I have been avoiding eating bread for nearly two years now. Having gained boundless and unfathomable amount of weight during the hermitic era of the lockdown, I was forced to give up a few of my favourite things so that I could shed some of the inflation and accumulation I had gathered around my body.
One of the objects of my affection that I had shunned during my atonement was white bread. Now, after two long, fairly restrained years, and a somewhat strict abstinence and with some drudgery, having offloaded parts of my heft, I was just hankering for some bread. Soft white bread, warm freshly baked bread, with a little butter and something nice in-between. And that evening, I was determined to have some, in the form of a sandwich.
I was with family sitting on the terrace of The Chambers at The Taj Palace Hotel Mumbai, that exclusive precinct with the Gateway of India as the backdrop. While Hors-d’œuvre, Potage, Poisson and Fromage were being discussed, I requested the chef to make me simple sandwich, a little boiled egg chopped, just a smidgeon of mustard and mayonnaise, finely chopped coriander and green chillies mixed and served between two large slices of fresh white bread and butter.
The sandwich came with a side of sweet potato mash, and either it was the best sandwich on Earth or it was just that I had eaten bread after so long that it tasted like it had come straight from dreamy carbohydrate heaven.
By now, you must have realised that bread is my kryptonite, my infatuation, often my vulnerable place. I just love bread, which makes sandwiches one of my absolute favourite meals. I have often written about my favourite sandwiches in Mumbai, and I don’t want to gush all over them all over again. But the truth is, there seems to be another revival in sandwich making.
And I discovered this when the boys at Bombay Canteen announced their Pastrami Sandwich mid-April 2021 during the lockdown. It was the photograph on Facebook with a pile of thinly sliced meat between two breads that made me instantly order it. In their own words, and I sort of quote: “The sandwich is made with brisket brined and crusted with an Anglo-Indian inspired spice rub of pepper, fennel and coriander seeds. Then slow cooked overnight for 12 hours in a controlled temperature so that the meat is perfectly cooked, soft and succulent. The meat is then smoked over coconut husk giving it an earthy smokiness. Thinly sliced and then layered in between soft brioche, with a dollop of kasundi mustard and served with pickles and the juices that the juices, the brisket is slow cooked in.” Now that is what I call a sandwich!
Around that time, Rohan Mangalorkar’s Pack-a-Pav also started making waves. Just the goodness of bread packed with wonderful comfort foods. Like Herb Chicken Seekh Pav Sandwich, or Mirza Aunty’s Mutton Pav Sandwich both served with a hung curd basil dip, or a mushroom mince or a salsa dip, depending on what you were ordering.
Coming back to the Bombay Canteen boys, while their Pastrami Sandwich was making waves, they rebooted their O Pedro Kitchen in the lockdown to create The Sandwich Shack and from there started innovating on things between breads. Like the Louisiana Soft Shell Sub. Soft shell Crab with hot hot-tartare, pickled cabbage and lettuce on an onion seed roll. Lucious and fiery, and my favourite Italian Cold Cuts Gone Wild. Herb focaccia stuffed with mortadella, salami, ham, mozzarella, and caper relish.
Their bread mania now reaches new heights with the opening of Veronica’s. A small old bakery in Bandra, rejuvenated into one of Bandra’s hottest joints. I walked in there by chance, not knowing better, only to find the trio of Sameer, Yash and Hussain, going crazy serving the crowd. Only then did I realise that this was their new sandwich venture. For me, of course, it was love at first sight.
There’s good coffee and great teas. There are a bunch of great bakes like Orange Custard Kouign-Amann, a sweet Breton multi-layered cake, made with laminated bread dough. The fattiest pastry in the world. Choriz Babka a delicious yet brave combination since a Babka is Jewish bread. And a Pork Sausage Roll that is as good as the ones I find at Borough Market in London.
Then there are fabulous open toasts, a legacy now only of old British clubs, resurrected by the genius of Veronicas. On either a Bagel, Croissant Bun or Buckwheat Loaf, you can have Tofu Akuri with spicy onion tomato masala and alfalfa sprouts. Or a Spicy Egg Sriracha egg salad, with honey mustard. It’s quite yum. Of course, there is Avocado on Toast with Cream Cheese and sour cream, or just a BLT or Smoked Salmon with cream cheese, capers, cucumber but the sandwiches are where the magic begins. Starting with “Oh Shrimp! Po’ Boy – gochujang flaming sauce, avocado, shredded lettuce, on Dutch crunch.
Veronica’s Smash Burger, my favourite, double short rib & marrow patty, browned onion, cheddar, and bacon and dirty fried egg on a milk bun. Their tribute to Chef Floyd, Nashville-style hot fried chicken, tamarind ranch, pickles again on a milk bun and finally the Mumbai Chilli Cheese Melt with cheddar, jalapeños, and Naga hot honey. It takes my affection for bread to the level of an Obsessive Love Disorder.
Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer based in Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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