Mumbai street food: What's a Japanese sous chef got to do with it?

Mumbai street food: What's a Japanese sous chef got to do with it?

Street food gets our thumbs up, but then we've grown up on it. So we dragged a Japanese chef from his kitchen to tell us if it's truly 'oishii'
Mumbai street food
Paani puri: 'It's the hard and the soft: puri and water, refreshing drink and a meal at the same time,' says Sato. No wonder it attracts the hordes.

Mumbai street food -- every one of us born and bred locals has at least one roadside stand we swear by for a daily dose at around 6pm, which acts as a mini meal between lunch and a 10pm dinner. So we are unashamedly biased.

But really, is it any good for anyone other than us Indians? We stole Toshikazu Kato, sous chef at Mumbai's Four Seasons hotel, from the kitchen to find out if any of our delights whet his Japanese palette.

Here are his favorite bites about town -- some are ultra popular (and rightly so), some popular traveller picks and some hidden suburban faves without telephones, known only to those lucky enough to live or work nearby.

'Maximum' fresh fruit juice at Haji Ali Juice Centre

Haji Ali Juice Centre gained notoriety for its mention in Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City." It's popular, and not just because of the mention in the book or its proximity to the famous island mosque of which it draws its name. No, its reputation is based on its superb fresh fruit juices. Ask them to omit ice and spice perhaps, if you prefer your juice that way.

Kato suggests the dry fruit milk shake. "It's rich, creamy and the dry fruits add a crunchiness to the drink," he says.

Haji Ali Circle, near Haji Ali Mosque

Sardar's pav bhaji

Sardar is best-known for that king of Mumbai street food, pav bhaji. It's a spicy, mushy mix of vegetables served with sinfully over-buttered buns. Dip the bread in the mix or spread it on like a sandwich-- it doesn't matter as one thing is for sure, two buns are never enough. While the dish can be found at any restaurant or on any street, Sardar's version is considered one of the city's best.

Kato agrees: "The butter to the bread just adds extra punch to the spicy vegetable," he says. "It's an all-day dish... true Indian fast food!"

166A, Tardeo Road Junction, Tardeo

Elco's paani puri -- justifiably famous

Elco needs no street address, it's justifiably famous among Bandra locals. Here, at any time of the day, you'll find throngs of people perched on red plastic stools in a shaded courtyard out the front, shielded from the street noise and dust, by a row of potplants.

Elco is best known for its paani puri. Crisp round balls of hollow fried bread. A hole is knocked into the top and in goes a ladle of chickpeas, diced potato, sprouts, and a watery tamarind-date sauce. Put the whole thing in your mouth and bite, letting it explode in a riot of contrasting flavors and textures.

"It's the hard and the soft: puri and water, refreshing drink and a meal at the same time," says Kato.

Near Globus, Hill Road, Bandra West

Mango milkshakes and lychee dessert Bachelorr's

Another juice stall, far smaller than the Haji Ali Juice Centre but equally delicious is Bachelorr's Juice Centre. The headline act is the fresh Alphonso mango juice-- cold, creamy, rich and just the perfect amount of sweetness. People from all over India ask for Alphonso mango from Maharashtra.

However, Kato's favorite is the lychee with ice cream. "A fresh and simple dessert," he calls it.

45 Sattar Sea View, Chowpatty Seaface, Grant Road, Chowpatty

Ok, so we didn't find any real mouth burners, but we can save that for dinner, remember these are simply to tide you over.

What is your taste? Hit us up with the street food choices you can't live without.