A few weeks ago, Sir Knife, or Kalyan of Finely Chopped fame, announced his second Food Walk–this time, he was going to Fort. I had missed his first walk, the one to Bohri Mohallah, the mecca of all things non-vegetarian and sinful. I was not going to miss his second walk–especially because the area has such special meaning for me. My maternal grandparents lived close by, near Colaba, and moved to Navi Mumbai about a decade ago. Since then, I hadn’t spent enough time in the area.  I go to that part of town at least once a week, but always on work or with company–I’ve not had the time to simply wander around and spend some time with my memories.

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So in any case, I decided to treat myself to a food walk at Fort. We started at Bombay Store, once known as Bombay Swadeshi (and still called that in our home) where we would buy our block printed tablecloths and bedspreads once upon a time. I wandered around the store, feeling the familiar handwoven fabric and staring longingly at the beautiful clay ware. This is where the Finely Chopped Fort walkers met, got introduced to each other and generally got pumped for the rest of the day. And the first stop was the one that I was eagerly waiting for. Yazdani Bakery. A Mumbai icon. A tall-ceilinged, sweet smelling, benign, almost in-limbo Irani bakery. Kalyan sat us down and ordered what seemed like endless cups of Irani chai and plates and plates of Bun Maska and Brun–the former a sweetish, soft bun sliced horizontally and slathered very generously with good old Amul butter and the latter, a hard on the outside, soft on the inside, Indian Ciabatta-type bun that is a popular accompaniment to the chai. It is served cut into thick slices, which you dunk into the sweet, hot, milky tea. The brun immediately becomes mush, making it an ideal snack for toothless old Parsis (and comfort seekers like me!)

While the group talked about the history of the place, I looked around and crossed my fingers that they’d let us see the kitchen. Luckily for us, the accommodating younger generation was on the throne that day, and we were happily let in. At this point, my friend Rhea noticed that I was probably not breathing. I was so awe-struck by the dark, dingy kitchen that I probably didn’t notice my jaw drop. We walked across the large weighing scale, past the old, loin-cloth clad baker who was busy shaping oat and raisin cookies, over a zillion (150, actually) trays of laadi pao (another Mumbai icon–soft, pull apart buns eaten with curries or by themselves, but almost always with fiery batata wadas and misal) and toward that warm, comforting light at the end of the room. It came from the century-old wood-fired oven, where all the Yazdani breads are baked. It is large enough to house 150 trays of pao at a time. And they do countless such cycles through the day. The aroma of sweet yeast was doing things to me–I have no memory of who said what. I do remember, very clearly, the shaping counter, the fact that this bakery needed no wicker baskets for proofing, no fancy equipment. There was no sign of any chemicals, just bags abd bags of flour. A few packets of raisins here and there. Some slices of tomato and herbs left over from the previous batch. It was heaven. I’d spend every afternoon there, just watching these guys bake.

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We did go to Apoorva for some sol kadhi-neer dosa-prawn gassi, Ideal Corner for Pallao-daal, cutlets and Raspberry, Pradeep Gomantak for fried Bombay Duck, and later to Vidya Dairy for jilebis. Of course, I was still in a daze. Was almost tempted to go to Bora Bazaar and pick up veggies from m grandma’s old favorite vegetable sellers and grab some Panha at the Bedekar shop. We went to a branch of the Philips Coffee and Tea Company–my gran bought her weekly quota of coffee from the Colaba store, which is now sadly shut. I bought a kilo of Peaberry beans for my gran, though. We ended at Swagath for coffee, stuffed to the gills, hot and sweaty, but with un-wipeable smiles. Right next door, of course, was Strand Book Stall–our childhood book jaunt–we were given a separate allowance in the vacation just for books, and guess where we spent it. This tiny shop, bursting at the seams with well curated books, is still just as it was–warm and inviting, still offering a 20 per cent off on each buy. Kalyan and Kainaz, his gracious wife, saw us off with goodie bags from Yazdani–what else could one ask for! But as you can see, I owe Kalyan for much, much more.

By the way, he’s doing his third Food Walk, the Bandra Legends Walk this Saturday–he just might have some spots left–go check it out! I’ll sign out with a few images from the Fort Walk.

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