also houses a mini theatre where once can see how VFX sound and special effects are created and used while making a movie along with a short film titled ‘Tribute to Bollywood’.  The tour would have been incomplete without a traditional Bollywood dance routine so it gave me immense joy to see some well choreographed dance numbers. The dancers were so good, it’s such a shame to know that they do not enjoy the recognition they truly deserve! The dancers requested us to join in and me being such a die-hard Bollywood fan willingly obliged 🙂 

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They have a good collection of movie posters plastered all across the walls of their studio grounds.

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We ended this fun trip with some amazing samosas and chai in their cafetaria.

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Exterior of the cafetaria
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Interior of the cafetaria.  Walls adorned with pics of all the Bollywood superstars!

Where do I eat?

Deciding what to eat in Mumbai is like trying to pick a favourite song, every option comes with its own special memories.  I’d like to mention some of my favourite Mumbai street food followed by some of my favorite restaurants.

Mumbai & street food are inseparable.  Mumbai’s street food was born of the need for quickly put-together food that was cheap and satisfying. Stories about the creation of some of these delights are now urban legend, such as the one about pav bhaji  being invented as midnight sustenance, thrown together from leftover vegetables mashed up to disguise their mixed breed, spiced up and served with a couple of pavs for workers coming off the night shift. The vada pav itself is born of a marriage of the Maharashtrian batata vada and the Portugese-origin pav, the union blessed with an anointing of spicy chutney. 

If you’ve ever wondered what keeps a city like Mumbai going, you can find the answer in her streets.

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Keeri pav at Yunus, Nariman Point – as night falls, skewers clink together as they begin briskly grilling meat to melting softness and where every flavor comes together in one heavenly mouthful!
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Chana masala at a stall near Yunus, Nariman point with loads of butter, garnished with the essential flavor of the human touch
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Mutton biryani and succulent chicken tikka – the union blessed with raw onion and spice powder
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Masala soda – trust Mumbai to turn a regular soda into a spicy one.  I can never have enough of this!

The next few pics are from Chowpatty Beach, which is famous for its variety of fast foods. The beach gets really packed at night with young people, families, locals, tourists, etc. and kind of resembles a carnival or fair with a lot happening all at once.  There are a number of food vendors strewn all across the beach and then many stalls all at one corner with every kind of food imaginable – bhelpuri, papdi chaat, paani puri, vada pav, wok noodles, paneer pressed sandwiches, etc

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I believe these guys serve the best kulfis in Chowpatty.  Always been to this one so cannot comment on the others!
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My son was in awe of the stall owner’s moustache 🙂
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Street food stalls on Chowpatty beach in Mumbai offer a variety of favorite snacks like sev puri, bhel puri, paani puri, pav bhaaji etc…
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Colorful goals in Chowpatty – kala khatta flavor being my all time favorite!

On my recent trip to Mumbai, my nephew took me to this exclusive old Parsi resto Britannia & Co. which I was given to understand has been serving people with pride since 1923. This place is historic, iconic and one amongst the last few remnants of Heritage styled Irani – Parsi cafeteria. The place is owned by an old yet young guy Mr.Boman Kohinoor (Age 95 years) and now in the able hands of the third generation, still whipping up food influenced by the family’s Iranian and Parsi roots. The staff, again, pretty old and seem to be a part of Britannia past many decades. The ambiance is pretty vintage and immediately captures our mind as in what would have been the culture and tradition during British era. Not much has changed it seems; including the Bentwood furniture imported from Poland during the eatery’s early years. The timings of the Cafe is still as those of early eras, 11:30 am to 4:00 pm.

