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.
IT HAS BEEN an annual December habit of mine, these past ten years since we embarked upon this restaurant business, to sit alone, with myself, and reflect on the year gone by. I am grateful to be here in the Permit Room in our restaurant in Shoreditch scribbling and writing, the oddly enjoyable taste of splintering wood from my chewed up pencil smoothed by my decently strong drink.
These are the last few days, the dregs of 2019. It’s my habit to sit here in the Permit Room at this time. I am the be-stubbled and dishevelled regular, cherishing his precious drink at the end of the bar. Weary, I sit here pondering the year, attempting to figure out what it was trying to teach me. What wisdom can I glean from it?
I love to truly understand and appreciate the origins of a dish, and learn how communities have adapted a recipe over time to make that dish unique to them.
We have arrived at a very sad, but inevitable and clear choice. As of now, all Dishooms are now closed to diners.