On a Tasting Trail of Mumbai’s Iftar Markets

Of sweets, savouries and everything in between

Annabelle D’Costa

An Iftar trail in Mumbai is not as easy as heading to the old part of the city and exploring the alleyways lined with food carts. To get a real flavour of the variety of Mumbai’s iftar offerings, you’ve to cover the quaint areas of Mohammed Ali, the Behram Baug of Jogeshwari, the masjid area of Mahim and Bandra and the Bohri Mohalla near Mohammed Ali.

This year for Ramzan we set off on a culinary trail into one of the oldest gullies of South Mumbai, Bhendi Bazaar. Accompanied by
 Mumbai-based food blogger and author Kalyan Karmakar, we set off on what was to be the most epic food journey of our lives. The vendors and shop owners greet him with a friendly wave; his familiarity with the area comes from years of wandering through its lanes. According to him, this is a good time to visit Bhendi Bazaar, as the neighbourhood is currently in a state of flux due to it being under redevelopment and may not look the same a few years from now. Ask him what makes this place a must visit if you’re out exploring the Iftar markets of Mumbai and he's quick to tell you that the restaurants and small shops here are open all year round, unlike other pop-ups that emerge only during Ramzan.

Also read: From Haleem to Pathar Ka Gosht, Exploring Hyderabad’s Old City Through a Food Trail

Mumbai’s Bhendi Bazaar or Bohri Mohalla, named so due to its Dawoodi Bohra Muslim residents, weaves a rich tapestry of culinary tales. Over a century old, the mohalla got its name ‘Bhendi Bazaar’, as a colloquial version of the term ‘behind the bazaar,’ which was used by the British colonisers to identify the area behind Crawford Market. Initially, the area was home to migrant labourers working at the Mumbai docks, and then it gradually went on to accommodate other traders and their businesses. It was later during the 20th century that Bhendi Bazaar started attracting crowds of Dawoodi Bohras from Gujarat and Yemen. They built the mosques. Raudat Tahera, the mausoleum of the 51st and 52nd Dai-al-Mutlaq of the Dawoodi Bohras, Syedna Taher Saifuddin and Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin were built here, thereby turning this place into a pilgrimage centre. Bhendi Bazaar’s most infamous resident was India’s most wanted gangster, Dawood Ibrahim.

Also read: 10 Places in Kolkata to Make a Meal during Ramzan

During Ramzan, this otherwise ignored street transforms into a culinary fair. Sizzling malpua and jalebis, kebabs being charred over grills, phirnis in different shades, and pools of people patiently waiting to end their fast and break their roza — pretty much sums up a typical evening at Bhendi Bazaar. 
Let this, then, be a guide to set you on the path to Mumbai's foodie heaven.

Noor Mohammadi Hotel - 181-183, I R Road

Easy to spot—look for the shop with the largest crowd waiting to break their fast with falooda, dates and fruits—that’s Noor Mohammadi Hotel for you. We knew we’re in for a treat when we were welcomed by the smell and sight of chicken shami kebabs, and other non-traditional offerings that are largely meat-based. What makes Noor Mohammadi a must-visit spot is its rich history. A brand that first opened shop back in 1923, it is today run by the third and fourth generations, what remains unchanged is the quality of service, says Karmakar. Ask Rashid Hakim, the now owner of the hotel, about their best-selling item and he’s quick to tell you about Chicken Shami kebabs. Made with minced chicken, chana dal and spices, the shami kebabs are hand-pounded to a texture so soft that it’s difficult to lift them without having them fall apart. Apart from the kebabs, they also have on offer chicken satay, chicken cheese samosa, butter garlic chicken, thread chicken, chicken lollipops and chana, informs Rashid. According to Karmakar, their speciality is the Chicken Hakimi, essentially tandoori chicken soaked in a thin liquid concoction of buttermilk, chaat masala and loads of butter. Pair that with Nalli Nihaari, a delicious dish of slow-cooked mutton in a gravy infused with its flavours, topped with dollops of ghee. Other must-haves are the White Biryani which is made using curd and cashew paste, and the Chicken Sanju Baba, a dish conceptualised by Sanjay Dutt. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself dining besides other famous actors such as AR Rahman and Shilpa Shetty Kundra who are the other regulars at this place.

