Chembur, a place where my mother was born and brought up, obviously holds a very special place in my heart. I have many fond memories of the times when our school holidays were all about visiting our naani’s home and being pampered by grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. During Ganpati festival, my maasi (Mother’s sister), aunts, cousins and few people from their neighborhood would take us out for pandal hopping, post dinner. Starting from small pandals in close vicinity we would visit distant ones, for Ganpati darshan, including the one in Rk studio with anticipation of spotting some bollywood celebrities there.
For summer vacations our plans would be almost same every year. Spending major chunk of our vacation in Chembur was mandatory and we would thoroughly enjoy our stay. The old world charm of the chawls, where my grandparents stayed was strikingly similar to that shown in Sai Paranjpe’s movie, katha (starring Naseeruddin Shah, Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval). Small but cozy homes with a common corridor and with doors that would be kept open throughout the day would mean that we can move in and out of neighbors’ home as and when desired. No formalities, no restrictions, just love and affection. Pleasant early mornings were spent sipping tea made by aunts, sitting on the granite platform constructed outside each home, watching empty roads but busy chawls with people flocking around common bathrooms. Lazing around, chatting with maasi or maamis (aunts) we could hear our sleepy cousin brothers cribbing because their precious sleep was disturbed by their respective mothers, who would adjure them to fetch some early breakfast for us.
Most of the days it would be Dal pakwan from Vig as it was our most favorite, while some days it would be dal moong brought from a cart just opposite building number 6, in camp area. Rotis or Koki would be made at home to relish with dal moong. On Sundays, mama would bring dalmoong sandwich from the same cart and we would gobble up everything hurriedly so that we can get ready for the exciting day ahead.
Before noon we would be exhausted by all the running around, hopping up and down the stairs of the building, playing hide and seek, skipping etc and would run back home to enjoy home cooked meals.
Simple but lip smacking food cooked by aunts would satiate us and then we would rush out to play board games/carom or would just chat with the friends in neighborhood, waiting for cousin brothers to come back after playing cricket matches at RCF ground. The real reason behind the wait would be the treat that the famished and thirsty brothers would bring for us;either matka kulfi or ice gola or falooda ( mix of crushed ice, rose syrup, sweetened noodles and some sabja or some milk powder sprinkled). The chilled desserts would taste like nectar in the scorching heat of sultry summers. At times, we would buy peeled chunks of ghanderi (sugar cane) from the vendor who would roam from building to building. And no! those were not the ordinary chunks of sugar cane because the vendor would place few, slightly chilled chunks, on a piece of paper and then like a magician, would sprinkle some rose essence (probably diluted) and a dash of kaala namak (rock salt). The taste of those aromatic, slightly tangy, sweet bombs still lingers on!
Another magician that would make our evenings more interesting was the candy floss seller. He would bring the portable candy floss machine along with boxes of sugar crystals. The red colored sugar crystals would look frightening to begin with, but then the craftsman would begin his magic by gently adding spoonful of crystals in the hollow center of the huge vessel and the melting sugar would start disappearing and suddenly from nowhere pink silky threads would start floating in air and the vendor would gently collect those on a wooden stick. We never knew then, that the centrifugal force was the reason behind the spun sugar. Science could be taught in such a fun way but we still stick to boring books or unexciting lab experiments.
And if you thought that our food endeavors would end there then you are sadly mistaken. Some days maasi or maami would take us to Diamond garden and then to Saroj restaurant where we would enjoy masala dosa. Some days were for watching a movie in a theater along with samosa and Gold spot or Limca while on other days we would accompany aunts visiting vegetable markets because, yes, you guessed it right, the shopping would end up at a Panipuri shop (Sindh panipuri) hogging panipuris and dahi puris.
One of my uncles stayed a little far from granny’s place and visiting them would again mean eating masala dosa from ‘Anna’ standing near building number 20 or pakora, sandwiches and samosa (savory as well as sweet) made by my aunt who would always treat us with lavish spread of assorted dishes. While the elderly clan would chit chat about family, world and politics, we, the kids would get busy with our carom or business game (Monopoly).Two of my cousins there (the brother sister duo), would often pause in the game to lick a little of what looked like some sticky, blackish, soft fudge that actually tasted awful then (but is a staple at home now), and that’s how we got introduced to mighty chywanprash.
