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A History Of Mumbai In 11 Dishes


by Magda Fraga



Mumbai, the bustling metropolis on the western coast of India, is not only famous for its towering skyscrapers and vibrant street life, but also for its rich and diverse culinary scene. The city is a melting pot of cultures, and its food reflects this beautiful blend of influences from various communities that have made Mumbai their home over the centuries.


From street food joints to fine dining establishments, Mumbai offers a vast array of mouthwatering culinary experiences. In this article, we will take a culinary journey through Mumbai’s history, exploring 11 iconic dishes that have become synonymous with the city’s unique food culture.


Each dish carries with it a story – a tale of migration, trade, and the evolution of flavors. Whether you’re a food enthusiast planning a trip to Mumbai or simply curious about the city’s gastronomic heritage, this article will guide you through the must-try dishes that define Mumbai’s food identity.


So, tighten your seatbelts and get ready to embark on a delicious adventure as we uncover the history and flavors of Mumbai in these 11 delectable dishes.


Vada Pav: The Iconic Street Food

When it comes to street food in Mumbai, few dishes can rival the popularity of Vada Pav. This humble but flavorful snack holds a special place in the hearts of Mumbaikars and has become an integral part of the city’s culinary landscape.


Vada Pav consists of a spicy potato fritter, known as ‘vada’, sandwiched between a soft bun called ‘pav’. The vada is made by mashing boiled potatoes and combining them with ginger, garlic, green chilies, and a blend of aromatic spices. It is then coated in gram flour batter and deep-fried until golden brown and crispy.


The vada is served in a pav that has been generously smeared with a spicy red chutney made from garlic, chili powder, and tamarind. Some variations also include a sweet and tangy green chutney made with coriander and mint. The final touch is a sprinkle of crispy fried green chili on top for an extra kick.


The origins of Vada Pav can be traced back to the 1960s when it was created as a low-cost, filling meal for the textile mill workers in Mumbai. It quickly gained popularity and soon became a favorite among people from all walks of life. Today, you can find Vada Pav stalls on almost every street corner, with each vendor adding their own unique twist to the recipe.


What sets Vada Pav apart is its simplicity and the explosion of flavors it delivers. The combination of the spicy vada, the tangy chutneys, and the soft, pillowy pav create a perfect symphony of taste and texture. It has become a go-to snack for Mumbaikars, whether they’re craving a quick bite in the morning or need a satisfying meal on the go.


So, if you ever find yourself in the bustling streets of Mumbai, make sure to indulge in the iconic Vada Pav. It’s a culinary experience that embodies the spirit and flavors of this vibrant city.


Parsi Berry Pulao: A Taste of the Persian Influence

Mumbai is known for its eclectic culinary influences, and one dish that perfectly embodies this cultural fusion is the Parsi Berry Pulao. The Parsi community, originally from Persia, settled in Mumbai centuries ago, bringing with them their distinct flavors and culinary traditions.


The Parsi Berry Pulao is a fragrant and flavorful rice dish that combines elements of Persian and Indian cuisine. It is made with fragrant basmati rice cooked with caramelized onions, tender pieces of meat (usually chicken or mutton), and a medley of aromatic spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom.


What sets this dish apart is the addition of tangy-sweet berries, known as ‘Zereshk’ in Persian. These dried berries add a burst of flavor and a vibrant garnet color to the pulao. Along with the berries, the pulao is often garnished with fried cashews and crispy fried onions, adding texture and depth.


The Parsi Berry Pulao is traditionally served with ‘salan’, a rich and spicy gravy made with meat or vegetables. The combination of the fragrant pulao and the flavorful salan creates a harmonious balance of tastes on your plate.


This delightful dish is not just a culinary delight; it is also a cultural symbol for the Parsi community in Mumbai. It is often served during special occasions and festivals, and is a must-have at Parsi weddings.


The Parsi Berry Pulao showcases the lasting influence of the Persian culture on Mumbai’s culinary landscape. It is a testament to the city’s history as a melting pot of cultures, where flavors and traditions have seamlessly blended to create unique and delicious dishes.


