Moombai & Co: where Parsi cuisine mingles with Mumbai street food

Moombai & Co - Dubai restaurants - FooDivaAround the ninth century, when Parsis left their home in Iran and travelled to India, the shores of Gujarat were their first port of call. The leader of the group sent a messenger to the king seeking refuge, but Gujarat was brimming with economic activity and the populous state had limited space to accommodate a new clan. Legend has it that the king sent the messenger back with a pitcher full of milk and a polite refusal – the pitcher symbolic of the fact that the state was full and unable to provide for more people. The Parsi leader received the pitcher, added saffron and cardamom, along with various other aromatic spices, and returned it to the king. The embodied message – we are not here to take your food away, but to add to what you already have. A second surge of Parsis, known as Iranis migrated to India in the nineteenth century. The contribution of Parsis and Iranis (both are Zoroastrians) to the cuisine and economy of India has been legendary, including the now dwindling cafes in Mumbai. This eclectic cuisine, very much like their religion and culture, has managed to maintain its exclusivity and originality without mutation by the surge of fusion food.

History lesson over, a new home grown restaurant in Dubai, Moombai & Co in the H Dubai (created by the same group behind neighbour Zahira) is partly inspired by Parsi cuisine. Incidentally, the grammatically correct spelling of Mumbai is with a ‘u’. Does it make a refreshing addition to the licensed casual Indian dining scene in Dubai?

We arrive as walk-in guests on a week night (reservations only required for large groups) and are given a table in the lounge area. This seating is inconvenient for dinner, given low sofas and tables and we request a table in the main dining room. Even by moving, our corner table is not particularly convenient when attracting the attention of the staff, as their backs face us for most of the meal. Whilst Indian 80s music adds to the ambiance, getting the waiters’ attention is very challenging. The menu is colourful and contemporary, and the offering is as much Mumbai food as it is Parsi, which makes the dining choices broader.

The cocktails are well presented – we order a vodka cocktail that comes with a block of ice in an empty glass and a quart-sized bottle with the cocktail concoction ready to be poured. I choose a Cobra from a couple of classic Indian beers.

The starters include the ubiquitous bhel puri from the streets of Mumbai, which is presented in a sophisticated paper cone, and is surprisingly spicy compared to the politely mild versions that one typically finds in Dubai. The paneer achari tikka (pickle-flavoured barbequed cottage cheese) with the achari flavours balanced by the creaminess of the paneer, is more typical of North Indian fare. The lasooni machhi (barbequed fish in garlic) is beautifully grilled, firm on the outside and soft and flaky inside with moist flavours of garlic. But nothing very Parsi yet.

The paneer khurchan is evenly scrambled paneer with capsicum strips – a simple dish with a balanced taste. Another vegetarian dish, Sindhi kadhi (very distinct from the Punjabi kadhi) feels like a cross between a Punjabi kadhi and the South Indian sambhar (with drumstick pieces and all). It is light and soupy with a burst of flavours – tamarind, fenugreek seeds, chickpea flour, curry leaves and the long-forgotten peculiar flavour of asafetida.

We order the mains whilst watching a live performance by waiters dancing to traditional drum beats and honks from an ancient car horn. Whilst I find it a little cheesy, it does give diners the feel of a Mumbai street where one often witnesses wedding procession bands.

The sali marghi is a hearty chicken curry topped with crunchy potato strips. The potato strips go mushy in the thick gravy and I relish dipping the roomali roti, allowing my taste buds to absorb the glorious flavours. One of the most celebrated classic Parsi dishes, patra in machhi (fish in banana leaf) does not disappoint. Unwrapping the banana leaf unravels steamy flavours of coconut, coriander, cumin and mint through the thick green paste marinade that lets the fish melt in my mouth.

The assorted bread basket has a unique addition beyond the usual fare – sheermal, a leavened flour bread with cardamom powder and saffron. A second special staple is dum ka chawal – long-grained rice for biryani prepared the dum-pukht way (with the customary dough seal on the hot rice pot), but with only cloves and ghee as the trapped condiments.

I miss ordering a number of traditional Parsi delicacies from the menu like bheeda par eeda (sautéed okra with eggs) and tareli kolmi (fried prawns). We ask for desserts and the waiter steers us towards the custard. I am not sure if this is similar to the traditional lagan nu custard, but it tastes like a good classic caramel custard and we end up ordering seconds.

At AED150 per person for food only, Moombai & Co offers tremendous value for money for a licensed establishment in Dubai. Service at times is patchy with the staff reeling to manage a full house; the lounge seating is impractical and should be reorganised; the atmosphere is reflective of a raucous Mumbai street; and the location at the H Dubai is central. The food may not be fully representative of Parsi cuisine, but it is absolutely delicious, heartwarming and different from other Indian restaurants in Dubai. With all this in mind, I give Moombai & Co 4 out of 5 FooDiva knives.

Have I tempted you to try a different style of Indian cuisine in Dubai?

AK

Who is FooDiva’s guest reviewer? AK is an avid gastronaut who thinks that a day without a good meal is a day wasted. He has travelled the world exploring culinary delights, including a treasured dinner at El Bulli. He works as an investment banker in Dubai.

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 4
  • The H Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road, ground floor
  • +971 4 5018607
  • Indian, Parsi
  • Yes
  • AED 150 per person without alcohol
  • Open daily 11am-12am and weekends until 1am
  • http://www.moombai-co.com/
  • Posted under
    Dubai, Hotels, Indian, Licensed, Location, Parsi, Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants, Sheikh Zayed
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2 Responses to “Moombai & Co: where Parsi cuisine mingles with Mumbai street food”

  1. IshitaUnblogged October 19, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Heartening review of Moomba & Co… we loved the food, the vibe and also felt that the staff was reeling to handle the crowd (one hour wait between starters and mains … but willing to overlook it only because it had just opened doors and because one of the staff was so courteous and insistent that we stay back!). The restaurant was absolutely packed and surprisingly we were the only media invitees. Thankfully, it didn’t remind me of Dishoom because I like original concepts and you know already what a big fan of Dishoom I am, not so much for the food but the entire package – the ambiance, decor and quirkiness. I don’t want anyone to copy Dishoom!

    • AK October 29, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      Ishita, thanks for echoing similar sentiments. The comparison with Dishoom that many are doing should be clearly avoided to enjoy the experience. But I would clearly give Moombai & Co most points on quality of food and value for money and less on ambiance and service.

      Cheers
      AK

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