By the time we would head back home, dinner would be ready and if luck would be with us, then one of our uncles who used to cook some mean non vegetarian dishes would volunteer to make something meaty for us.
Sometimes we would visit friends of cousin sisters to watch movies on video and that would mean more snacks or pastries or cold drinks. Now when I sit back and think about those days, I wonder how we could eat all the day, then, without adding up inches or kg/pounds. Golden days, those were!
Now my grandparents are no more, mom is probably happy in the company of God, uncles and aunts no longer stay at the same old places, cousins are busy with their own sweet families, the neighbors too have dispersed. Chembur has changed but the memories linger on!
So when my friend Kalyan Karmakar, a social media influencer, who writes this beautiful blog called ‘Finely chopped’, expressed his wish to try out some Sindhi food in Chembur, my excitement knew no bounds. Our priorites kept changing, days turned into months, and discussions would end into plans that wouldn’t work out but finally one fine day the planets aligned and we were in Chembur. And oh my! What a fun and food filled day it was!
Before heading out, I made sure to check it with my cousin brothers (Thanks Vicky and Sunny for everything!) about the eateries, timings and landmarks to reach there.
Kalyan met me at the Dal moong cart and he arrived just a little before the vendor was about to wind up his business. Like a sweet friend he thought about my son who loves baked sweets and thus he got for us some lovely cookies from la Folie Lab.
We started our mini food walk with Dal moong sandwiches. Those who are aware of this tiny hidden gem of the place, just opposite building number 6, know what I am talking about. A small cart with 3 aluminum sipryun (plural of Sipri, a favorite vessel of Sindhis to cook traditional dishes) filled with three different dals; maakhreen dal (Yellow mung dal), mung (whole green gram), charan ji dal (Chana dal) is the same place from where we would eat dal moong three decades back. I was eating it after almost 15 years and it tasted just the way it did years back.
Dal moong cart, opposite Building number 6, Camp, Chembur
Dal moong sandwich! Picture Courtesy Kalyan Karmakar.
A sliced pao filled with the mix of dals with smoky, peppery flavors, topped with some chutney and sliced onions is sheer bliss in each bite. A brain child of late Bhojraj Jarkani, this business was passed on to his son Harish, who is no more and is now run by young Jitender, an extremely soft spoken, well educated and humble guy who was happy to share his story with Kalyan. We also tried dal mung with Koki that I was carrying with me since I wanted to have that combination, the way my mother would sometimes send for us in lunch breaks when we were in preschool (bal mandir)/school. I was happy that Jitender’s mother is still following the tradition and the recipe, since the flavors were still the same.
We then headed towards Vig, moving out of the lane besides Sattu sweets, walking towards right side till we saw that ‘no frills’ but iconic eatery and the heady aroma of fried pattice and bubbling chole, the sight of stacked pakwan and rows of sambosa (plural of samboso i.e samosa), a clay tandoor on one side and stock of lassi on the other side, welcomed us.
Chana dal stuffed potato patty, known as Pattice or Chaap in Sindhi !
I could spot Arjun Arora Uncle (The owner) sitting in the same place, smiling, chatting with regular customers while handling money matters simultaneously, the way he used to, when I was just a kid.
Though the eatery is almost seven decades old, it was named VIG only in 1974 by Arjun Arora Uncle. And if you want to know the reason behind the name Vig, do read Kalyan’s blogpost here!
We tried the most popular breakfast of Sindhis, the pakwan, with tender but not mushy chana dal, spicy green chutney, crunchy sliced onions, a dash of potato subzi and a hint of pickle, a USP of Vig, and that’s what that makes their Dal pakwan unique and lip smacking.
Pakwan at vig is thicker and crunchy unlike thin and crispy pakwan found elsewhere but you will just love it!
Chana dal pattice was crisp from outside and the soft layer of mashed potatoes underneath with spiced chanadal at the centre when had with mildly spicy chole, reminded me of the days when as kids, we would eat away the crisp crust and leave behind soft potato layer and chana dal. Can’t say if we were stupid or just acted like normal kids would! Now that I am not a kid anymore, I ate pattice (whole) with all its accompaniments, a sign of maturity, you see!
Tough we wanted to try Pulav, Kulcha and samose too but we were already full. Kalyan had some Lassi and I hope he liked it!