So, if you’re ever in Mumbai and want to experience the rich cultural tapestry of the city through food, don’t miss the chance to savor the Parsi Berry Pulao. It’s a dish that not only tantalizes your taste buds but also tells a story of heritage and fusion.


Bhel Puri: Mumbai’s Beloved Chaat

When it comes to street food in Mumbai, Bhel Puri holds a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike. This popular snack is a quintessential Mumbai chaat that bursts with flavors and textures in every bite.


Bhel Puri is a delightful mixture of puffed rice, sev (crispy fried noodles), onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and a tangy tamarind chutney. It is then tossed with a medley of spices such as chaat masala, roasted cumin powder, and chili powder, which elevate the flavors to another level.


What makes Bhel Puri truly special is the combination of sweet, spicy, tangy, and crunchy elements. The puffed rice adds a light and crispy texture, while the sev adds a delightful crunch. The tangy tamarind chutney provides a burst of flavor, while the onions and tomatoes add freshness to the dish.


Bhel Puri is not just a snack; it is an experience. It is often prepared and customized right in front of you by street vendors, who skillfully mix the ingredients and adjust the flavors based on your preferences. The art of balancing the ingredients is what sets one Bhel Puri vendor apart from another.


What’s remarkable about Bhel Puri is its versatility. You can find it across the city, from street-side carts to high-end restaurants, with each place adding its own twist to the recipe. Some vendors might add raw mango for an extra tang, while others might include sprouts for added nutrition.


This humble street food not only satisfies your cravings but also gives you a glimpse into Mumbai’s vibrant street food culture. It’s a treat for the senses, as you take in the sights, sounds, and flavors of the city while indulging in a plate of Bhel Puri.


So, the next time you visit Mumbai, be sure to explore the bustling streets and seek out a trusted Bhel Puri vendor. Join the locals in relishing this beloved chaat, and experience the magic of Mumbai’s street food scene firsthand.


Butter Chicken: A North Indian Delight Made Famous in Mumbai

Butter Chicken, also known as Murgh Makhani, may have its origins in the northern part of India, but it has gained immense popularity in Mumbai and has become a favorite dish among Mumbaikars.


Butter Chicken is a rich, creamy, and succulent chicken dish that is cooked in a tomato-based gravy. The chicken is first marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices, then typically cooked in a tandoor (traditional clay oven) to impart a smoky flavor. The cooked chicken is then simmered in a luscious gravy made with tomatoes, butter, cream, and a blend of aromatic spices.


What sets Butter Chicken apart is its velvety smooth texture and the perfect balance of flavors. The creamy tomato gravy, combined with the tender pieces of chicken, creates a heavenly combination that is both comforting and indulgent.


Mumbai has embraced Butter Chicken wholeheartedly, and you can find it on the menus of numerous restaurants, from the humble dhabas (roadside eateries) to upscale fine dining establishments. Each restaurant and chef may have their own variation of the recipe, adding their unique touch to this classic dish.


Butter Chicken has become a staple in the Mumbai food scene, loved by locals and visitors alike. Whether enjoyed with naan bread, roti, or fragrant basmati rice, this dish satisfies cravings for rich and flavorful North Indian cuisine.


Despite its North Indian roots, Butter Chicken has become an integral part of the culinary fabric of Mumbai. It exemplifies the city’s openness and love for diverse flavors and regional cuisines. Mumbai has adopted and embraced this iconic dish, making it a must-try for anyone looking to explore the city’s vibrant food culture.


So, when in Mumbai, indulge in the creamy goodness of Butter Chicken to experience the melding of North Indian flavors with the vibrant food scene of this bustling city.


Pav Bhaji: The Satisfying Street Food Staple

When it comes to iconic street food in Mumbai, Pav Bhaji holds a special place in the hearts and palates of locals and visitors alike. This beloved dish is a delicious and satisfying combination of flavorful vegetable curry, known as bhaji, and soft buttered buns, called pav.


The origins of Pav Bhaji can be traced back to the 1850s, when it was created as a quick and filling meal option for textile mill workers. Over time, it gained popularity and became an integral part of Mumbai’s street food culture.


