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Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market) is the original Mumbai flea market.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Mumbai

Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market) is the original Mumbai flea market.
  • By Abhishek Mande Bhot
  • Photos by Monisha Ajgaonkar
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A city on the sea, Mumbai is welcoming of everyone and everything. Cuisines, cultures, people and change — the city embraces it all. It may not be the easiest place to live with the crowds, the traffic and the annual monsoon flooding, but give it time and Mumbai will spoil you.

Its open arms are what made it a city of immigrants. Unless you belong to the tiny local fishing community, chances are you or one of your ancestors arrived here with a suitcase and dreams. It’s what makes Mumbai so restless, always itching to be on the move and eager to rise every time someone tries to bring it down.

Meet Abhishek Mande Bhot

Abhishek was born and raised in Mumbai. He loves the summers, but looks forward to the 2½ days of Mumbai “winter” when it’s 77 degrees Fahrenheit and he can finally wear his thin pullover.

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IN THE ACTION
Bandra West
Old residents of Bandra will remember this suburb for its sleepy streets, lazy afternoons, Sunday Mass and shady bars. Today, Bandra (West) is where all the action is — hipster cafes, yoga studios and trendy pubs meet quaint neighborhoods, colonial homes and bustling bazaars. A thriving expat community only adds to the happy mix that is Bandra. You probably won’t find a better microcosm of Mumbai. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Colaba
One of the seven original islands that formed the city of Mumbai, Colaba is a backpackers’ hub, packed with budget, boutique and five-star hotels. Colaba was once the center of culture and all things cool before the suburbs took over. Even so, its cafes and bars are a tribute to a time when poets presided over gatherings of fawning readers and authors wrote tomes about the city at tables especially reserved for them. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Cafe Madras
Mumbai restaurants tend to get experimental with dosas, a traditional South Indian staple, topping them with cheese, Sichuan and everything in between. But that’s not the case with Cafe Madras. It serves food from the Udupi region of South India and sticks to the basics while serving a surprisingly wide variety of traditional dosas you never knew existed. Round off your meal of dosas, crispy medu vadas and fluffy rava idlis with a glass of ginger lemon juice or a small tumbler of filter coffee and you’re set for the day. Be prepared to wait and share tables at this 75-year-old institution.
BTW: Order mulgapoodi, a dry powder chutney served with oil, to go with your dosas and idlis. Note that this is a vegetarian eatery.
Cafe Madras, Kamakshi Building, Bhau Daji Road, Matunga, Mumbai 400019
BREAKFAST
Kyani & Co.
Descendants of the Zoroastrian immigrants who fled Persia between the eighth and 10th centuries founded Irani-style cafes in Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad to serve quick, inexpensive meals. Like the community, the number of cafes is shrinking, too. Distinguishable by its unique decor — bentwood chairs, wooden shelves and partitions that hark back to another era — Kyani & Co. is one of the handful of Irani cafes remaining and, by some estimates, the oldest Irani cafe in business. Conveniently, its omelet, akuri, bun maska and masala chai are also a great (and economical) way to start your day in Mumbai.
BTW: Don’t worry if the waiters or owners seem grumpy. They’re like that to everyone.
Kyani & Co., Jer Mahal Estate, JSS Road, Opposite Metro Cinema, Marine Lines, Mumbai 400002
LUNCH
Boteco Brazilian restaurant
Like its Indian counterpart, Brazilian cuisine is a mix of influences. At Boteco, you can start your meal with a momo (steamed dumpling) and end with a churro. Being the only Brazilian restaurant in the city, it’s also the only place you can have pão de queijo and escondidinho, but don’t let that stop you from having pork belly and ham croquettes before you wash it all down with Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha.
BTW: Consider ordering the churrasqueira menu — a platter of sausages, tenderloin steak, pork and lamb. And, yes, churros.