Shalimar – Bhendi Bazaar

A hit not only amongst the locals but also tourists, this place has been serving Mughlai dishes since the ’70s. That’s not all, all these are prepared in the traditional dum-pukht style with recipes handed down the generations. Started by the late Zainuddin Shaikh, Shalimar was only a small cold-drink shop in its initial years, and established itself as a restaurant over the years. Today Shalimar lists about 600 items, with some of its specials including items such as bheja fry, raan biryani (cooked using leg of lamb), chilli chicken and chilled falooda. This Mughlai place is run by the third-generation Omair Shaikh whose stepped in as Managing Director for Shalimar Hospitality Pvt Ltd. and behind taking Shalimar to its 50th year of success. Frequented by the likes of celebrities such as Ram Gopal Verma, Farida Jalal, Irfan Khan and even cricketer Wassim Jaffer, this place is a foodie’s paradise for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Don’t forget to catch the men in action behind the live counters – tandoori, chaat and more – all adding to the element of drama and sure to whet your appetite. On popular demand, we tried the Raan Biryani, fit for a group of four to six, and now we know why it has a cult following of its own. Slow cooked for over two hours, the succulent meat pieces are neatly laid on a bed of what they call the dum rice, with each and every grain boasting of strong flavours.

On a Tasting Trail of Mumbai’s Iftar Markets

Shabbir’s Tawakkal Sweets – 24, Khara Tank Road

A Ramzan food trail isn’t complete without desserts to balance out the meat feast. Our first sweet break was at Shabbir’s Tawakkal Sweets, not to be confused with the other Tawakkal shops in the area. Started by Abdulla Mithaiwala in the ’50s, Tawakkal Sweets began as a single shop with only two or three delicacies such as dahi vada, malpuas and jalebis all made by Abdulla himself. Today, the brand has grown from being a tiny shop to a name popular all over Mumbai. This half-a-century-old brand is today run by Moayyad Shabbir Mithaiwala, the third-generation owner, along with other members from his family – all of whom will greet you with big smiles while ushering you towards empty tables and chairs. Their bestsellers are the single egg malpuas, served with a side of malai cream instead of the usual rabdi. They also make eggless malpuas topped with Nutella. Sutarpherni and pak are some of the other very typical Bohra offerings which could be a hit-or-miss for first-time visitors. The salam pak is made with rava, mawa and gond, and has its origins in Gujarat, the sutarpherni, on the other hand, is flaky, thin strands of rice-flour that are roasted in ghee, blended with melted sugar and topped with finely chopped nuts. Tawakkal sweets is also known for their phirni, and another delicious confection called the Aflatoon, a glorious sweet made of a mixture of mawa, eggs, rawa, sugar, dry fruits and drenched in ghee. Besides, on offer are other sweets such as the malai khaja, a decadent, layered pastry made up of a deep-fried shell of flour that conceals a heart of milk cream mixed with nuts. This ghee-soaked pastry scores on texture as its crisp, flaky surface is contrasted by the soft malai, which oozes with every bite.

Noor Sweets – 134/142, Saifee Jubilee Street

They call themselves the pioneers in the jalebi making business, the first ones to officially introduce the Bohris to these spiral-shaped confections. While they do have an array of sweets on their menu, jalebis tops the list. Boasting of a bewitching crunch and the right balance of sweet, one is bound to binge on their fresh-off-the-kadhai jalebis without the sugar rush kicking in. Run by brothers Huzefa and Hatim, Noor Sweets is an 85-year-old sweet shop that was started by their grandfather, Hassanali Ablibai Mithaiwala, a native to Baroda, Gujarat. They began experimenting with their jalebis which eventually gave rise to their second bestseller, the mawa jalebi. Best described as deep-fried gulab jamuns, the mawa jalebi has fewer spirals than a regular jalebi and is deep brown in colour with a crisp surface and a warm, soft crumb within. On offer are also kesari jalebis with the goodness of saffron, rose jalebis, different halwas, malpuas and much more. However, we’d recommend the oil-soaked thick jalebis that are slathered with silken rabdi. While they are indeed a delicious threat to the arteries, life’s too short to skip dessert.

Video thumbnails and banner image: Shutterstock


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