The best of Mumbai is both heart-wrenching and energizing and is India’s richest and most populous city. Home to Bollywood and the nation’s financial institutions, when people say Mumbai is a city of extremes, it’s not only for dramatic effect. People from all walks of life all congregate in Mumbai, referring to it as the maximum city of India, hoping to reinvent their lives in this place of opportunity. Everywhere you turn there’s a new business or new slick restaurant, or another tout with wares to sell.
Visitors to the city are over-stimulated in the best way.
Here’s where to find the best of Mumbai…
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT
Chaat is a term describing savoury snacks, typically served at road-side tracks from stalls or food carts in India and Pakistan.
Sardar Pav Bhaji
The extra-spicy pav bhaji at Sardar’s, the dynamite paani puri at Elco’s and the bhel puri on Juhu beach define Mumbai’s spicy street food chaat. If you don’t cauterize your vocal cords, you’ll be back tomorrow. Vodka paani puri is a 21st-century innovation. Naturally it was only a matter of time before chaat and alcohol had a hot affair.
Sardar Pav Bhaji, 166A, Tardeo Road Junction, Tardeo, tel +91 (0) 22 2353 0208
Elco Paani Puri Centre, 46, Geetaneel Arcade, Hill Road, Bandra (W), tel +91 (0) 222643 7206
Sardar’s Refreshments: A five-minute walk from Mumbai Central station, Sardar’s Refreshments specialises in straight-from-the-streets, finger-licking pav bhaji. It’s hidden behind white barriers, but mutter “Pav bhaji?” to any passerby and they will point you in the right direction. Two metal plates arrive within minutes: one containing thick vegetable masala straddled by a slab of butter, the other with fluffy rolls so well-buttered the bread’s yellow. Your arteries will tighten at the sight, but your stomach will thank you. Squeeze some lemon on top and dig in with your fingers. Address – Sardar’s, 166-A Tardeo Road Junction, Tulsiwadi, near Tardeo bus depot, +91 22 2494 0208, £1 a serving. Open noon-2am.
In a city that’s always rushing, a “cutting” chai , or mini half cup of chai, is a quick any-time-of-day fix for people on the move. Over boiled, cutting chai is strong enough to keep you going for the rest of the day, sweet enough to improve your mood instantly and heavy enough to tide you over till your next meal.
Fast, cheap and political, Eevery day thousands of vada pav (potato dumplings) are fried and deftly placed in pav bread quickly enough to keep up with Mumbai’s voracious appetite. The fiery red chutney that goes with vada pav can be risky — not unlike Shiv Sena, the local political party that has made Mumbai’s five-rupee signature street snack its mascot. It’s hard to go wrong with vada pav, but we love the ones at a stall called Ashok, off Cadel Road, Kirti College Lane, Prabhadevi.
Sarvi: Mohammed Ali Road is the benchmark for skewered kebabs, which hang from smoking stalls like sizzling curtains. But towards the north end, veer left on to Dimtimkar Road and head to Sarvi. It’s been around for 90 years, has no sign, looks fire damaged, and grills the most tender beef seekh kebabs in the city. Crisp on the outside and melting in the middle, with a hint of mint – rumour has it they grind papaya into the meat. Get there early evening, as they sell out fast. Address – Sarvi, 184/196 Dimtimkar Road, opposite Nagpada Police Station, Byculla West, +91 98 3353 3305, from Rs78 (£1) for four kebabs. Open 9.30am-11.30pm.
Anand: It’s every Mumbaikar’s grab-and-go snack. Potato patties mashed with garlic, chillies and coriander are dipped in chickpea flour, fried golden, then laid in “pav” – a springy white bap that’s well buttered, spread with coriander chutney and sprinkled with garlic and chilli powder. Everyone from students to businessmen flock to the Anand stall, under a purple and green awning, which whips up more than a thousand a day. An added touch is a plate of rock-salted fried green chillies, which aren’t nearly as fiery as you might think. Cool off with mini bottles of sweet lassi from the stall to the left. Address – Anand, opposite Mithibai College, Gulmohar Road, Vile Parle West, 20p a bap. Open 7.30am-11pm.
