Ten dishes. Three restaurants. 165 years of experience. Every story matters in Fort, Mumbai.

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Mr Sunil Sehgal. Second generation owner of Punjabi Moti Halwai.

Chhole Bhature. Special lassi. Veg thali with paneer bhurjee and khatta meetha alu in sabzi. Rabri. Punjabi Moti Halwai.

My great grandfather was a multi-millionaire in Karachi. He traded in the commodity market.

Like all multi-millionaires, his habits were extravagant.

By the time it came to my father, his grandson, there was nothing left.

My father worked as a dishwasher from the age of 8 at a Halwai.

He worked hard and learnt the trade and opened his own halwai when he was 16.

The newest lassi ustaad at Moti Halwai

Independence happened. Partition. The extended family had to leave.

People planned to go to different parts of India.

My father said, I am going to Mumbai. You all come and join me.

They stayed at a camp in Chembur. They set up halwai stalls in 1948.

They bought a house which housed 20 people. From three stalls, they now had two halwai shops.

The shops were divided among the family. This is the only one that remains.

This one was started in 1956. The year the house was purchased.

I was born in 1957. In Mumbai.

My mother wanted me to be a doctor. I wanted to be an engineer.

My father said that he had put his everything in setting this business. He wanted me to take care of it.

I joined Dadar Catering College after completing my engineering course. Among my batchmates was Ananda Solomon. A very hard working chef. All of are still in touch on a group.

Once someone was stuck making alu patties and asked for help in the group. I advised him to get the potatoes that are grown in Talegaon. They are white inside and are the best. They look the same and it is only by touching them or feeling them that you can figure them out.

I keep a constant check on what’s used in our restaurant. The food has to be wholesome.

I joined the shop after catering college. My father did not let me intern in a luxury hotel. I will give you a certificate, he said. You will never be able to work here once you work in a five star.

The lassi and chhole bhature were mind blowing as always,
but the opportunity to sit and listen to Mr Sehgal was invaluable.

My father told me to go slow when I joined. To respect the cooks in the shop. To learn from them.

Perhaps because he started as one of them. A dishwasher actually.

Even our professor in Catering College would often visit markets and learn cooking techniques by observing karigars and then teach us what she learnt. 

 “You can judge the health of a restaurant through its waste bins,” said my father  

I have CC TV relays on my phone and the first thing I check is the dishwashing section. It does not help if the food is good but the plates are not! 

I might not have got be an engineer but when there is an issue with the electricals in the shop then I like to fix them.

I might not have got to be a doctor but I like to do research on the ingredients that we use. Which is why I use groundnut oil at present.

I am 65 but I leave home at 8 every morning to be at the restaurant. Today is a bank holiday. My daughter asked me to stay at home. At home I just use my eyes. When I am at the shop, I am of use.

My happiness comes from when I see my customers, rather my guests, enjoy their food. 

Food should bring happiness.

On cue an elderly gentleman, short of a few teeth walks by and tells us, “you must document his story. It deserves to be told. I have been coming here from his father’s time and the best thing is that both he and his father always made sure that the food was affordable.” 

He walks off before we could mike him. 

Bombil fry. Sol Kadi. Mutton masala vade. Fish thali. Pradeep Gomantak.

Mr Shripad Nadkarni. Husband of the late Mrs Manisha Nadkarni who till
recently ran Pradeep Gomantak

My father in law and his two brothers were Marathas born in Goa.

The moved into Mumbai from Mapusa in Goa.

They set up a tiffin service at the beginning. Only non veg food.

One of my father in law’s brothers was a very good cook. He did the cooking.

Yes, you could say, he was a home cook. Yes, home chef.

Then they set up a restaurant. The family runs two restaurants now.

My father in law ran this one. He would get his fish every morning from fixed suppliers at the Fort Market. We still go to them.

Taste is most important in this business. The cooks ensure that this is maintained.

We have many people who come to eat here. That helps us keep the costs under control. Business was bad because of Shravan but we did not raise our prices. We will make up later. It’s all right.

Seafood sourced from Fort Market

My wife had to take over the running of the restaurant when my father in law had a health issue.

The cooks were men. The waiters were men. Most of the customers were men.

My wife was confident. She managed.

She would keep an eye on every aspect of the business from the cash counter.

She would talk to everyone. Figure out what was going on.

If a customer came back after a few days, she would walk up to him, smile and ask him how the food was the last time

Everyone misses her. I miss her.