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Three words to describe the food – Authentic, Traditional, Delicious!!!  Their Berry palav is a must try!
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My niece enjoying her raspberry soda 🙂

The Village  – subtitled “The Soul of India” located in Cuffe Parade
This Cuffe Parade eatery is colourful, garish, noisy and is not air-conditioned. We booked this venue for a family Christmas lunch.  The way to the main door is lit up nicely, and the path is flanked by counters on the wall where they’ve created a village ambience. We walked past walls decorated with glass bangles, faux cow dung hanging from threads, tyres from cars and Bollywood photos and through the multi-coloured gate into the restaurant reception. We were actually in a modified outdoor location! Rows of serving areas lay all around us on the sides of the central, open area. We went around examining the various items on the menu as well as the interesting decor. There are areas made to look like village locations. Thus, we have a Billoo barber shop, a Laddis teller shop :-), and several other similar areas.  There was also a baraf-gola and drinks station, jalebi station,  barbeque and rotis station, plus the usual veg and non-veg table each. Of course, there was a chaat and pani-puri stall as well.  Rs. 600 for an unlimited meal, this is probably the best location in south Mumbai for fun outing with the family!

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Steam irons used by our dhobis had mouth fresheners in them, interesting concept!

The Bombay Canteen
Eating out today is as much about the experience as the food. For some reason we find comfort in the familiar, both in terms of food and surroundings. The relatively newly opened Bombay Canteen in Kamala Mills on the same stretch of road on High Street Phoenix fits the bill perfectly.  It’s a breath of fresh air on the eating out scene in the city.  I loved the decor – the ‘Club goes hep’ bar, the Freny aunty tiles and the comfortable but not five star seating.  It offers much more than an Irani café in terms of food and in surroundings which are far more ‘cool’ than a Bombay club.  

The Bombay Canteen is a deceptive name.  The food is not really about Bombay at all.  They call themselves an ‘Indian Café’ and because of the background of the four partners, you literally have home-style dishes from around India with a lot of the menu from Goa and the South with a Gujju veggie component thrown in.  They had some interesting Christmas menu which we divulged in.  The Bombay Canteen has certainly become one of my favourite places to hang in the city so the next time I am in Mumbai I will be back here -always want to hang out where there is great ambience and great food!.

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Another favorite of mine is The Pantry Cafe in Fort area.  I always make it a point to visit this place when I am in Mumbai. With lace curtains and white interiors, this is one of the prettiest cafes in Mumbai. It’s quiet on most days, which makes it an ideal place to work, have meetings or read a book. There’s Wi-Fi and plug points near all the tables. The coffee looks lovely and tastes even better. Their cold coffee is a great alternative to dessert and goes down well after a meal from their extensive food menu.

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hahahaha! interesting way to take your money 🙂

Another restaurant I  visited during my Christmas vacation needs a mention.  We celebrated a family birthday party at British Brewing Company (BBC).  This outlet is located inside Palladium Mall and is 2 floored. It’s very spacious and the ambiance is a little rustic.  They have chairs which resemble old time, walls are filled with photo frames that have golden lining. It has a big Centric bar which dispenses the quality and quantity drinks to the entire outlet. They have many options for all people starting from tit bits to kebabs to sandwich to wraps to curries to desserts.A perfect place to have a party with your gang which is what we did!

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My other favorite eating joints would be Kailash Parbat that sell great Punjabi and Sindhi snacks and delicious vegetarian food. Finish it off with some Falooda, sweet lassi, hot jalebi with cold rabdi and my all time favorite – gulab jamun! 

The best tandoori food in Mumbai can be relished at Bade Miyan.  “Legendary” is the apt description for this place. Bade Miyan is for those who missed the last order elsewhere. It has been filling hungry stomach for years. Located in the seedy gully behind the Taj Mahal hotel, Bade Miyan only operates post dusk out of a street side stall.  It is the only street side joint in Mumbai city which has been allowed to exist legally. Their baida roti, kababs and rolls, which are their forte are out of this world. The best part is that the taste is always the same whether it is 2 a.m. at night on a weekday or 7 p.m. on a weekend. 

Cafe Paradise is another one of my favorite eatery, just opposite Kailash Parbat.  It is an old and famous Parsi eating joint. Don’t miss their Parsi daily specials. They have a good selection of deserts.

