Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Guardian on Bombay street food

If the article on galleries carried by the Guardian was bad, the one on the city's street food is arguably worse. It doesn't have as many mistakes, specially since Sardar is now correctly identified as being close to Bombay Central station rather than Churchgate as was the case when the list first appeared. The web allows such changes to be made after publication, and Nayantara Kilachand's corrected the most striking ones in her article. However, Monisha Rajesh, who wrote the street food piece, has a problem so fundamental it can't possibly be set right: she doesn't understand what 'street food' means.
Of the places she singles out, Sarvi is a sit-down eatery for the working-class of Nagpada, and a popular take-away for the affluent. It's large and airy by Bombay standards, very far from a street stall. The same is the case with Sardar (not Sardar's; the Indian love for apostrophes seems to be shared by foreign-born desis), Olympia Coffee House, Cream Centre and Mahesh Lunch Home. In other words, five out of the Guardian's ten recommended street food places are actually restaurants. In the case of the crab at Mahesh Lunch Home, the article now admits the dish isn't exactly street food.
There's also a video on the same subject presented by Vandana Verma. She starts with a home-cooked tiffin (not street food) before moving to Swati Snacks (a mid-range vegetarian restaurant, not close to street food), then takes an auto-rickshaw (that's the cut-away, anyway) along a route where no auto rickshaws operate, to a sandwich vendor whose only qualification is that he stations himself outside Verma's old school.
By the Guardian's criteria, a tour of London's best street food joints might involve bangers and mash at the Marlborough Arms and high tea at The Ritz.


seana graham said...

You're on a roll here with the blog again, aren't you?

Girish Shahane said...

Yes, Seana, slightly less work to contend with right now, a little more mental space. But I don't know if it'll last, since the conversations have dried up, and those kept the blog going. I'm not alone, of course, there's been a general exodus away from blogs in the past 18 months.

seana graham said...

I haven't particularly been paying attention to greater trends, though the recent development of not being able to see when anyone else comments certainly changes the dynamic. Is it all going to Facebook and Twitter? Unfortunately, I really don't think I can be bothered with all that.

Alex M said...

I see your point, but surely, if you are writing for an article, and you have to give addresses to your readership it makes sense to choose places that have identifiable locations, otherwise how on earth do readers find them? "The man on the bike with a red T-shirt by a tree " - as a journalist myself I know exactly why she would have been instructed to find places with addresses. And no GENUINE street-hawker has one. It would be stupid to list people no-one could find. Besides, to be fair to her, she has picked the places that do the best kinds of the food she's listed. I'm a Mumbaikar and I would have chosen at least seven of those.

Girish Shahane said...

Alex, I disagree. The city's most famous hawkers not only have fixed addresses, they've been there for longer than many of the most fashionable restaurants. There was an interesting ad that ran in movie theatres a few years ago for the Magna book house in Kala Ghoda that gave directions thus: "in front of the juicewalla next to the panwalla". It was only half a joke; the juice walla and paanwalla have been there for as long as I can remember.
With this sort of article, one always risks the possibility that the vendor will move; that's no reason, in my opinion, to recommend restaurants instead of street vendors. To refer to the piece on art galleries, one of the galleries recommended has closed. It's possible these pieces were written weeks or months ago, and Mattieu Foss gallery was operational when Nayantara wrote the piece. The risk, therefore, is not restricted to hawkers.
I think the lack of knowledge displayed by the writer not only extends to the places she recommends but also the dishes. Can anybody seriously say that the chicken tikka roll at Bademiya is their signature dish? A dozen places do a better chicken tikka roll, notably Noorani's at Haji Ali. The incredible thing is that Noorani's offers a larger, tastier roll for the same price as Bademiya.
No, what you go for at Bademiya is unusual stuff like their baida roti. And if you must go for a roll, you choose the egg roll, not the one wrapped with roomali.

Tastyplex said...

Agree one hundred cents to the dollar. They firangs know not what 'street food' is.