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I had come into Mumbai from Kolkata as a sworn non-vegetarian and landed in a PG (Paying Guest) which served only vegetarian food! Over time I met a lot more vegetarians here than I ever did in Kolkata. As I grew older I began to eat more vegetarian food than I did before, thanks to the doctors telling me to cut down on meat. As a result of which I ended up trying more vegetarian dishes than I had in the past. Though I must admit that my heart still lies with non-vegetarian food.
Mumbai is a melting pot of cultures. It is home to many different communities from across India and this diversity is reflected in its food scene. There is a big vegetarian population here and it is no wonder that you get a wide variety of vegetarian dishes in local restaurants.
Here are some vegetarian dishes from different communities that you could try out here. I have limited the list to five dishes but please feel free to add in your recommendations in the comment section.
Maharashtrian Missal Pav
Missal is a popular breakfast dish for the city’s core Maharashtrian community. You will often find it served in office canteens too apart from people’s homes. It consists of a curry made with moth beans. A crunchy gram flour fried snack, farsan, is added to the curry and it is then with chopped raw red onions and a splash of lime juice making it a dish which offers wonderful textural contrasts. The dish is best had with pav, the soft local bread. The missal at Aaswad, the 29-year-old vegetarian Maharashtrian restaurant in Mumbai’s Dadar, is not too spicy and has that home food like feel. As does the missal at Prakash, the more than 50-year-old restaurant also at Dadar. Mamledar Missal at Thane is famous for its super spicy missal.
Parsi Vegetarian Dhansak
The lentil and goat meat slow cooked dish, Dhansak, is a Sunday afternoon favourite of the meat loving Parsi community. The dal is had with carmelised brown rice and the combination is called dhansak. The near 100-year-old Jimmy Boy (originally Café India) restaurant at Horniman Circle offers a vegetarian version of dhansak for those who do not eat meat. Don’t forget to ask for the tangy lime juice infused chopped onion and tomato salad, kachumbar, on the side. Do be prepared to be chastised by the red blooded Parsis who believe that dhansak must have mutton in it. I do know some vegetarian Parsis though! Parsis would refer to veg dhansak as masala ni daal.
This curd and gram flour based sweet and spicy curry is a favourite with the largely vegetarian Gujarati community of Mumbai. Kadhi is especially popular in summer for its cooling properties and is had with steamed rice and embellished with fried pakora dumplings. One great place to try this is Soam (they serve kadhi with khichdi) at Chowpatty which serves vegetarian Gujarati food which even has non-vegetarians in its spell.
Lashkara in Bandra offers the Punjabi version of kadhi.
Punjabi Paneer Bhurjee
Paneer bhurjee is one paneer dish where you can get the taste of paneer unlike in curries where the taste of the paneer is often drowned out. One place that does a great rendition of this flavourful scrambled paneer dish is Crystal near Chowpatty. Crystal is a simple, non-air conditioned, reasonably priced Punjabi vegetarian restaurant which traces its origins to Amritsar. Other nice dishes there are the sukha aloo, rajma, hot rotis and the kheer.
Shukto is a Bengali mixed vegetable stew at whose heart lies in karela (bitter gourd) which gives it a slightly bitter taste. It is meant to be eaten with ghee bhat (ghee rice) at the start of a meal and acts as an appetizer. Bhojohori Manna at Mumbai’s Oshiwara makes a lovely shukto. You can order it À la carte or as a part of the vegetarian maha thala (thali).
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.