The bhaji is made by cooking a medley of vegetables such as potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peas, and capsicum. The vegetables are mashed and cooked with a blend of spices, including Pav Bhaji masala, a fragrant spice mix that gives the dish its distinct flavor.


Once the bhaji is cooked to perfection, it is served with a dollop of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. The pav, which is a soft and fluffy bun, is toasted on a griddle with generous amounts of butter and served alongside the bhaji. The combination of the creamy and flavorful bhaji with the buttery, slightly crispy pav is what makes this dish truly irresistible.


Pav Bhaji is not just a culinary delight; it is a social experience. Many street vendors in Mumbai have large tawas (griddles) where they cook the bhaji and toast the pav in full view of customers. The aromatic smells wafting through the air and the sizzling sound of the food being prepared create an atmosphere that is as enticing as the taste of the dish itself.


Whether you’re a local or a tourist, enjoying Pav Bhaji on the streets of Mumbai is a must-do experience. It’s a dish that brings people together, creating a sense of community as everyone gathers around the food stalls, savoring each bite and bonding over their shared love for this street food staple.


So, next time you find yourself in Mumbai, be sure to indulge in the delightful symphony of flavors that is Pav Bhaji. It’s a sensory delight that epitomizes the vibrant street food culture of this bustling city.


Biryani: A Fusion of Flavors

Biryani, a fragrant and flavorful rice dish, is a culinary gem that has found its way into the hearts and plates of Mumbaikars. This exquisite dish is a fusion of Indian, Persian, and Mughlai flavors that come together to create a symphony of taste.


Biryani is made by layering fragrant basmati rice with meat (commonly chicken, mutton, or fish), aromatic spices, and a blend of onions, tomatoes, and yogurt. The dish is then sealed and cooked on a low flame, allowing the flavors to meld together and infuse into the rice.


What sets Biryani apart is the skillful balance of spices. The blend of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and nutmeg lends a warm and fragrant aroma to the dish. The rice is typically cooked in a flavorful broth, infused with saffron, which imparts a vibrant yellow color.


No two Biryani recipes are the same, as each region and culture adds their own unique twist to the dish. In Mumbai, you can find various types of Biryani, including the famous Hyderabadi Biryani, which is known for its rich and aromatic flavors.


When it comes to enjoying Biryani in Mumbai, one must savor it with the traditional accompaniments. A side of raita (yogurt with cucumbers, onions, and spices) adds a cool and refreshing element that complements the richness of the Biryani. Additionally, the dish is often served with a flavorful salan or gravy and some crispy fried onions on top.


Biryani is not simply a dish; it is a celebration of flavors, textures, and traditions. It is a dish that brings people together, whether it’s a family gathering, a festive occasion, or simply a treat for oneself. The art of making Biryani has been passed down through generations, ensuring the preservation of this culinary masterpiece.


So, if you ever find yourself in Mumbai, indulge in the tantalizing flavors of Biryani. It’s a dish that exemplifies the fusion of cultures and the love for intricate, aromatic spices that define Indian cuisine.


Bombil Fry: Mumbai’s Love for Seafood

When it comes to seafood, Mumbai’s love affair is undeniable, and one dish that exemplifies this passion is Bombil Fry. Bombil, also known as Bombay Duck, is a local fish found in the waters around Mumbai, and it is a delicacy that Mumbaikars can’t resist.


Bombil Fry is a simple yet flavorful preparation that highlights the delicate taste and texture of the fish. The fish is marinated in a mixture of spices, including turmeric, red chili powder, and a touch of tanginess from lemon juice. It is then coated with a thin layer of semolina (rava) before being shallow-fried to crispy perfection.


The result is a dish that offers a delightful contrast of textures – the slightly crisp outer coating and the soft, flaky interior of the fish. The flavors are equally impressive, with the spices infusing into the fish, creating a burst of tangy and savory notes.


Bombil Fry is commonly enjoyed as an appetizer or a side dish, often paired with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of chaat masala. It is best enjoyed fresh and hot, straight from the frying pan.


