Bombay is a beguiling, bewildering, bewitching city. Bright neon street lights, the salty spray of the sea, the inescapable smell, plush nightclubs, anda bhurji at 4am, friendly auto-rickshaw drivers, home-delivery anything, melting pot of the nation’s communities and oh it goes on and on. To get a taste of Bombay, here’s a short list of distinctly Bombaiyya specialties to eat, drink or take home with you if you’re visiting.
Sunday Masala: A fiery red spice mix that people swear by. Sunday Masala is used to impart a special flavor to vegetables, fish and poultry. People visiting Bombay often buy kilos of this spice mix to take back so they don’t fall short. The Bedekar brand of Sunday masala is one of the best but most neighborhood kirana stores that stock spices should be able to help you stock your pantry with this.
Duke’s Raspberry: You don’t need to be a bawa to fall for this pink fruity concoction. This sparkling, sweet, raspberry flavored soda is a common staple at Parsi weddings where the number of people choosing a cola drink are about as many as there are vegetarian Parsis, which is to say very very few. While delicious, Duke’s Raspberry is a rarity even in Bombay. In fact, an urban legend says you don’t get served a Raspberry at Brittania unless you are a Parsi. If you find a place selling these, snap up a bottle.
Bottle Masala: East Indians are Bombay’s native Christian community with their own unique cuisine, the star of which is the elusive Bottle Masala. Families have secret recipes for this fragrant spice mix that is used in many East Indian dishes and is made up of over 30 different spices, roasted, ground and usually stored in old beer bottles.
Bombay Sandwich: Around Bombay, you can find a Sandwhichwala near train stations, bus stops, colleges, schools, and just about everywhere else. College kids in Bombay practically live on the Sandwiches found outside the gates of their campuses. The Bombay Sandwich is slices of bread, usually white, spread with a generous layer of Amul butter, splashed with mint and coriander chutney, and filled with thin slices of boiled potato, onion, beetroot and tomato, piled high with grated cheese. The toasted version is toasted in old-style sandwich presses on hot coals and served with another generous slathering of butter melting on the hot sandwich.
Bombay duck: Not really ducks at all, these are fish, and really delicious fish at that. Although available across the west coast of India, this fish still makes it on to the list because of its name and the love that Bombay has for it. Bombay Duck, also called Bombil, is a pale pink, rather ugly fish, very popular in Mumbai. Fresh Bombay Duck, coated in semolina, fried to crispy golden perfection and served with a spicy chutney is a huge favorite. A real delicacy however is the dried and pickled bombil, although like so many other delicacies (we’re looking at you foie gras and caviar), it is an acquired taste. Find these in most fish markets, particularly in the Khar-Danda area where they are sourced from a fishing village 5 minutes away.
Vada Pav: We’ve talked about this Bombay special once before. Anthony Bourdain, in his moment of ecstasy at tasting his first vada pav, said ‘This is the best thing I have ever eaten’. It really is that good. A delicious fried potato snack, a bite of the vada pav and your mouth explodes with different textures and flavors. Turn into any street in Bombay and you will find at least one Vada Pav vendor or stall, but outside of Bombay, they’re hard to find and never as good. Check out our list of favorite Vada Pav vendors here.