How not to conduct a foodwalk

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This is a rant. Because I had phone calls to return yesterday but couldn’t make the time. My weekend was absolutely packed and I wasted 3 hours (plus 2 hours) of my life yesterday on a foodwalk. The food walk was for Iftar in the lanes of South Mumbai and sucked. It was so bad that I left without eating anything and cursed the city.

I reached Churchgate station at 6.20 pm and met V. V was conducting the food tour and apparently he conducts all the food tours in Mumbai for this company. He kept praising himself and narrated stories about an uncle who flies down a chef from Lucknow to cook kebabs for him but V took him to amazing kebab places in Mumbai and he couldn’t stop raving. Another French lady, who does not drink beer, comes for every beer crawl he conducts. Which is strange because why would you pay someone to take you to beer places you have already been to.

I asked him if Shashi tukda is available in Mumbai and he looked blank. A foodie, who has not heard about Shahi Tukda. That is the problem with most self proclaimed ‘foodies’ or food bloggers. They don’t know about food outside their city. Mumbai foodies assume the best South Indian food in the country is in Matunga or that best kebabs are in Bhendi Bazaar. They have no idea about what the rest of the country has to offer. Don’t call yourself a foodie if you haven’t tried the cuisine in it’s native (for lack of a better word) place.

We reached some Masjid at 6.45 pm and waited for the rest of the group to arrive. People started trickling in and it was 7.15 pm when the walk started. People had started breaking their Roza and 25 of us walked near the Masjid where Bade Miyan has their pop up which serves chicken soup. V had not made prior bookings so there was no space and anytime crowds would pour out of the mosque. So, we waited. At 7.30 pm, we were served a sad soup filled with oil. I decided this wasn’t worth gaining calories over. One smart family decided to leave the group and explore on their own. V did not offer any information about the food. On asking, his reply was “I don’t do that. I will only take you to eat. I don’t have any stories to narrate”. Excellent. We paid Rs 1000/head (25k for the group) for 3 hours of his time. Wow!!!

We walked for 10 mins and came into an empty lane where people were eating chicken. “Finally, some food”; I thought. But that was not to be. We were served malpuas with rabri here. They were not sweet so that was good but why were we eating dessert first? Nobody had any idea. We walked again. This time V’s friend noticed I was alone and started a conversation.

Him : Hi. Where are you from?

Me (Ummm. Wondering how it is relevant. Shouldn’t he ask where I am right now?) : Gujarat

Him : So, you are a vegetarian?

Me : Why would I be a vegetarian? And why would I come for this food walk if I was one?

Him : Because you are a Gujju?

Me : But Gujjus eat non veg

Him : Where do you work?

Me : I work in sales. FMCG sales. I sell confectionery?

Him : What is confectionery? I am a mechanical engineer

After 10 mins…

Him : Should I hold your bottle of water?

Me : Why? Do you want to drink water?

Him : No. No. I can hold it for you.

Me : No thanks. I can manage.

I had a purse and a bottle of water. The purse was heavier but he offered to hold the bottle because patriarchy won’t let him help a woman with her purse unless he is married to her. And why would I need help carrying a bottle of water? I don’t get it. Thankfully, he didn’t ask for my number.

After another 15 mins of walking, we reached a lane in Bhendi Bazaar with chicken and mutton kebabs. I asked V if they had buff but he said it’s over. After 15 mins of waiting around, V brought 2 huge naans. I didn’t see any kebabs with him. People in the group happily started eating the plain naan. I took a bite hoping there is something unique about this but it was a plain, fucking naan. That is when I lost it and told him am going home. It was 9.30 pm and I have an early morning.

I asked KC what he had for dinner. “I ordered kebabs from Khan Chacha”. That was the last straw and I spent the rest of the train ride ranting on twitter. Maybe the food walk improved and people did eat amazing food on that walk. Or maybe they ate mediocre food and raved about it because their standards are low. But I came away with the view that I should stop looking for good food in Mumbai. In my books, there is and there will never be anything about Mumbai that is better than Delhi. And if I ever change my mind, please shoot me in the head.

I have attended 3 food walks before this and they were all amazing. The first time, it was just the guide and 3 of us so we got a personal tour in the lanes of Old Delhi. The 2nd time we went on a foodwalk to Andhra Bhawan and Bengal Bhawan. The guide, who was a Punjabi, talked to us about the different cuisines in South and what makes Andhra food different from the rest. At Bengal Bhawan we tried the prawns malai curry (yummy) and bunch of other food. The 3rd walk was in a large group but we headed to Jama Masjid where the guide’s friend broke Roza and we had buff samosas and dates. Watching hordes of people breaking their fast together as the sun set was a memorable experience.

Here are some dos and don’ts of food walks

  • Stop charging insane amounts of money for it unless you are someone famous
  • Groups of less than 10 people are ideal
  • Making prior bookings. Do a recce of the route and talk to the shopkeepers in advance so they are prepared for your group
  • Start the walk on time, even if people are late
  • End the walk on time. If the walk is supposed to end at 10 pm, don’t extend it till 11 pm
  • I can get a list of recommendations for the food online. What are you bringing to the table? Talk about the food. Talk to the people in the group. That is the point of the walk.

Until this company refunds my money and gets their house in order, am done with their walks.

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