Some of the most interesting eating houses are in the Bohri Mohalla (locally known as Horaji Mohalla), off Bhendi Bazar. And famous among these is the 70-year-old Firoz Farsan, House Of Delicious Farsans, Specialist In Patrel (patra) Biryani.
I have two favourite farsan shops, one of them is run by a Gujarati on Khadilkar Road, off Girgaum (besides the farsans, in season, it sells undhiyu from Surat), the other is Firoz Farsan, run by Bohris. Every fortnight, I visit one of them to replenish stocks. For the patra biryani, you have to go to Bhendi Bazar.
I shall give directions. Go down Mohamedali Road, cross the Bhendi Bazar junction and proceed towards J.J. Hospital. However, much before you come to J.J. Hospital, immediately after the junction, leave first lane on the left, leave second lane, enter the third. This is Khara Tank Road, though it has now got a new and somewhat difficult name --Syed Abu Mohamed, Justice of Peace, Marg. If you get lost, best stick to the old name--Khara Tank Road. But it is easy to find. A few steps inside, on your left, is Firoz Farsan, opposite it is a naan chaap and baida roti place, next to it a hakim who sells achars, and opposite that the Taj Ice-Cream Parlour, one of the few places in town, may be the only one, that still prepares ice-cream in churning sanchas, with ice packed on the sides. And just behind, in the next lane, is our Nav Handi-walla. Also, at the corner, is the Ahmedabad toast-walls.
I shall give details of the rest of the places some other time, this piece is on Firoz Farsan's patra biryani.
Actually, biryani is a misnomer, there is no rice. It is patra, the patrel leaves, fried, and cooked with beef. You may have it with mutton or chicken also, but you will have to order. It is ready by 11 a.m. and you can get it through the day. The patras come from Bassein and Virar, every day. Mr. Saiffuddin Ujjainwalla, proprietor, manager, salesman and part-time cook, explains: "The raw stocks come every day, bandhela chey ek manas". A dough is prepared with channa atta, chillis, garam masala, kneaded in tamarind water, the paste generously applied on the leaves. The leaves are then neatly rolled, folded on sides, and boiled for anywhere from an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Meanwhile, the meat is being prepared and fried in a vaghar of garam masala, red chillis, ginger, garlic, a methi tadka is given. The beef is cut into tiny pieces, it is boneless, if it is mutton, the bones are included. When it is ready, the boiled and rolled patrel is cut into round slicces and added to the meat. Methi bhajias are crumbled and added to the dish to thicken the gravy. One josh is enough, says Mr. Saiffuddin, more than that and the rolled patrel will come lose and scatter.
The big tapela containing the meat patra is kept on a table at the entrance to the shop. You can smell it, taste it, order it. They serve it in a saucer, a full saucer, quite a generous protion, for Rs.5. Or you can take it home. Rs.50 per kilo. Keep it in a refrigerator, it will stay for three, four days, the oil will preserve it. Take it out of the refrigerator, warm it and eat it. On previous order, (telephone: 346 3638) you can get mutton of chicken patra also, price Rs.120 per kilo. It is quite spicy, has a twang to it, much like the Parsi patrel, and much superior to those little fried dry rat tails that the Gujaratis give for patrel. Eat it carefully, the fragrant spices will invade your mouth, but to enjoy the taste, do not drink water with it. When you have finished, order a chai from the baharwalla, who is all the time hanging around the shop. He will bring you two glasses, one with tea and one with water. Spill out the water from the glass, then pour the tea from the tea glass into the water glass, and drink it. Please, do not ask me for an explanation for this procedure. Everybody does it, so I am telling you.
The shop was started 70 years ago, give or take a few, by Inayat Hussein, father of the present proprietors, Akbarbhai and Saiffuddin. The third generation is also working in the shop. You will notice, nobody is named Firoz. I asked Saiffuddin why it was called Firoz Farsan. The Bada Mullah, Syedna Saheb, gave the name, he said. It seems, a lot of Bohri businessmen ask the Bada Mullah to name their business. Must be bringing good luck, since the farsan shop has done so well.
There are four farsan shops in the area, they take turns in having a holiday. Ours is closed on Tuesdays, the others are closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, respectively. Ours is the only one which sells patrel biryani, in the area, in Mumbai, in India, in the world. There are other things also, a special chevda, a powa and wafer sali mix, with cashewnuts, raisins, Rs.60 per kilo. And a farali chevda, what is known as a upvas chevda, minus the powa, Rs.80 per kilo. Daily fresh chevda is made. Also, large crisp puris, both khari and mithi, nicely peppered with jeera, Rs.48 per kilo. There are large gathias, papri, sev these are the farsans the Bohris eat for breakfast. Though there are others who go to the Nav Handi and fill tiffins from there for breakfast.
Try the gathias. Take a kilo home, in sealed plastic bags, dip them in tea and have for breakfast. Never mind, this Sunday's gone, get them for next Sunday.