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More than 70 years back a Chinese couple landed in Mumbai.
Wondering what to do for a living they decided to set up a restaurant. They named it after the capital of China in the pre-Communist days.
Their hard work and great food turned this restaurant, Nanking, into one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in Mumbai.
They opened another restaurant called Ling’s Pavilion a few buildings away from Nanking in Colaba. This was in a larger property. Nanking closed down a few years later and Ling’s took off. Old timers still can’t get over this loss though and will confidently tell you that the food at Ling’s is not a patch on that in Nanking.
For folks like me though, who have only known Ling’s and have just heard stories of Nanking, Ling’s works pretty well.
In fact Ling’s is possibly my favourite restaurant in Mumbai as it is for many of my friends.
Ling’s is now run by the sons of the couple who had founded Nanking.
The brothers Baba Ling and Nini Ling (who came back from North America to help the family business) are usually found at the restaurant. They are pretty hands on.
Baba Ling sits by the counter at the entry. Regulars go and ask him for the day’s special and take his advice on what to order. Menu cards are for first timers here.
Nini Ling, who is tall and lean and looks very different from the chubbier Baba (though Baba has lost a lot of weight due to ill health recently), normally patrols the inner sections and checks if people are eating properly.
This family involvement is what makes Ling’s special and the food here so magical.
The food served here is Cantonese. I have eaten here with people who have eaten in Chinese restaurants across the world and they say that find it matching up to the best they have had elsewhere. Baba makes trips to China to stay current with food trends there and to bring back new recipes.
He is now often at Ahmedabad where he has set up a restaurant called Nanjing.
They also own Naking in Delhi and Canton Spice in Gurgaon which Baba’s son and daughter-in-law based in Delhi look after.
People often ask me what to order in Ling’s.
Here are my favourites:
The pork soup dumplings, salt and pepper prawn, special roast pork, pan fried noodles with prawns and Chinese green, mixed meat rice (if you ask they will make it with sticky rice, else basmati), stewed pork belly, beef (buffalo now) chilli. If you are willing to splurge then go for the salt and pepper crab or the chilli garlic pomfret. They are one place that makes a decent basa and the chilli garlic one is a lot cheaper than the pomfret. You can place an order in advance for chicken rice.
If you are a regular they might send you some colourful ice-creams or darsan at the end!
Kalyan Karmakar authors the popular award winning blog, Finely Chopped and is an authority on the food of Mumbai. His extensive knowledge of the city's food scene has been featured in publications such as Femina, Mumbai Mirror and BCC Good Food. He was one of the founding critics of EazyDiner's Mumbai team.