Mumbai's 'Eastern Sunset' captures the soul of East Indian food

Dedication, doggedness and a love for tradition bind the efforts of a few good East Indians, descendents of the original inhabitants of what was known as Bombay

March 29, 2019 09:40 pm | Updated April 05, 2019 06:22 pm IST

MUMBAI:15-03-2019, "Eastern Sunset", Avion Hotel near Domestic Airport Opposite Sahara Star Hotel, Vile Parle,East.  Photo by : Dinesh Parab

MUMBAI:15-03-2019, "Eastern Sunset", Avion Hotel near Domestic Airport Opposite Sahara Star Hotel, Vile Parle,East. Photo by : Dinesh Parab

Not just bottle masala by the bay: Two new restaurants in the city are serving up a taste of their community’s traditional fare, from fluffy fugiyas to intense duck moile

Once upon a time, the Misquitta family in Vile Parle was very well known. At the family bungalow, every entroz (traditional feasting done just before Lent) was special. On Fat Sunday, people would line the street, carrying plates and their own handbread (or aps ) and wait patiently for Lawrence Misquitta to ladle out his special Muttonachi Khuddi . His granddaughter, Valencia Misquitta Irani, would’ve liked to continue the tradition but times have changed. Her effort in preserving the food aspect of these nostalgic memories is Eastern Sunset, a three-month-old restaurant at the family-run Avion Hotel.

Opened in January this year, the multi-cuisine restaurant has a special East Indian menu. “These days, most people don’t have the time to sit and prepare all these dishes. They miss eating this food. We thought why not use our experience and recipes to serve them these forgotten flavours,” says Valencia, who always dreamed of having her own place. When the space opened up within the hotel, she took the chance to put that dream into play. She did up the place herself with simple furnishings, a glorious sunset poster covering one wall, and a lit-up bar area for when they get their wine and beer license.

True to tradition

The food would have to be simple and familiar, just like home. There are shallow fried chicken mince Chicken Chops (₹250) served with a tangy but sweet lagan nu achar; a Veg Foogath (₹200) – steamed French beans tossed with oil and coconut; Chicken Frithad (₹250) – a lightly spiced chicken curry, heavy on the coconut and redolent with bottle masala. To accompany this feast, there’s caramelised rice sweetened by raisins and almonds better known as Wedding Rice (₹400), and squishy, fried and highly addictive Fugeas (₹100). Dessert is an experiment, thin pancakes shaped like crescents and stuffed with freshly cut fruit (Fruit Pancakes, ₹200).

The food is curated by chef Michael Swamy; home cook Brenda D’Souza is now the head chef. There’s no beef or duck on the menu and just one chicken dish. The food is mellower than expected, the spice levels toned down to accommodate requests. As promised, every curry is of a different colour. The few Parsi dishes mentioned are a nod to Valencia’s husband Kayomus’ Irani heritage. Special items like the Parsi khurchan and kheema pao, vindaloo, tongue moile will be part of weekly specials.

If East Indian fare is the soul of Eastern Sunset, Valencia and Kayomus are its heart. Married for 21 years, their love for each other is adorable to watch, and their passion for preserving their culinary heritage, a delight. They are happy to sit down and explain what makes the food special and talk about its origins and yesteryear food traditions.

Community feeling

The East Indians are an Indian Christian community considered the original inhabitants of Bombay, Salcette, Thana and Raigad. Scattered in different gaothans across the city, they usually fall under the radar. These days, because of the efforts of a few people and organisations like the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat (MGP), their stories are coming to light. One of the most fascinating aspects of their lives is the food.

Those seeking a taste of the community fare would earlier either attend a food festival, or partake in one of their celebrations. One of the best places to get a sense of the diversity of the cuisine and the people who are working to popularise it is at the East Indian Food Festival. An annual affair, this year’s edition was held in Bandra. On offer were stalls laid out with steel containers containing simmering duck moile, fiery pork vindaloo and sorpotel; pristine white flatbreads, neat rows of pan rolls, cutlets and potato chops, and packets of wedding pickle. The MGP also has plans to organise regular bazaars selling food and other traditional items in different gaothans . These events are a good place to seek out caterers from the community, families who’ve spent their lives cooking up kilos of vindaloo and aps.

