The smell beckons you right from the head of Pali Road, early evening. And your mouth starts overflowing its banks, anticipating those deep-fried, golden brown, crispy-edged wadas and “rock-n-rolls”, samosas and bhajias.
Roll up, ladies and gents, Ram Lakhan beckons. The Maxim’s of fine dining at Pali Naka, way back when things like 1 Rupee notes existed. Hold on, you’ll get a table soon enough, if you push hard enough through the elite crowd thronging the entrance. Men in dhotis which get washed only if there’s a heavy downpour, banians torn at strategic locations (the first examples of ripped clothing). Mixing with the aroma of goodies frying in oil are the sweet smells of Eau de Armpite and Perspiratione No. 5.
The maitre-d’ (ok fine, a young lad in years-ago-white-now-perma-brown vest and checked almost-black boxers) guides you up, and you settle down at the sepia-toned and designer-chipped Formica table. Scrubs it ‘clean’ with a duster made out of an earlier pair of his shorts or vest.
We ask, “Hygiene hai?” He’s confused, almost checks with the kitchen, says ‘Kya?’, and we let it pass. “Pani”, we order. “Unglee kam.” Coz anyways the glasses have fingerprints on the sides, but we won’t have him dipping his fingers in them, even tho’ it’s easier to carry four glasses that way.
And then we tell him to keep the rock-n-rolls coming. Also called ‘bread’, tis but a loaf filled with potato bhaji, and the whole mess is deep-fried in channa-ka-atta. Sliced and drowned in green chutney, this is Food for the Gods. Thank God for teenage tapeworms. We used to down almost five each at a sitting, with samosas and wada-paos for company, and hot bhajias filling in the empty spaces between.
If there was a thick enough crowd, you could run down the steps and be far away before they realised you hadn’t paid the bill. The owner was busy with his curds and lassi, twirling his moustache and dropping a few hairs in for taste.
Great venue for a hungry teen – cheap, fast food. He’s moved away down the road, coz he can’t be seen in the down-market company of 5-Spice and Boat Club.
Man, we could eat in the good ol’ days. And we had some Superstar Epicures in the Colony.
Lemme take you on the Gourmet Tour that we used to do, around my area…
Balaji to Navrang for the Udipi standards. Track back to Elco for bhel puri and a dosa. Near the Post Office for samosa pao. We could do this entire tour in around 20 bucks. (Our parents laugh – “We’d pay four annas for the lot!” And our kids howl: “That’s the cost of an extra napkin at Macs!” Ah, sod off!)
Carry on… Salim’s near the station for late-night bhuna gosht – a friendly cat making love to your legs, with beggars sharing your bench. A-1 in the same area for kababs and khiri-kaleji, tongue if you were adventurous. The Chinese dude / Big Boss / Liao’s for Oriental delicacies. Cats all around (some I’m sure were part of the menu). Yankee Doodle ice-cream if your parents were in a generous mood.
MacRonell’s for the world’s best hot dogs. Andora’s, Jeff’s, A1 Bakery and Hearsch for more snacky stuff. Lucky’s for biryani, and some joints in the same area where you got rotis the size of manhole covers and handi fare (close your eyes and gorge – coz the dustbin is just outside).
And the Watering Holes! Casbah is enshrined – where the lighting was dim so you did not see the owner’s pets scurrying around, the roaches almost getting into your glass, or mixing with the masala channa and nuts. A quick LP before the last show at New Talkies made the pic more fun. Janata – the oasis in the desert. “Ya-chit” opposite Andrew’s Church, where the kheema was submerged ’neath 2 inches of oil. Deepa opposite the Goa Bus Stop, where a sweet old fart would try and get a sucker to pay for his quarter. Hotel Bandra International when you wanted to impress de wimmen, and had sold enough beer bottles and old newspapers.
Hill Road kabab wallas. Bhel wallas at strategic locations. Gola-men and sugarcane juicers. Boiled eggs and boiled gram outside the various Aunty’s. At that age, we found the hooch was pure acid and burnt you a new butthole, so we restricted. All places where we hungry fools and our money were parted – but who cared? God be praised, my belly is raised.
Most have gone to the Great Buffet in the Sky, as Bandra has exploded with countless eating joints. Cuisines from all across the world. All kinds of budgets taken care of, so you’ll never go hungry. The thrown stone don’t hit the Pereira’s pig anymore, but a strolling peanut-seller or a fancy new pig-out paradise.
And it is all good. This is heaven on earth for belt-busters like me. Ain’t no Point To Ponder in this post. Just – indulge, life is short. And if you see me racing at top speed down Pali Road, don’t tell the Ram Lakhan manager you know me.