Elco Pani Puri Centre: The craft is part of the fun: vendors poke a thumb into a crisp fried sphere, fill it with potato, chickpeas, onion and sprouted lentils, then dunk it into a sweet-and-sour mix of tamarind and jaggery, then a liquid blend of coriander, mint and garam masala. Eat it whole, and unless you have a stomach of steel, don’t go anywhere but Elco Pani Puri Centre, where they use mineral water. Pull up a red plastic stool and sit on the pavement with Bandra’s locals, and the occasional Bollywood actress. Address- Elco Pani Puri Centre, 2/A Elco Market, 46 Hill Rd, Bandra West, +91 22 2645 7677, 50p for two. Open 10am-11.30pm.
Bademiya: No Mumbaikar seems to have been to Bademiya before 3am – a testament to the late-night allure of its charcoaled, meaty goodness. A glorified open-air kitchen on wheels, Bademiya sits in a backstreet directly behind the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Waiters in red aprons appear from a cloud of smoke and hand over plastic menus, but the chicken tikka rolls are the best option. Slid off skewers, the meat is wrapped in a steaming roomali roti – as thin and soft as a handkerchief – and topped with strips of fried onion. No sauce required, its juices are enough. Address- Bademiya, Tulloch Rd, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, £1.50 a roll. Open 5pm-4am.
Bhel puri: It is one of the most common all-day snacks: a crunchy, cold, sweet-and-sour mix of puffed rice, sev, chopped onion and potato, and tamarind chutney. It has to be mixed and eaten on the spot, and most vendors will concoct their own variations. Chowpatty Beach is the home of bhel puri, where it should be eaten while strolling along the shore. Try Sharmajee’s (No 22) or Badshah’s (No 11), amid the cluster of stalls opposite the Levi’s Store, where rugs are spread out and bhel puri “touts” will bring it over to you. Address- Sharmajee’s and Badshah’s, Chowpatty Beach, near Charni Road station, 30p per plate. Open all day.
Olympia Coffee House: Forget trawling Colaba’s tourist spots for fry-ups and cereal, and try breakfast the way the locals do it – with a plate of fried minced meat and hunks of bread to mop it up. Directly opposite the infamous Leopold’s, Olympia does saucers of delicious masala kheema – and don’t forget, this is a coffee house, so top it off with a short, sweet cup. Olympia is a local Muslim haunt with not a female in sight, but female visitors shouldn’t be put off: the waiters and customers are friendly, courteous and no one bats an eyelid. Address- Olympia Coffee House, Rahim Mansion, 1 SB Singh Rd, Colaba, +91 22 2202 1043, £1 a plate. Open 7am-midnight.
Cream Centre: As a rule, restaurants with laminated menus showing photos of their food aren’t to be trusted. Cream Centre is an exception. It does a version of channa bhatura that’s a bit on the oily side, but it’s rated the best in Mumbai by the hordes of students, families and workers on breaks. Sit tight in your booth as a football-sized, deep-fried puri arrives alongside a bowl of creamy masala chickpeas, diced potatoes and onions. Poke a finger in the top and watch the puri deflate slowly into a chewy bread for scooping up the masala. Address- Cream Centre, Fulchand Niwas 25/B Chowpatty Sea Face, +91 22 2367 9222, £2 a serving. Open noon-11.30pm.
Mahesh Lunch Home: Strictly not street food, but it’s a sin to come to Mumbai and not eat crab. Trishna is excellent, but full of expats and tourists, so try Mahesh, around the corner from the Mocambo Café, in Fort. Order the jumbo butter garlic crab with a roomali roti to wipe up the crunchy bits of garlic and chilli. If you’re unsure about portions, waiters will happily bring your crab to the table to wave a leg at you. There’s only one way to eat it – with a bib and both hands, making as much mess as you like. Address: Mahesh Lunch Home, 8-B Cawasji Patel Street, Fort, +91 22 2287 0938, £10. Call for opening hours.
Bachelorr’s: (yes, they’ve added an extra “r”) is the definitive hangout for smoothies, shakes and juices. It’s been in business since the 1940s and has generated a loyal following, who gather by the roadside kiosk during warm evenings, perched on car bonnets and in open boots. The cream-and-strawberry milkshake is a classic, but it also churns out numerous chocolate variations – from Classic Chocolate and Black Gold Premium to Liquid Marble – along with a host of fresh lime, coconut water and lychee juices. Address: Bachelorr’s, Chowpatty Sea Face, opposite Birla Krida Kendra, near Charni Rd station, +91 22 2368 1408, from £1-2. Open 3pm-11pm
WHAT TO SEE
- The Gateway of India: It is a beautiful monument built on the edge of Mumbai Harbour to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. Whilst the architectural aspects of the Gateway of India are great, it is the experience of walking through the crowds in the open square that make this a must-do activity in Mumbai.