Take it away

Over in Borivali’s IC Colony, a group of women have banded together to start East Indian Cuisine, a takeaway service available only on weekends. Architect Audrey D’Souza had the idea and approached Royaltta Periera, Rufina Misquitta, Evone Patel, Fatima Rodrigues, Thelma Periera, and Glans Henriques to join. The women cook in their own kitchens and bring the food to Annette Fernandes’ restaurant, Pit Stop, for takeaway. Their menu has traditional fare like chicken roast, lonvas, fish kujit, atwan, vajdi (offal), fugiyas and flatbread; come Lent and there will be a focus on vegetarian food. “This is an effort to empower the women in our community, and to popularise our traditional food. We have so much variety and we don’t compromise on the taste,” says D’Souza.

If the northern suburbs are too far, take a pit stop at Kalina at East Indian Fast Food. The two month-old restaurant was started by Kenny Jacinto and his friend Glinston Galbano. Its origins are a humble cart, parked outside the St Roque Grotto, dishing out potato chops, sorpotel, vajdi, and handbreads to customers coming in from as far as Thane. “We realised that people liked our food so much, they wanted to sit down someplace and eat at leisure, preferably with family. So, we thought of getting our own place,” says Jacinto. A blackboard at the entrance announces the day’s special, snacks are placed in a glass counter and neatly pleated lugras (the traditional saree) are pinned on the wall. The menu has East Indian and Chinese fare. The recipes, and some dishes, come from families – the rest are prepared by the two men. Their Potato Chops (₹20) are great value for money – the softest mashed potato casing spicy minced chicken, dunked in an egg bath and fried. Other snacks include Chicken Puffs (₹30), Chicken Pattices (₹20), and Coconut Pancakes. There are fish thalis highlighting fresh catch of the day, and rice flour handbreads to mop up curries. Two stand-out dishes are the Bombil Fry (₹90) – the perfect consistency of soft meat with a crisp but crumbly rava batter. Prawn Curry is like a stew, a green coconut curry, with chunky pieces of radish and bhindi and tender prawns, still in their shell. It is food worth queuing up for, minus the plates.

Eastern Sunset , Avion Hotel, Vile Parle; 6 p.m. to midnight; East Indian Fast Food , C4 Sterling apt. CHS, Church Road, Kalina, 88791 44274; East Indian Cuisine , IC Colony, Borivali; only available on weekends, 9821372466.

Documenting memories : One woman’s mission is to tell the stories of the community and heritage

In the small village of Amboli in Andheri lives lugra legend Cecilia Coutinho. She is famous for draping over a thousand women in the traditional East Indian saree in just one afternoon. The 10-yard lugra is a typical garment of the community, simple and versatile, made of cotton, with a checked weave and lined border. It was once worn by everyone, daily but is not as common anymore.

Past is present

The history of the lugra and specifically, the stories of the women who can drape it are part of the stories found on East Indian Memory Co (EIMC). The art, culture and history project is an attempt to preserve the community’s stories. Reena Almeida, a ‘Proud East Indian’ from Vasai (now in Brisbane) began East Indian Memory Co. in October 2017, as a website with a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. “My goal is to speak about the lives of East Indians during various points of Indian and Indian Christian history. I want to highlight the issues and triumphs of the earlier generations, the prevalent religious and social taboos, and how they overcame the hardships within the family and outside,” she says.

EIMC thus is a platform to tell these stories – usually shared at East Indian family and community gatherings – but undocumented.It features elements that go beyond just the highlights. If people know about the lugra, Almeida talks about the women who sell them and those who have influenced the changing styles. The community’s contribution to the religion (churches, crosses, statues) is known but no one talks about their ancestral homes. Almeida’s exploration of these houses highlights their unique architectural styles and need for restoration. There are monthly EIMC quizzes; masalas, posters and lugra dresses (her interpretation) on sale; and educational resources including free fight signs.

Passion project

In the future, Almeida wants to talk about ‘taboo’ subjects like widows and how they are treated, the stigma attached to spinsters and bachelors, family infighting over property matters, unemployment and alcohol abuse. The project is self-funded and Almeida handles everything – product and content design, social media management, networking, recording, writing and strategising, liaising with people – on her own. She sets aside every second day during a week to work on her research for EIMC – it is thorough and vetted through available but meagre records and her family. Her profits through sales are negligible but for Almeida, this is a passion project.

She has received much encouragement from within the community and outside. It’s what helps her tell stories of “people who may not be famous but are remarkable”. She finds it heartening to see more unusual interpretations of the lugra, people using the EI hashtag on Instagram, and a surge in readership among the younger generation. “I can safely say EIMC has played a big part in getting people talking about the EIs of Bombay and paying more attention to us,” she says.


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