Food review: A trip through Mumbai's coastal cuisine in Dubai

Go for a taste of authentic dishes served in traditional Koli households at Vasai Local.


Michael Gomes

Published: Tue 26 Apr 2022, 4:41 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Apr 2022, 4:45 PM

You’ve all heard about Mumbai’s famous street food staples ranging from Vada Pavs to Pav Bhaji and Usal to Misal. But have you ever wanted to taste the city’s original cuisine before Bombay became Mumbai? Then here’s your chance to enjoy authentic flavours of the city’s indigenous fishing community right in the heart of Karama.

When you step into Vasai Local, you’re greeted with fishing nets and baskets and a touch of a typical Vasai (one of Mumbai’s oldest fishing villages) home decor. In the background, a large television screen plays traditional dance and music videos, furthering your experience of Koli fisherfolk culture as you navigate through an exotic culinary adventure.

Our gastronomic journey started with fizzy Kokum Sherbet (a tangy, dried fruit drink). This was followed by Sukkha Bombil Fry (crispy, sun-dried Bombay Duck) — the duck in this instance is a fish variety, not a fowl; three varieties of Kolbi (prawns) fried — authentic Koli style, Tawa fried and deep-fried with semolina coating.

For our mains we tried the Sarga Bharela (pomfret stuffed with a spicy mix); Tawa fried Pomfret and King Fish fried with semolina coating; Chicken Curry Killa; Kolbi Batatcha Ambat (Prawn and Potato Curry) and Green Fish Curry.

Vasai Local takes you back to the Mumbai local trains with the stop known for its Portuguese era Bassein Fort, the beaches and of course the Koli delicacies.

The Koli meals are simple and comprise home-style dishes. The flavours are mellower than what we expected; we guess the spice levels were toned down to suit all diners.

Fish and all other forms of seafood is central to the community’s menu. Therefore, you can expect a lot of fresh fish, especially a variety called the Bombay Duck. It is a bit salty and has a strong taste of the sea, but we enjoyed its crunchy version called Sukkha Bombil.

Among the mains their pan-fried Sarga Bharela was delightful, and a must-try, equally delicious was the Green Fish Curry, a simple but delicious green coriander and coconut curry that goes well with rice.

Their curries went well with the steamed rice, Fugiyas (savoury deep-fried dough that looks similar to Arabic luqaimat), and Bhakri (Maharashtrian bread made with rice flour).

The surprise for us, however, was the Sukkha Bombil Biryani or dried Bombay Duck Biryani. It was unlike other fish biryanis. If you love the smell of the ocean, then this is the dish to try out. The dish had an overwhelming ‘fishy’ aroma but introduced us to a new variant of biryani.

Their fish dishes were perfectly done, unlike some places that serve a flaky or rubbery version. The distinct flavour in their curries are brought about by the use of Koli masalas and the popular Bottle Masala — a spice mix that is a blend of anything between 25 to 60 aromatic spices.

All in all the experience gave us a good throwback to heading down to a seaside Koli village over our many teenage weekend outings in Mumbai.

We would say their signature Koli dishes lived up to their promise. The items were reasonably priced for the portions they offered, considering fresh fish come at a cost. Besides, their flagship Koli dishes, the place also serves a wide range of kebabs, tikkas and other tandoori delicacies, and of course, a wide range of Mumbai street-food favourites like Vada Pav, Kheema Pav, Kanda Bhajiyas and more.

Service is efficient and you should expect at least a 10-minute wait time between each course, as fish cannot be prepared in a hurry.

Where: Behind Ramee Royal Hotel, Karama

Average meal price for two: Dh120 (Thali: Dh35 per person)

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