I’ve said this before and I’m saying it again: Hermit Dacosta is a rock star. He knows the prices of all the fish in the market, the best time to buy bangda, who has the best prawns, which fish are better at Crawford Market versus Sassoon Dock. He knows who makes the best patti samosas in Colaba Market, who sells the best vadas and where to buy Bombay sandwiches. He knows Crawford like the back of his hand.
Naturally, Hermit loves to cook. I doubt he’s ever cooked for fewer than 10, even when he needed to feed just four. He’ll feed you whether you’re hungry or not, much to the chagrin of his lovely wife Margaret.
A few days after I put up a post about my meal at Gomantak in Chira Bazaar, where I ate vajri (intestines), Margaret mentioned that he knew a place that makes it better. I wanted to know more. This was Hermit’s ilaka; he grew up in Dabul, a mostly Catholic neighbourhood, less than half a kilometre north of Thakurdwar. It’s an area I’m unfamiliar with. The only eatery I know is Thakker Bhojnalay, one of the best thali places in the city. I offered to take Hermit there, but he shuddered and refused the offer; he’s not terribly fond of vegetables.
Instead, on a warm Saturday afternoon we made our way to Hotel Maratha, right next to the Dadyseth Agiary in Kalbadevi. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it opens up into a spacious dining area. At the back, across an enclosed yard is the kitchen.
Catering almost entirely to locals, the menus are only in Marathi. A couple of college girls occupy one table, a sardar at another. In one corner is a large family who appear to be visiting relatives, at another table I hear a shop owner switching from English and Marathi while berating his supplier.
Of the two daily specials the kalva (oyster) masala is already over, so we stick to the mori (shark) masala. We also order a bheja masala, vajri masala and mandeli fry.
I find the flavour of food is not very Konkani and the heaviness of the masalas and the use of spices betray an inland influence. It’s a style of cooking reminiscent of the ghats and I’m guessing the owners are Marathas who’ve settled in the Konkan.
All three masalas are fiery, thick and look murderously pungent but are only moderately spicy. Chopped into little creamy-white bits (some of which big enough to see the honeycomb structure of the intestine) the vajri is springy and coated in a thick, dry masala. It’s not better than the one at Gomantak, merely different. I liked the chewiness of the Gomantak version; Hermit prefers the dry masala.
I’d go back for the brain masala; the soft creamy chunks of brain in a thick, roasted gravy, and, perhaps even, the mori. The fluffy rice bhakris, the plump mandelis, crisp on the outside soft on the inside are worth re-visiting, but I’m not so sure about the sol kadi. I prefer mine with a bit of a ginger-chilli bite, but this one was more sour and tangy with the faintest hint of spice.
Every food writer thinks they know their city intimately, but the truth is we all need someone (just like every journalist needs a reliable source) who can help us navigate the twists and turns of a neighbourhood. Someone who can peel away the hidden layers and show us things we’ve never seen before.
I’m really glad I’ve got Hermit to help me discover Mumbai.
Dadyseth Agiary Lane