I worked in HR in the corporate sector. 

I joined the restaurant after my wife passed suddenly due to Covid.

The family has been in the business for 50 years. 

My wife would want me to do this.

Our daughter wants to be a scientist. She is 13.

I said, it’s your wish but do study hard.

My daughter stays with my mother now. She needs a mother’s care at this age. My sister in law is there to help too.

I visit them every weekend.

The one quality of my wife’s that I really admire is that she was a woman of action.

If she would decided on doing something, she would not rest till she did it.

It did not matter if no-one else was with her.

I hope to grow the business and expand it. I want to do this for her.

Mr Nadkarni and his cousin in law.
Keeping a brave face and soldiering on for the family.

Ulundu dosa. Filter kaapi. Solitude. Swagath Refreshements.

How old is the restaurant?


Food was not served on a tray earlier was it?

No. After Covid. Self service.

Business is down. No-one comes to work.

The classic Udupi template. Frozen in time at Swagath Refreshment

They did not say much. Where is the story, asked Krishna.

That is the story, I explained.

I was working out of Lakshmi Building when I first came here.

A new job. 

The agency I joined had just bought another. We were to sit out of their office till ours was ready.

I used to come here after work every evening.

There was a table by the cash counter which had seating only on one side of the table and would face the cash counter where this gentleman would sit.

I would sit at that table and place my laptop beside me.

This ensured that I would not have to share the table with anyone else.

The place was packed in the evening and you would have to share tables otherwise.

I would come here solitude. To spend some time with my thoughts before I set off on the long drive home.

I would order an ulundu dosa. And a filter kaapi. Without sugar.

They would ask if they should get the kaapi later. I preferred to get both together. Finish my meal with no further interaction till I paid the bill and stepped out.

Swagath Refreshments, my de-stress pod, Yesterday I finally asked what’s
an ulundu dosa. Made out of urad dal.

When you go to a salon for a haircut then you often chat with your barber or stylist. Specially if you are a regular. You even look forward to it.

When you go to a spa for a massage then you give yourself up to the care of the masseur. Words are not meant to be exchanged here. Just the sound of elevator spa music. Occasionally punctuated by a soft snore. Silence is golden.

Places like this are similar to that. They are meant to be de-stress pods.

You do no expect to be spoken to here. 

Every story is unique. Each has its own merits.

Krishnakant Mishra. The other half of Every Bite Matters. After being told
at Punjabi Moti Halwai, this is a standard plate. We do not believe in special treatment.

Snatches from the second day of our shooting for Every Bite Matters. My food show produced in collaboration with Krishnakant Mishra who shoots and edits it. We did the pilot in 2016 and have got together to launch it now.

The idea is to enjoy ourselves.  Hopefully share the same joy with you. Learn something in the process. 

Leave happy. And inspired.

We started shooting for the series with Fort in south Mumbai. The place that always welcomes me back with open arms.

I was an outsider when I first came to Fort. I would come to eat at its famous restaurants and to shop at the Bombay Store.

I came back ten years later. I worked in a market research agency here. I would explore the lesser known but very popular restaurants here at lunch time. Blog about them at night.

We were in the middle or orange and red alarms but not a single drop of rain fell when we shot.
This is why Fort is so special to me.

I moved out of research 5 years later to follow my passion of telling food stories. I would come to Fort to conduct food walks with people from across the city, the country and the world.

I had no idea of what I was doing or where I was headed. 

I would sip Parsi chai with those on my walks. Swill lassis. Then chomp on fried bombil. 

Smiling at them while my heart palpitated inside. I thought I would choke and was scared to swallow. I soldiered on. I did not choke.

I did not realise till many nerve-wracking months later that this feeling was psychological and not physiological. Once I did, I faced it. 

Turned poison into medicine.

Bombil fry at Pradeep Gomantak. Once a minefield for me. Imaginary. Yet very real.

This time I was back at Fort after ten years. 

Happily munching on one fried bombil after bombil. Marvelling at how lovely the masala was. How juicy the fish was. 

Still no idea of what I am doing or where I am headed.

Or maybe that’s not entirely true.

If you had told me in 2012 that I’d be munching bombils at Pradeep without
a fear in my mind, and yet that’s what I did yesterday. 

Catch Every Bite Matters on Finely Chopped TV here and do subscribe to the channel, share the word and leave a comment.

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