Kalyan is well known for initiating a conversation and taking it to the next level by making strangers feel so comfortable that they start chatting with him like buddies. I, on the other hand could feel socially awkward and stay mum, in presence of strangers. So while Kalyan was chatting with Uncle, I was standing there listening to both of them as they exchanged their food experiences from Delhi, Amritsar etc (Like Kalyan, Arjun Uncle seems to be a great foodie).
You can know about the whole conversation and some very interesting details and sweet memories of an elderly customer of Vig refreshment, who was very excited to give us some inputs about the place, about the famous loyal customers and about his love for food at Vig, by reading the wonderful post by Kalyan. Here is the link..
After the sleep inducing heavy breakfast it was time to leave Chembur but it is practically impossible to be standing on Dr CG Road, trying Sindhi food and not visiting Jhama Sweets. Agree? So our last stop for the day was Jhama sweets of course.
Jhama that I remember was a small shop with counters loaded with trays and trays of Sindhi as well as general sweets (Mithai) and their specialty was the fresh, sweet, syrupy, soft, melt in the mouth (Clichéd I know, but still…) sugar bombs, the Gulabjamun and equally popular was sinful Singhar mithai (sev barfi). And they are still well known for these two, even after so many decades.
Jhama’s famous Gulabjamun! Picture courtesy Kalyan Karmakar!
Singhar ji mithai (Picture courtesy Kalyan Karmakar)
The shop now is bigger and better, with more varieties of sweets and savories but we tasted Gulabjamun and sev barfi. Kalyan was amused to know that Tosha, yet another popular sweet, is distributed as Prasad in temples and even during condolence ceremonies (Pagryun or chautha) held in respect of very elderly family members.
He was happy to spot sweet boondi as he is aware of its importance in Sindhi Kadhi chaanwran meal. He also tasted the forgotten Sindhi snack, boondi singhar, the unusual but delicious combination of syrupy, sweet boondi with crunchy salted sev. If you are curious to know about his experience at Jhama, then do read his blog post (The link is shared at the bottom of the post too!)
We couldn’t try Sindhi panipuris/chaat, pakoras and Sindhi nonveg dishes at Chembur as these are generally available post 5 Pm. But we must soon visit the place again, hopefully!
Kalyan’s cab was waiting and hence we decided to wind it up for the day. He looked happy and going by his post it seems that he enjoyed the food and the company 😉
I was supposed to head back towards home but after sharing so many nostalgic memories, with Kalyan, about granny’s home and around, I couldn’t help but walk ahead and visit the old chawls.
The place looked revamped but there still were many familiar things around. The homes had grills now and the common corridor was no more. The old neighbors have shifted to distant colonies and the new faces popped through the windows, with a puzzling look on their faces, as I stood there trying to recollect all the names of neighbors, I was once familiar with.
I visited the famous Saibaba temple, the foundation of which was laid by Shri Manoj Kumar and though the temple doors were closed in the afternoon, my mind flew across the decades and I could recollect the hustle and bustle around the temple on Thursdays for grand Arti. That was the same place where years ago we would gather post dinner, on special occasions, when a temporary open theatre sort of atmosphere was created by covering the exterior of buildings with giant white clothes (I assume) used as screens and bollywood movies were projected and the people would flock around to watch movies, back to back, sitting in the open ground.
Saibaba Temple !
This used to be the milk booth if I am not mistaken. The place is located just opposite Venus decorators.
This is how the chawls would look in the past.This one has retained the old world charm while the one where my grandparents once lived, is completely changed now.
Finally couldn’t hold myself from rushing towards my maasi’s home who lives in the vicinity. She had no idea that I was in Chembur and I actually wanted to pre inform her before my visit but I just went ahead and met her because love knows no formalities! Sipping some nariyal paani and relishing the tender coconut, we chatted about the golden period. I relived my precious moments from the past and lived some amazing moments, which will now add up to the nostalgic memories of Chembur, the Sindhi food heaven and my naanaraan (maternal grandparents’ home)
You can check videos and some drool worthy pics of food too, captured when we visited Chembur and can read the wonderful post by Kalyan Karmakar : Chembur’s Midnight’s Children….Sindhi breakfast places that date from the time when India became independent