Mumbai’s coastal location has always made it a prime destination for seafood lovers, and Bombil Fry has become a testament to the city’s love affair with the ocean’s bounty. Whether enjoyed at a local seafood restaurant or a street-side stall, this dish showcases the freshest catch and the culinary prowess of the city.


It’s not just the locals who appreciate Bombil Fry; visitors to Mumbai are also eager to experience the flavors of this iconic dish. The combination of simplicity, freshness, and the unique taste of the Bombil fish make it a must-try for any seafood enthusiast.


So, if you find yourself in Mumbai, don’t miss the chance to indulge in Bombil Fry and immerse yourself in the city’s deep love for seafood. It’s a dish that not only tantalizes your taste buds but also showcases the rich coastal heritage of this vibrant city.


Ragda Pattice: The Perfect Blend of Spicy and Tangy

Ragda Pattice is a beloved street food dish that perfectly encapsulates the vibrant flavors and textures of Mumbai’s culinary scene. This flavorful dish is a delightful combination of spicy ragda (a curry made from dried white peas) and crispy pattice (potato cutlets), topped with an array of tangy and savory condiments.


The preparation of Ragda Pattice starts with boiling and mashing soaked white peas, which are then cooked with a medley of spices, including turmeric, cumin, and chili powder. The resulting ragda has a thick and luscious consistency, with a blend of flavors that is simultaneously spicy and comforting.


The pattice, made with mashed potatoes mixed with spices and coated with bread crumbs, are shallow-fried to achieve a golden brown, crispy exterior. The contrast in textures between the soft and flavorful ragda and the crunchy pattice adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the dish.


Once prepared, Ragda Pattice is assembled by placing the pattice in a bowl, smothering them with a generous ladleful of hot ragda, and topping them with an assortment of condiments. This can include tangy tamarind chutney, spicy green chutney made with coriander and mint, chopped onions, fresh coriander leaves, sev (crispy noodles), and a sprinkle of chaat masala.


The combination of flavors in Ragda Pattice is truly a taste explosion in every bite. The spicy and tangy elements from the ragda and chutneys are balanced by the creamy and mild flavors of the pattice, creating a harmonious blend that is both satisfying and addictive.


Ragda Pattice is not just a popular street food; it is a cultural experience that represents the diversity and vibrancy of Mumbai’s culinary heritage. It is a well-loved snack that can be enjoyed as a mid-day pick-me-up or as a hearty meal in itself.


So, when in Mumbai, make sure to sample the tantalizing flavors of Ragda Pattice. It’s a dish that exemplifies the perfect balance of spicy, tangy, and crispy elements, and is sure to leave you craving for more.


Misal Pav: An Explosion of Flavors

Misal Pav is a vibrant and spicy Maharashtrian street food dish that promises an explosion of flavors. It is a true sensory delight that showcases the bold and diverse culinary heritage of Mumbai, making it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.


Misal, meaning “mixture,” is a medley of sprouted lentils, known as ‘matki’, combined with a fiery spice blend known as ‘misal masala’. The lentils are cooked until tender and simmered in a flavorful gravy made from onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and a mix of aromatic spices.


The dish gets its fiery kick from the misal masala, which is a blend of various spices including coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, and red chili powder. The masala adds depth and heat to the dish, infusing it with a tantalizing aroma and robust flavor.


Misal is traditionally served with pav, which is a soft and fluffy bread roll. The pav is lightly toasted and served alongside the misal to soak up all the delicious flavors. It acts as a perfect counterbalance to the spiciness of the misal, offering a comforting and fulfilling experience.


What makes Misal Pav truly special is the assortment of toppings and garnishes. It is typically served with a generous drizzle of ghee (clarified butter), finely chopped onions, fresh coriander leaves, crunchy farsan (fried savory snack), and a squeeze of lime juice. These toppings not only add texture and freshness but also enhance the complexity of flavors in every bite.


One of the unique aspects of Misal Pav is that it can be customized to suit individual preferences. The spiciness can be adjusted by adding more or less misal masala, and additional garnishes like yogurt or extra farsan can be added to enhance the overall experience. Every Misal Pav dish is carefully crafted, ensuring a harmonious balance of flavors.


