Bombay is on the broil. The rains are almost (but not quite here). The weather is oppressively humid. And soon the roads will be filled with muck and puddles the size of small ponds. But none of this will stop the city's street-food enthusiasts from plotting their annual Ramzan pilgrimage. Most flock to Mohammed Ali Road for bheja masala, syrupy malpuas and skewers of chicken varnished with marinade the colour of BEST buses. Others prefer Bohri Mohulla for its barah handi, Haleem, and hand-churned ice cream. But a precious few make it to Nagpada, on the other side of the JJ Flyover, where the best seekh kebabs in Mumbai are made every single evening at an modest restaurant called Sarvi.
Unlike the greasy, often radioactive food served at most stalls, Sarvi’s buff kebabs are minimally spiced, devoid of oil, and ridiculously tender. No fuss, no muss. Just well-cooked meat infused with a pleasantly smoky flavour from the coals over which it is barbecued. This restraint might have to do with Sarvi’s culinary heritage: it is a Muslim-Irani establishment (as opposed to the more popular Parsi-Irani ones) with roots in Persia where spice is used relatively sparingly.
Today, Sarvi’s tables are frequented by locals and blue-collar workers seeking a quick, inexpensive meal or a cup of hot chai with brun. But back around the 1940s, this part of town was very different. Nagpada was a somewhat-posh neighbourhood, home to Christian and Jewish residents, and Sarvi was the haunt of movie stars including Dilip Kumar and Nadira (who even lived in the same building). Down the road from Nadira’s home was a squat structure called Adelphi Chambers, where the infamous author Saadat Hasan Manto lived. Legend has it, he wrote some of his finest short stories and screenplays sitting at Sarvi’s marble-topped tables.
But back to the kebabs.
They’re served with lots of fresh mint, some onion rings and lime wedges, and a small bowl of green chilli chutney. Take your cue from the proportions of the sides. Get a roti, add a few seekhs, lots of mint, litte kanda, and lashings of lime and chilli. Roll and consume. Or, have it like the regulars: With a side of watery but flavourful paya soup. Scoop up some seekh in a piece of roti, dunk it in the soup, and pop it in your mouth.
Sarvi’s menu also has a line-up of chicken and mutton dishes that includes familiars like dabba gosht, biryani, and boti fry, and unfamiliars like doodhi gosht and arvi chicken. Another section is dedicated to brain and tongue, but sadly, almost everything save for the seekh is underwhelming. The kheema and masoor pulau are better, but only marginally.
Stick to the seekh. Score a window seat, order a few plates of kebab-roti, and watch the bustle of Nagpada go by. Or, get your order to go and savour it at home while you dig into Manto’s short stories of Bombay’s underbelly: murky, fascinating, and still very much alive.
Getting there: 184/192, Dalal Estate, opposite Nagpada Police Station, Byculla. Open from 9.30am-midnight. Rs 300 for a meal for two. No alcohol.
bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.
Neha Sumitran is a food and travel writer who loves cooking, exploring markets and foraging for new ingredients. She hopes to have a farm near the mountains someday. She Tweets and Instagrams as @nehasumitran.
Photo Credit: Mitul Chopra Photography
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