- Colaba Causeway: The everyday carnival that is the Colaba Causeway market is a shopping experience like no other in Mumbai. Geared especially towards tourists, that infamous Indian saying of “sab kuch milega” (you’ll get everything) certainly applies at this market. Dodge persistent balloon and map sellers, as you meander along the sidewalk and peruse the stalls. Want your name written on a grain of rice? That’s possible too. If you need a break from shopping, pop into Leopold’s Cafe or Cafe Mondegar, two well known Mumbai hangouts.
- Bollywood: Take a behind the scenes tour of Bollywood. Visit an old heritage cinema, peek inside a film star’s makeup room and pose for souvenir snapshots with some of today’s Bollywood stars.
- Spelunking: Go spelunking! Take a boat from Ferry Wharf and visit the Elephanta Caves, a network of sculpted Hindu and Buddhist caves. While there, eat the delicious wild berries the locals sell.
- Slums of Dharavi: Get an inside look at the slums of Dharavi. It’s a breathtaking, overwhelming experience with its ultra-dense housing and poverty and wealth existing in close proximity in the heart of Mumbai.
- Bazaars: Explore the bazaars of Mumbai and navigate the labyrinth of narrow lanes. Buy masala at the Lalbagh Spice Market, cooking utensils in Null Bazaar, or antiques and other gems in Chor Bazaar.
- Sassoon Docks: The largest fish market in Mumbai. See travelers and boats haul their catch in at dawn and learn about Mumbai’s fish trade from the Kolis, the original seafarers of Mumbai.
- Dhobi Ghat: The largest open air laundromat in the world. Then ride the trains with the dabbawalas, the people who transport hot meals from homes to offices every day.
- Marine Drive: Take a walk along Marine Drive; the Queen’s Necklace features excellent views of the Mumbai skyline. It’s especially magical during the monsoon when you’ll be sprayed by the waves.
i. Hedavde Mahalaxmi Temple: One of the most famous temples of Mumbai situated on Bhulabhai Desai Road. It is dedicated to Mahalakshmi the central deity of Devi Mahatmyam. The temple was built in 1831 by Dhakji Dadaji (1760–1846), a Hindu merchant. Built around 1785, the history of this temple is supposedly connected with the building of the Hornby Vellard. Apparently after portions of the sea wall of the Vellard collapsed twice, the chief engineer, a Pathare Prabhu, dreamt of a devi statue in the sea near Worli. A search recovered it, and he built a temple for it. After this, the work on the vellard could be completed without a hitch.
ii. The ISKCON Temple: Also known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a famous temple situated in Mumbai. This temple, also known as the ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna Temple’ and ‘Radha Rasabihariji’ is dedicated to ‘Lord Krishna’ and was built by the ISKCON Foundation. The temple complex is sited on the main ‘Hare Krishna Land’ that covers an area of over 4 acres. This temple was established by Swami Prabhupada in 1978 and is one of the forty ISKCON temples in India. Fabulously constructed, this temple is embellished with various paintings and statues within its interiors, making the temple look all the more mesmerizing. This gorgeous temple was constructed to honour Srila Parabhupada’s aim to spread ‘Krishna’ consciousness. The temple is an apt spot for meditation and prayers especially for people who seek to increase one’s spiritual knowledge and add on to their intellectual development. This temple is so well-known that millions from across the globe throng this shrine every day.