New Martin is yet another restaurant in Colaba which serves very cheap and good Goan food. Great deal if you are on a budget. Try and go there as early in the evening as possible. 

Another great place in Colaba for foodies is Delhi Darbar, a joint where you can feed on really good traditional Mughlai and North Indian cuisines. The food that they serve is lip smacking. The ambience is warm and cozy and the service is great. Biryani is the King here. This qualifies for the perfect Colaba place that one should surely give a try.

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Have a bite of the loved and extremely popular masala pan (sweet paan with no tobacco)

The iconic kheema (minced mutton)/pav and kheema ghotala (minced meat with scambled egg)/pav at Olympia in Colaba. My brother in law is a sweetheart, he ensures we wake up to the sight of this amazing dish in the comfort of our home so yes 90% of the time this is my favorite breakfast while in Colaba!

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Chocolate loaded cake, green tea and capuccino at CCD in Colaba – my husband and I burn the midnight oil here, relaxed place to hangout!

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Theobroma – The name itself suggests the richness of this place, Theobroma means the “Food of the Gods”. After all the hustle bustle and spicy meaty food, Theobroma is the best place to top it off with some mouth-watering pastries and cakes. The desserts that they make are just beautiful. You will regret missing them if you are somewhere in Colaba. One can keep exploring the dishes till they last as each one of them brings a different memory.

Then there are the Irani bakeries like Kyani for brun, bun maska and chai.

Do you remember a time in your childhood when you went to the circus or to Bandra fair? I do, and I loved the novelty of eating candyfloss with fresh popcorn and jaggery sweets as we explored the fair. Since going to a gaming arena with friends is the cooler thing to do these days, Smaaash has figured out a way to combine nostalgia with adrenaline. The gaming hub’s brand new carnival themed café made us feel a few years younger and a lot happier! The food menu is focussed on global favourites with indulgent finger food and bar snacks, Indian and Asian mains and a dessert selection that will give you a sugar rush.

 

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Where do I shop?

Colaba Causeway
The everyday carnival that is the Colaba Causeway market is a shopping experience like no other in Mumbai. As soon as you step onto the street your senses will be bombarded from every angle with colour, scent and glittering silver. Geared especially towards tourists, that infamous Indian saying of “sab kuch milega” certainly applies at this market. The stalls that line the pavement sell everything from hippy clothes to counterfeit watches to animal shaped purses. The stalls face onto their slightly more permanent counterparts in the form of boutiques selling a menagerie of items similar to that on the stalls as well as the odd antique. Anyone brave enough to dodge through the speeding wall of traffic to the other side of the street will find the western influence and air-conditioned delight of high street favourites such as  United Colours of Benetton and Nike. Bargaining is the best advice you will get while in Colaba Causeway. Haggle as much as you can, you will never end up paying less. If you need a break from shopping, pop into Leopold’s Cafe or Cafe Mondegar, two well known Mumbai hangouts.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. It seems that this blog is written after a thorough search on Mumbai and trust me it was worth reading. I came across such events, which I was not at all aware of…..very well written.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. linette dsouza says:

    Beautiful… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Danny Sequeira says:

    Patsy you have an appetite to write very well and I have an appetite to read especially of Bombay the place of my birth too. It was nice getting very nostalgic especially about the food places. A favorite of mine apart from Olympia, Bade Miya, Martin’s is Saiba Gomantak on SV road in Bandra and Mahesh Lunch Home. A sequel to your blog could perhaps include Chor Bazaar, Mohamed Ali Road, Crawford Market including Badshah, Linking road, Bandstand, and the Bandra fair and off course the picnics to Gorai. The list can go on and on of fond memories of a time gone by. Must try out the new places you mentioned next time I am in Bombay.

    Patsy keep writing. You have a flair for it. . our very own Anthony Bourdain. Cheers to Mumbai where it all began for some of us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for the constant motivation! Completely agree, this is just the beginning and will write a sequel soon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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