Boteco Brazilian restaurant, Unit GO-1 A, Ground Floor, Parinee Crescenzo, G Block, Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai 400051
LUNCH
Hotel Deluxe
South Indian food in Mumbai often is mistakenly thought to be vegetarian because of the sheer number of Udupi restaurants that dot nearly every city street. Hotel Deluxe is a great place to clear that misconception. It serves a variety of non-vegetarian options from Kerala cuisine. Think fish fry and fish curries, mutton sukka, beef roast, Malabar parotta — the list is a long one. Don’t go looking for ambiance in this hole in the wall. It serves sambar (stew) out of buckets, and the tables are tiny.
BTW: To sample the best of Hotel Deluxe vegetarian fare, ask for the sadya (meal, in the Malayalam language) that offers multiple dishes served on a banana leaf.
Hotel Deluxe, 10A Pitha St., Fort, Mumbai 400001
DINNER
O Pedro
O Pedro is part of a movement in Mumbai that is seeing regional cuisines move out of hole-in-the-wall spots and into sophisticated settings. Serving Goan-inspired food by Mumbai-born, New York-based chef Floyd Cardoz, O Pedro’s menu of Goan staples — chicken cafreal, poee, fish curry and Bebinca — pays tribute to India’s sunshine state that Mumbaiites dream of escaping to on Monday mornings and during dreary meetings.
BTW: At the bar, set up in the traditional Goan style, ask for its signature Pedro gin and tonic.
O Pedro, Unit No. 2, Plot No C-68, Jet Airways-Godrej, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra East, Mumbai 400051
DINNER
Persian Darbar
Few things bring Indians together and divide them all at the same time. Mango is one. Biryani — a rice preparation comprising meat, vegetables and spices — is the other. Like mangoes, there are several varieties of biryanis, the preparation varies from region to region and each variety has a devoted following. Persian Darbar serves the North Indian/Mughlai kind of biryani, as well as the kepsa, Persian-style preparation of the same dish. Walk straight up to the second floor, where the decor is Middle Eastern, and order a mutton chaap (mutton chop) and mutton kepsa — the latter serves four to six, so don’t be afraid to ask for a doggy bag.
BTW: Finish your meal with a serving or three of firni, a rice pudding served in clay bowls.
Persian Darbar, 5 Alexander Terrace, Dr Babasahed Ambedkar Road, Byculla East, Mumbai 400027
LATE-NIGHT
145 Bandra
This is the suburban outpost of the Kala Ghoda watering hole, where Mumbai’s millennial workforce lets its hair down after office hours. Sprawling by Mumbai standards, 145 Bandra, with its terracotta tiles and pool tables, plays a nice mix of contemporary pop and classics. The booze is affordable and the well-stocked bar means the bartender can make you almost anything.
BTW: For late-night munchies, walk east to nearby Sigdi, which is open until 2 a.m.
145 Bandra, 101 HSBC Building, Pali Road, Bandra West, Mumbai 400050
LATE-NIGHT
La Folie Du Chocolate
Artisanal chocolates and desserts find home in this French-style patisserie hidden in the bylanes of the Kala Ghoda art district. End your day with a selection of Japanese-inspired desserts or one of the traditional favorites (tiramisu, Rocher caramel) and its signature beverage — Single-Origin Venezuelan 70 Percent Hot Chocolate. This place is simple and small, with white marble and a few tables, but the sweets and chocolates are complex.
BTW: For a post-dessert walk, head back to the main square and admire the stunning Gothic architectural style of the buildings.
La Folie Du Chocolate, No. 16, Commerce House, Rope Walk Lane, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai 400001
(Mumbai illustrator Chandan Mahimkar for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. “Mumbai is better than Delhi” is almost always a great conversation-starter and worthy of including in your dating-profile bio.
  2. Mumbai is fairly progressive and LGBT-friendly, but public displays of affection could land you in trouble with the police. Also, two men holding hands isn’t always an indication of their sexual preferences.
  3. Tourists in shorts and tank tops are not entirely uncommon, but they also immediately draw attention on Mumbai streets. Places of worship may prohibit you from entering unless properly attired.
(Mumbai illustrator Chandan Mahimkar for The Washington Post)