11. Mani Bhavan: The house in which Mahatma Gandhi lived in Mumbai, which is now a museum devoted to his work and life as the father of the nation.
i. Chowpatty Beach: At the end of Marine Drive in South Mumbai, Chowpatty Beach is a great place to feel the carnival atmosphere and watch the sunset. If you are feeling hungry, head across the road to one of the many ice cream parlours, and cool down with some ice cream made from the freshest fruit or even the spicy tang of paan.
ii. Bandra Bandstand: Further north in the Western suburb of Bandra you can walk along Bandra Bandstand and try and catch a glimpse of some Bollywood celebrities. Even if you miss seeing one in the flesh, you can still find Bollywood royalty here, with the famous Walk of Stars and bronze statues of iconic film identities including Yash Chopra and Shammi Kapoor. Treat yourself to a freshly roasted corn on the cob and watch the young couples courting by the seaside.
iii. Juhu Beach: Juhu Beach is where the locals go to unwind in the evening and enjoy the view. Sit yourself down on a free spot on the sand and watch the sun set over the horizon or try out some of the local food. There are plenty of stalls where you can try some of the best street food here, with Pav Bhaji and Pani Puri some of the more popular fare on offer. You can even head to one of the nearby bars and enjoy the oceanside view over a well deserved drink.
Mumbai, also known as Bombay, is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan area population of approximately 20.5 million. The name Mumbai is derived from Mumba or Maha-Amba—the name of the Koli goddess Mumbadevi—and Aai, “mother” in the language of Marathi. The oldest known names for the city are Kakamuchee and Galajunkja; these are sometimes still used.
The seven islands that came to constitute Mumbai were home to communities of fishing colonies. For centuries, the islands were under the control of successive indigenous empires before being ceded to the Portuguese and subsequently to the British East India Company. After the British gained possession of the city in the 17th century, the Portuguese name was officially anglicised as Bombay. By the late 20th century, the city was referred to as Mumbai or Mambai in Marathi, Konkani, Gujarati, Kannada and Sindhi, and as Bambai in Hindi, Persian and Urdu. The English name was officially changed to Mumbai in November 1995. This came at the insistence of the Marathi nationalist Shiv Sena party that had just won the Maharashtra state elections and mirrored similar name changes across the country. They argued that “Bombay” was a corrupted English version of “Mumbai” and an unwanted legacy of British colonial rule. The push to rename Bombay was part of a larger movement to strengthen Marathi identity in the Maharashtra region.
While the city is still referred to as Bombay by some of its residents and Indians from other regions, mention of the city by a name other than Mumbai has been controversial, resulting in emotional outbursts sometimes of a violently political nature. A widespread popular etymology of Bombay holds that it was derived from a Portuguese name meaning “good bay”, as bom is Portuguese for “good” and baía (or the archaic spelling bahia) means “bay”. This literal translation cannot be correct, though, from the point of view of grammatical gender: bom is masculine but baia is feminine, so a correct Portuguese rendering of “good bay” would be boa ba(h)ia. Portuguese scholar José Pedro Machado in his Dicionário Onomástico Etimológico da Língua Portuguesa (“Portuguese Dictionary of Onomastics and Etymology”, 1981) rejects the bom bahia hypothesis, suggesting that the presence of a bay was a coincidence (rather than a basis of the toponym) and led to the misconception that the noun bahia, “bay”, was an integral part of the Portuguese name. However, it has also been pointed out that baim, as in Bombaim above, is an archaic Portuguese masculine word for “little bay”.
WHERE TO STAY
Mumbai offers a plethora of accommodation for all budgets, tastes and desires!
But it’s worth a trip to the historic Taj Hotel, even if only for a dip in the pool!
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – known as the best hotel in the area. Costs £147 about per night. Since its opening in 1903, The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai has created its own unique history. It has been the perfect host for Maharajas and Princes to various Kings, Presidents, CEOs and entertainers. The hotel is an architectural wonder and brings together Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles. With superb views of the Arabian Sea, the hotel is a gracious landmark of the city of Mumbai, showcasing contemporary Indian influences along with beautiful vaulted alabaster ceilings, onyx columns, graceful archways, hand-woven silk carpets, crystal chandeliers, a magnificent art collection, an eclectic collection of furniture, and a dramatic cantilever stairway.
The iconic Taj Mahal Palace has been an integral part of Mumbai’s history since 1903.
The city’s glitterati frequent its many restaurants, especially Wasabi by Morimoto (Bollywood star Saif Ali Khan recently got into a brawl here) and Golden Dragon.
Located on the top floors, Taj Club rooms have sweeping views of the harbor and Gateway of India and come with airport pick-up, 24-hour butler service and access to the Taj Club lounge.
The hotel’s concierges are renowned for making wishes come true, from scoring exclusive event tickets to arranging private jet charters.
The Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai; +91 22 6665 3366; from Rs 11,000 ($205)
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