Misal Pav is not just a dish; it is an experience. From the first spoonful of the spicy lentil mixture to the last bite of the pav soaked in the flavorful gravy, each mouthful is an adventure for the taste buds. It is a dish that exemplifies Mumbai’s love for bold and robust flavors.


If you’re in Mumbai, make sure to try Misal Pav for a culinary adventure like no other. It’s a dish that will ignite your taste buds and leave you craving for more of its spicy and flavorful goodness.


Modak: Lord Ganesha’s Favorite Sweet

Modak, a sweet delicacy, holds a special significance in Mumbai, especially during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. It is believed to be Lord Ganesha’s favorite sweet, and its preparation and consumption are considered an essential part of the celebrations.


Modak is a dumpling-shaped sweet made from rice flour or wheat flour dough, filled with a mixture of grated coconut, jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), and aromatic spices like cardamom and nutmeg. The dumplings are then steamed or fried until they attain a soft and melt-in-your-mouth texture.


Preparing Modak requires skill and attention to detail, as the dumplings need to be perfectly shaped and sealed to ensure the filling remains intact. Some variations of Modak also feature a rich and creamy stuffing made from mawa (milk solids) and nuts.


During Ganesh Chaturthi, Modaks are offered as prasad (devotional food) to Lord Ganesha before being shared as a symbol of blessings among devotees. The sweet taste and unique shape of Modak are said to please the elephant-headed deity, who is revered as the god of wisdom and prosperity.


Mumbaikars eagerly await the arrival of Ganesh Chaturthi, not just for the festivities but also for the opportunity to indulge in the delectable Modaks. The city is brimming with sweet shops and bakeries that specialize in this particular sweet during the festival season.


Modaks are not only enjoyed during religious celebrations but have also become a popular year-round treat. Many families in Mumbai make Modaks at home as a way of preserving traditional recipes and passing them down through generations.


The immense popularity and cultural significance of Modak in Mumbai demonstrates the city’s devotion to its traditions and the importance placed on preserving culinary heritage.


So, when in Mumbai, don’t miss the chance to savor the sacred and delectable Modak. It’s not just a sweet treat; it’s a cherished part of the city’s cultural fabric and a way to celebrate Lord Ganesha’s presence in the lives of Mumbaikars.



Mumbai, with its bustling streets, diverse cultures, and vibrant food scene, offers a culinary experience like no other. The city’s deep-rooted love for flavorsome food is evident in its iconic dishes that have become synonymous with Mumbai’s identity.


From the humble Vada Pav and the Persian-inspired Parsi Berry Pulao to the mouthwatering Bhel Puri and the rich Butter Chicken, each dish tells a story of migration, fusion, and the evolution of flavors. Mumbai’s street food staples like Pav Bhaji and Misal Pav offer a sensory explosion of tastes and textures that truly captivate the senses.


But it’s not just the street food that defines Mumbai’s gastronomic culture. The city’s love for seafood is portrayed in the tantalizing Bombil Fry, while the fragrant and aromatic Biryani reflects the fusion of Indian, Persian, and Mughlai influences.


The culinary journey through Mumbai wouldn’t be complete without indulging in the iconic and sweet Modak, which adds a touch of devotion and tradition during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations.


Mumbai’s food scene is not just about the dishes themselves; it’s about the experience they provide. It’s the aroma that fills the air, the sizzle of the frying pans, and the bustling streets adorned with food stalls that make Mumbai’s culinary landscape truly enchanting.


Whether you’re a local or a visitor, exploring Mumbai’s food culture is an adventure that unveils the city’s rich heritage, diverse flavors, and unwavering passion for food. Each bite tells a story, a story of Mumbai’s vibrant history, cultural exchange, and sheer love for good food.


So, the next time you find yourself in Mumbai, let your taste buds embark on a gastronomic journey through the city’s iconic dishes. Immerse yourself in the aromas and flavors, and discover the magic that lies within Mumbai’s food travel experience.