Do

Sail on the Arabian Sea
Most sailing experiences in Mumbai are restricted to the east coast — the original gateway to the city — because of naval restrictions. Several companies offer spins on shared sailboats for as little as $11 (tickets are available on bookmyshow.com), but the standout is an exclusive cruise operated by Khaki Tours. For about $115 for the first guest, the cruise starts at the Gateway of India and continues to the southernmost point of the city, as a historian acquaints you with Mumbai’s maritime history, how its seven islands came to be as one and how Mumbai grew from just one building into a sprawling megacity.
BTW: This is an exclusive cruise, so book in advance via email.
Gateway of India, Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001
The Habitat
India may well be witnessing the golden age of comedy. It’s what America must have been like between 1978 and 1988, when more than 300 comedy clubs burst onto the scene. While Bengaluru remains the largest hub for stand-up comedy in the country, Mumbai has some gems, too. The Habitat is one such place and hosts independent comedians and poetry slams almost every day.
BTW: Head down to the Linking Road street market (which starts from Khar Telephone Exchange and ends at National College) for everything from Indian clothes and hippie handbags to shoes and inexpensive throwaway jeans.
The Habitat, 1st and 4th Floor, Hotel Unicontinental, Road Number 3, Khar, Mumbai 400052
Kamala Nehru Park
The crescent-shaped Marine Drive is the most identifiable street in the city, and its Art Deco buildings are its most distinguishable architectural feature — the second-largest cluster in the world after Miami. The boulevard is a popular spot to watch the sunset, but the more underrated experience is the panoramic view of the promenade from the Kamala Nehru Park platform on Malabar Hill. There are fewer people here, and when the streetlights of Marine Drive begin to glow, resembling a string of pearls, one can see how it earned its sobriquet: Queen’s Necklace.
BTW: After sunset, head back down to Marine Drive for a slice of kulfi, traditional Indian ice cream, at New Kulfi Center. It also offers take-away options by the kilo.
Kamala Nehru Park, Babulnath, Dadi Sheth Wadi, Malabar Hill, Mumbai 400006
Royal Opera House
In a country where restoration isn’t necessarily a priority, the privately owned Royal Opera House is a sight to behold. After being shut down for more than 23 years, the opera house opened its doors at the end of an extensive six-year restoration project. Dazzling musicals, the kind you see in the West, are rare in Mumbai, but the Royal Opera House hosts an assortment of acts, from experimental-dance performances to slapstick comedies. So the case can be made to visit the Royal Opera House for its own sake. Chandeliers, gilded consoles with Grecian motifs (brought in from the palace of the Maharaja of Gondal), a ceiling with gold filigree and original Minton tiles take you back to a simpler yet grander time.
BTW: After the show, treat yourself to yet another quintessential Mumbai snack, the Pav Bhaji (spicy mashed vegetables served with a butter-slathered bun) at Sukh Sagar.
Royal Opera House, Mama Paramanand Marg, Charni Road East, Girgaon, Mumbai 400004
Bhau Daji Lad Museum
The architecture of the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum — its wrought-iron balconies, Corinthian columns and exquisite chandeliers — is a work of art in itself. Equally impressive is its permanent collection, which faithfully details the rise of Mumbai from seven disconnected islands to an economic powerhouse. From the decorative arts of the 19th century to the culture and lifestyle of the communities that made the city their home, the various galleries of the museum document life in Mumbai through maps, photographs, manuscripts, textiles and dioramas. The museum is also part of Google Arts & Culture’s virtual “We Wear Culture” project and highlights textiles and garments from Mumbai’s history as well as the city’s role in the cotton trade in the 19th century.
BTW: The curatorial team gives tours of the museum, which is closed Wednesdays, on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 a.m.
Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Veer Mata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan (Rani Baug), 91/A, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Road Byculla East, Mumbai 400027, Maharashtra, India
Chor Bazaar
Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market) is the original Mumbai flea market that earned its name because its British overlords couldn’t pronounce its original name — Shor (commotion) Bazaar. In what came to be an almost self-fulfilling prophecy, stolen goods began to find their way here, though it has now transformed into a rich source for discarded antiques. From typewriters to gramophones and vintage dishes, Chor Bazaar is a hipster paradise.
BTW: The best way to bargain is by slashing the asking price by 50 percent and settling for somewhere around 60 percent.
Mutton St, Ajmer, Kumbharwada, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400003, India
Abhishek Mande Bhot
Abhishek was born and raised in Mumbai. He loves the summers, but looks forward to the 2½ days of Mumbai “winter” when it’s 77 degrees Fahrenheit and he can finally wear his thin pullover.
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Monisha Ajgaonkar
Monisha is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Mumbai.

CITY GUIDES