When we go to Bombay, we always go to Bademiya. Maybe on the first night we arrive. I’m not sure why, but it helps take the edge off the jet-lag. Some may well argue that there are better grills in Amritsar and Lahore. A few others may point to Ayub’s or Baghdadi’s. But for sheer Bombay tastiness, fun and atmosphere, you can’t beat Bademiya.
It is located behind the sumptuous Taj Hotel and close to the Gateway of India on the tip of South Bombay. By day this road sleeps. However, from early evening, the atmosphere changes. Yellow streetlamps and shop-front neon illuminate the street and Bademiya Alley comes alive until the small hours.
Tables are crammed together on the uneven pavement, though there isn’t a spare seat to be seen. The delicious aroma from the sizzling grill floats over the crowd. BMWs and Toyotas jostle for space at either end of the street, people eating from the plates on their bonnets. Harried waiters rush around taking orders while delivering plates piled with searing hot sheekh kababs. Everyone knows Bademiya for its amazing grilled food.
The only time Bademiya has ever closed up, is for the forty-eight hours after posh Bombay was held hostage by terrorists at the Taj hotel in 2008. But it was quickly back to business as usual. Regulars have included the actor Amitabh Bachchan, the famous artist MF Husain plus almost all of the kitchen staff at the nearby Taj hotel (some of whom will be in the Dishoom kitchen). Hilary Clinton allegedly wanted to visit Bademiya but her security detail didn’t let her.
The kitchen is no more than a stall on the pavement around the flaming grill. However, it is world-famous for its succulent sheekh kababs, feisty lamb chops and juicy paneer, all served straight off the grill with amazing speed. To the side, a tireless man wearing a chef’s hat stands beside a hot round dome. He tosses dough into the air, catches it, stretches it over the dome, and pulls a light and delicious roomali roti off the dome onto a serving plate. His hands are a blur as they move, making these ‘handkerchief’ breads.
Bademiya opened for business in 1940 (when Gandhiji was still busy persuading the British to leave India) by a 17 year old immigrant to Bombay, Mohammed Yaseen, with 20 rupees in his pocket. People say that when he grew a beard, regulars started calling him Bademiya, which means ‘old man’ or ‘elder’. Over the years his much-loved grill has become a Bombay institution. And a Dishoom inspiration.
With February comes a gladdening of spirits, lighter morning skies and discernibly louder birdsong. It is also the month to bid farewell to our winter cocoons (at least partially) and tune back into the world beyond our blankets. Allow us to ease the de-hibernation process, by sharing some of the things piquing our interest this month.
“Who wants to see some magic?” Chef Arun calls out. He flings the rolled out dough into the air, sending it soaring above the counter. It spins and twists, a graceful dancer in the air. The children watch its arc, their eyes wide with wonder, until it lands gently back in the chef's hands. The children shriek in delight.
January is a most divisive month. For some it heralds the hopeful turning over of new leaves; for others it is a month to trudge begrudgingly through towards the promise of spring. Whichever camp you find yourself in, we have plentiful diversions to share. See them as the cherry atop your already gleeful January cake, or a welcome distraction while you await winter’s end.
I AM HERE, dear reader, slovenly and slouched, staring into my drink at the end of the bar in our new restaurant in Battersea. My mind is still down and out, sifting around in the dregs of ’23 but of course it knows that I should really straighten my back, raise my chin and look squarely up into the cold new light of ’24. My drink – Choti’s Punch – clear and strong, sweet with a little salt, may help.