Mumbai roadside eats #1: Sandwich

This piece is for all folks who like to eat roadside stuff and all those who are missing out on the fun.
Mumbai offers plenty of choice for people who like to eat out. The great thing is that available options range from the affordable roadside eats to very expensive, exotic stuff in high end restaurants. I will focus on the roadside stuff. My love affair with roadside eats started in my early teens and continues to this day. Let’s start with the humble sandwich. Earliest recollection is of a vendor selling sandwich is one near Canara Bank in Mulund West. Technically he was not a roadside vendor as he used to do business inside a compound. What were the choices on offer? Well, at the beginning there were just 2 choices: The premium Amul butter version and the cheaper margarine version. The main ingredients for both versions were the same: Bread, butter/margarine, green chutney, cucumber, tomato, boiled potato, beet root and onion with an option to have it with tomato sauce/ketchup. For the Amul version the bread would be slightly bigger. Doesn’t sound interesting yet, right? Don’t worry let’s dive into the makings of a great sandwich. Half the fun is watching the master at work. It all starts with couple of bread slices. Out comes the knife next. Is it to just cut the vegetables? No, the bread has to be prepped first. The knife itself would be long and slender like an artist’s fingers. With four deft strokes the harder crusts on the side of the breads would be lopped off leaving the soft center ready for the sandwich creation to begin. Would the crusts be thrown away? No, the vendor would carefully collect them in a container. At the end of the day I believe they would end up as food for the dogs. The next step is spreading the butter or margarine on the bread. This would be followed by spreading spicy green chutney on the bread slices. The amount of chutney would depend on the eater’s spice quotient. The first vegetable would be cucumber. Generally the vegetables would be sliced and ready. But if you were lucky enough you would be witness to skin peeling and slicing of the vegetables. The speed and the evenness of the slices were a sight to behold. When the master was at it the sound made by the knife when it came in contact with the cutting board was like music to the ears. After the cucumber a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper would follow. Next in the line would be potato slices followed by onions, tomatoes and beets with each vegetable going over the other. After the vegetables the 2nd slice which has been waiting in anticipation would be placed over the vegetables, perfectly aligned with the other slice at the bottom. Are we ready to take a bite? No, the final act is not over yet. The magician would finally cut the sandwich into bite sized chunks. There were 2 amazing things about this final act. The first one was the fact that the resultant blocks would be perfectly intact with no unseemly tear of the bread or vegetables falling out. The 2nd amazing thing were the number of blocks itself. For the Amul version the bread would be slightly bigger and 9 bite sized blocks would be fashioned. That was like watching a feat of engineering, to watch them all nicely balanced.
Now we are ready to eat! Generally one block would be consumed at a time. The final block cannot be eaten like that. To make the taste linger you got to peel the pieces and have them individually one by one. The result: pure magic! There is also a Gujju way of eating the sandwich. The Gujju version would have the tomato sauce/ketchup splashed lavishly over the sandwich. And the Gujju bhai always managed to keep the vendor engaged in conversation while helping himself to a slice of cucumber or potato or other sundry items during the sandwich making process. After the sandwich was consumed the piece de resistance were the bonus sides: a piece of potato or cucumber with a little bit of butter and salt and pepper sprinkled over. That would complete the pleasure of eating the sandwich! One thing was certain, the eater would leave sated. Once hooked it was a certainty that you would return back again for more. Grilled versions of the sandwich were introduced later, they were a great success too! To appreciate the real worth of roadside sandwich all one had to do was go to a hotel and order a sandwich. Delivered product would be a skeletal version that would try to pass off as the real thing, with no bonus sides 😦 To a roadside eats buff the thought of germs never enters the mind, the true lover thinks that the germs would end up killing each other. For the paranoid I must say that their phobia will get to them before the germs get them 😀
Writing about the sandwich has made me hungry. I have to google and find if I can order an authentic Mumbai roadside version. I have to eat one right now 🙂

Author: Rajaram 'Raj' Gopalan

Hi All, Welcome to my home in cyberspace! You can call me Raj. Feel free to explore, discuss, comment and most importantly have a good time!

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