What to eat in Mumbai, India
The dining experience at an upscale restaurant in Mumbai is more or less the same as anywhere else in the world. If you search hard enough, you will find cuisine from practically every part of the world represented in the city. But to get a real flavor of what’s unique to Mumbai; you will have to go a little lower down the scale and experience the street food and Irani cafes.
Don’t leave Mumbai without trying:
- Gujrati, Maharashtrian and Kerala Thali
- Indian Chinese- Chinese nationals might have never seen any of the dishes listed in the menu. This was India’s take on Chinese food which eventually evolved into a whole new cuisine.
- Goan seafood
- As many different kinds of chaat (Bhelpuri, Pani Puri etc) as your stomach can handle
- Pav Bhaji from one of Mumbai’s many restaurants.
- Kebab rolls, Pattis, Keema
- Indian sweets- milky, delicious concoctions
- Vada pav (the great Indian veg burger)
- South Indian food from an Udupi restaurant
- Bread Maska (Bread & Butter) from an Irani Cafe
- Kingfisher Blue beer
- Alfanso Mangoes during summer season – This is undoubtedly the favourite fruit of most Indians, close to their hearts.
Street food stalls
Songs have been written about Mumbai’s street food and you will find that the hype is justified. You will find them at every street corner, but they are concentrated in beaches and around railway stations.
Bhelpuri stalls, selling what in the rest of India would be called chaat. In Mumbai itself, the term chaat is rarely used.
Rolls, Essentially different meat and cheese grilled and served with some Roti and spice, these are cheap and cheerful for anyone with a stomach that can handle it. They are known to be spicy so always ask them to make it mild. Try Ayubs (Kala Ghoda), Bade Miyan (highly over-rated), Khao Gulli (Food Lane, near Mahim Hindu Gymkhana), or Kareems (Bandra). All are particularly busy after a night of heavy drinking.
Vada pav stands, Fried potato stuffed in yeasty bread. Developed to provide nourishment to mill-workers in Mumbai’s burgeoning mills. Now they are found everywhere, particularly in the railway stations. This is a Mumbai specialty. In Vile Parle (West), try the one off S.V Road near Irla across from Goklibai School. One of the most popular ones are opposite Mithibai College which is about 15 mins walk from Vile Parle Station. Also try the one outside Grant Road Station and Churchgate Station.
Sandwich stands, Uniquely developed in Mumbai, you won’t find anything like it anywhere else in India or the world.
Chinese food stalls, You’ll find them at many places, but they are particularly concentrated near Dadar railway station. They all have a typical Indian twist added to it, which is why it is frequently called “Indian Chinese”. Although it is great tasting, the hygiene of these places leaves a lot to be desired.
Bhurji, Either Egg bhurji or Paneer bhurji, a mash of eggs and chopped tomato, onion, chili, and lots of oil. Eaten on the side with some pav. Try the Maker Chamber area (near Crossroads 2, Nariman Point).
Tip: cheap and tasty food stalls are concentrated around the city’s colleges.
Street stall food in India is fantastic and dirt cheap. However, do consider well what you are putting in your mouth. Almost certainly the water used is non-potable, street vendors don’t seem to understand much about hygiene or hand-washing, and food safety standards are low, with flies buzzing over everything. Even locals steer clear of street food during the monsoons, when diseases run rampant. If the stall seems very clean, and if it clearly states that it is using Aquaguard or mineral water, go for it.
Authentic Marathi cuisine
Mumbai, being home to large ethnic Marathi community, has its share of notable restaurants that offer authentic Marathi cuisine. Most offer both snacks and regular dining. Some of the snacks to check out are Sabudana Wada, Batata Wada, Missal, Kanda Poha, Uppit (or Upma), Shira, Alu Wadi, Thalipith, Zunka Bhakari,ghavane (neer dosa) and many more. Two notable appetizer are Kokam Sarbat and Solkadhi which are best enjoyed during hot summers. People say that many of these authentic Marathi restaurants are finding it difficult to survive competitions with other modern or fast food typed restaurants.
Fast food chains
Surprisingly, there is no fast-food chain in Mumbai serving Indian cuisine. But Western chains like McDonalds, Subway, Pizza hut, Dominos, Kentucky Fried Chicken etc. have many outlets all over the city. But if you are a weary Westerner looking for the taste of the familiar, be warned that all of them have rather heavily “Indianized” their menus, so you will find the stuff there as exotic as you found Bambaiyya food.
What to eat
Asking a local for suggestions is a fun way to try new things
Pav Bhaji, Part of the street food culture, this is mashed vegetables cooked in spices, topped with butter and served piping hot with pav. Widely available. For a variation, try the Pav Bhaji Dosa which merges Pav Bhaji with the South Indian Dosa. For the especially brave, ask for a plate of Masala Pav. It consists of two piece of Pav smeared with a generous helping of spicy paste.
Bhel Puri & sev puri, a classic Mumbai concoction, bhel-puri (or bhel for short) comprises mostly of puffed rice and assorted spices with a few chutneys. You can specify whether you want it spicy or bland and the vendor will make it for you. It is quite tasty and again ought to be had off the streets to get the real flavor. Most people though, like to flock to Juhu beach to try this out.
Pani Puri, for first timers, this can be seriously intriguing. The vendor hands you a plate. Next he takes a puri (it looks like a golf ball, but brown in color), makes a small hole in it, and dips the puri into two jars. These jars contain water — one tangy on a tamarind base, the other spicy on a mint base. He tops it off with some condiments and places the puri on your plate. You pick it with your hand and pop the whole thing into your mouth. The outcome is an explosion. Awesome. A word of caution here though. Make sure you don’t have your pani puri from just any vendor. The best vendors use only packaged water. Stick to that and enjoy the taste.
Indian-Chinese, Nothing like regular Chinese. For a typical Bambaiyya flavor, try the Chinese Bhelpuri!.
Hapus (Alphonso) mangoes, A must try, if you happen to be in Mumbai in the summers.
Mewad ice cream, If you happen to be in Mumbai, it is recommended you avoid ice creams from the famous and expensive parlors and try out the cheap Mewad ice cream stalls. They are a lovely treat at their price and provide a lot of options. The vendors are found everywhere across the streets, but avoid those who appear unhygienic.
Variations of world cuisine such as Tandoori Chicken Pizzas – the Bombay Masala Pizza at the Pizzeria on Marine Drive is legendary and well worth investigation – or McAloo Tikki burgers.
Pubs & bars
Mumbai is one of the most liberal cities in India when it comes to attitudes to alcohol. Bars exist at virtually every street corner and many of them advertise themselves as “family” bars and restaurants, which indicates that they are primarily restaurants where one can also have a drink. Other places are primarily bars, some of them might be sleazy. In South Mumbai and in the Western suburbs, you are likely to find many places where foreigners hang out.
Mumbai is much more accepting of women drinking than the rest of India. A woman ordering a drink is unlikely to raise eyebrows even in mid-range bars, though if you are alone, you might need to look out for your safety.
Nightlife in Mumbai spans the gamut from performances at five star hotels to discos. Dance bars which involve young, fully clothed women dancing mostly to Hindi film and pop music, have been shut down by the government for corrupting the morals of those who frequent those places. While the state high court has ruled that the crackdown was illegal, it will be a while before they open again as there are some technicalities involved to be sorted out.