The Journey of a Foodie!
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
The most beloved memory that my grandfather had of me, was when at the age of 5, I had asked my father to bring with him '100 Seekh Kebab' from Bademiyan while coming home from work. I remember thinking that in case everyone at home wants to have some of it, there shouldn't be any dearth of the kebab for me.
Such was my love for food, that even during the weddings of my Uncles, I was to be found at the buffet and I actually refused to join the family for the photo sessions. Although the food at Indian weddings forms a big part of the celebrations and people do want everyone to really enjoy the food; such was my dedication to finishing the food on the plate that, being a part of the family photos was not even in the realm of possibilities for me.
Fortunately enough, this love for food continued as I grew up and I kept on exploring new kinds of foods. Growing up in Mumbai in the 1990s, there weren't many options available to try different cuisines. We did have different Indian cuisines, which, of course, I relished whenever I could. And, whenever we travelled within India, I did try to explore the local cuisines, given my limited knowledge and my parents' dispensation to spend on something. It was an interesting experience, now when I think back on it. I did not try as many different cuisines, but what I did try to do was to try the dishes that I liked in different places. Mostly, it was because of my preference for a particular dish and not because I intentionally tried to taste the difference and explore the nuances.
When I was about 11-12 years old, on a trip to Jodhpur with my family, where my father had to attend a conference, the hosts had very jovially, albeit seriously, told us that if we did not leave Jodhpur with a few extra kilos, they would feel that they had let us down by serving us substandard food. The experience was far from substandard. The sheer variety and the richness of the food was fit for the halls of a king. It was really my first proper food experience that I remember vividly. To this date, I cannot forget the ghevar, the malpua and the doodh-jalebi!
After graduating with my bachelors, I moved to the US to pursue my MBA in Hospitality. That was when the entire world opened up to me. My knowledge and understanding of the various world cuisines grew by leaps and bounds. In no small part, I have to thank my uncle, who stayed in Manhattan at the time and I was fortunate to have visited him often. A big foodie himself, he had immersed himself in good food and severely reprimanded me when I tried anything that was 'pedestrian' according to him. While in a city like New York, you cant' go to a Subway when there are so many better options around. I did that in my first few days there and I had to bear the brunt of his chiding. What did I know then? It didn't take me long to realise that I hardly knew anything.
My first few days in the US were spent at some of the best food joints that Manhattan had to offer, including Blue Fish (sushi), Ruth's Chris' Steak House, Max Brenner's and several others. What stood out for me was the vastness of the options available in a small area. No wonder that New York is a food lover's paradise. Fortunately, I had the next 4 years to explore as much as I could. That included, no less, the Southern Barbeque at some renowned places like Rendezvous in Tennessee and Rudy's and Salt Lick in Austin.
I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, which had a high population of Italians and that exposed me to the wonderful Italian cuisine, which till that time, was restricted to me to a very few items and which were quite Indianised in Mumbai. Tiramisu and cannoli became my favourites very quickly.
Although I had an extraordinary experience in the US (which I shall attempt to elaborate upon in future posts), my experience was even more enlightening in France, when I lived there for a couple of years while pursuing my MSc in Finance. Having a good knowledge of French helped me tremendously. As soon as I spoke to the locals in French, their attitude towards me changed and I received exceptional service. My travels in Europe to Spain, Switzerland, Italy and the Czech Republic were like a dream come true. My travels started to be planned around my food stops. I would look for the restaurants where I would have my meals and then plan my sightseeing around it.
Walking to reach my destination had become the norm for me. In my journey to reach the food destination, I was able to really engulf myself with the culture of the new place and observe the people and the culture. Sometimes, these walks led to dead ends and wrong turns and 10-minute walks became hour-long walks. But, in hindsight, I am glad that I did what I did. It added to the experience. Now, with my better-half accompanying me, I have to be a bit more careful about being carefree and I try to make judicious use of the maps on my phone.
In April 2012, my family had visited me in France and we had taken a trip to Rome. That's where, on the 5th of April 2012, I took my first ever Food Tour. I can only categorise that experience as beyond exceptional! The manner in which our guide had conducted the tour, giving not just information about the history, but he constantly gave tidbits about the Italian culture, especially the Roman culture, while trying the hand-picked dishes lit a spark in me. As a business student throughout, I had always dreamed of starting a business of my own. By the end of my course, I had decided to start a food tour business in Mumbai. According to my research at that time, there was no one conducting food tours the way it was done internationally. I did thorough and extensive research, took a few more food tours and finally, I started 'Food Tours of Mumbai' in the latter half of 2013.
It was quite a daunting task! The concept of such walking tours and particularly food tours was alien to Mumbai. There were some companies doing tours in Mumbai, but no one was doing walking food tours. The journey of educating the restaurants and bringing them on board and creating a tour that would keep the interest of the participants was difficult, but exhilarating as well. Fortunately, the response was good but it took a while to take off. I conducted the business quite successfully for a few years until there came a point in my life where I had to make a decision to change my career and become a lawyer.
While discussing this situation with a friend, he offered to take over the business and run it by himself. It was heartening to know that the business would continue, though without me. He ran the business for a few years but as fate would have it, he too had to make a decision to discontinue the business and focus elsewhere.
Today, I start with this blog in the name of 'Food Tours of Mumbai', my brainchild, and hope to provide the readers with the benefit of whatever I am able to experience through my culinary adventures. Although I stopped conducting the food tours, my adventures in food continue and I still plan my travel around food.
Life is too short to stick to what you already know tastes like. I hope that you enjoy my posts and they encourage you to seek out the exciting world of food and embark on new culinary journeys of your own...