I thought Britannia and Co deserved its own post. It is a Bombay institution, and, it brings with it a complex set of issues concerning power, colonial legacies, identity, belonging, and, of course food. Housed in a grand old building south of where we were staying, Britannia and Co is a Parsi restaurant. The waiters wear bowties, and, there is an image of Queen Elizabeth the Second on the wall, along with Mahatma Gandhi and a number of large photographs of famous colonial buildings. It has checked table clothes and napkins arranged as if they were flowers, spiralling out of glass with a flourish and distinction.

The fans whir overhead, and, you could be in a great many cities around the world. This is the colonial legacy. Colonialism as a world historical systems means that architectural styles, fashion choices, and overall feel can be found from Mexico City to Buenos Aires to Lisbon to Nairobi to here in Bombay. Going to Britannia and Co made me realise that I had experienced something similar before – once drinking gin and tonic at Victoria Falls in a remnant of empire. In one way, it is shocking to see it exist today given the politics of the place, but in another it seems antiquated and rustic without being threatening. It cloaks its violence in familiarity and spice. In terms of the politics, we were treated to a home-grown, soapbox moment when the 97 year old proprietor of Britannia and Co came to our table after we had ordered. Upon finding out that we were Australian, he proceeded to tell us how he had written to Julia Gillard suggesting she give up her prime ministership and have children instead. He thought that was a better use of a woman’s time in a nation building project. This was before he shared a photograph of himself with Prince William and Kate Middleton, extolling their virtues and regaling us with stories of how he met them last year when they were passing through here. We cringed, and, though you give 97 year olds some license, you could not help but think that this ideological perspective was braided through with the colonial. The restaurant, after all, is called Britannia and Co for a reason. So, why go there? You do, of course, need to check in with this conservative old guard, but it also is a bulwark against the totalitarian monologism of contemporary right wing nationalism. And, the food is pretty decent.

We ordered a pulav and a chicken cutlet. The rice was delicate and studded with burnt, caramelised onions, with nuts and fruits that reminded me of my Palestine ex-neighbour’s cooking when we lived in Kerala; and, the cutlet was pulled chicken that had been made into a patty with a crust on the outside, a cousin of a schnitzel though something else entirely. It was served with matchstick sized fries and an apricot-tomato gravy that was subtly spiced. I had never really eaten food like that, and, it was delicate and delicious. We washed it down with the only drink in town – lime soda – and for desert indulged in a fine crème caramel. Who knew the colonials did it so well? Better than cucumber sandwiches even if you could do without the preaching and nostalgia that should be farewelled.


You don’t come to Bombay for salami. So, we didn’t eat it (even though they had it every morning at our hotel breakfast). What we ate was lots of glorious vegetarian food. In India, the culinary question people ask is: veg or non-veg? By that simple phrasing, veg becomes the normative standard, and, one is not assumed to be a carnivore. It is easy to eat very well indeed without the slightest bit of meat passing your lips. I do think it is perhaps the best place in the world to be vegan.

If I am anything, I am a contextual eater. My diet, like my ethics and aesthetics, is determined by where I am and who I am with. This is not to say I do not have universal rules, but that I am a soft structuralist – I bend and flex depending on custom and ritual. And so, as they say, when in Bombay, go veg all the way. That does not mean there is only one diet here, but twenty million ways to eat. Many of them are vegetarian, so why not embrace it?

Bombay is a global city and a national hub. You get people from everywhere in India, which means you get great food from all over the subcontinent. This is to say nothing of cosmopolitans from other places as well. What is exceptional is street food; partly because people live such fast paced lives that they need to grab and go. It means there is always something good to eat within touching distance, and, sometimes even a little closer. However, we did not only eat street food, nor curry for that matter. We had good sandwiches, nice cakes, solid Western breakfasts, salad bowls, drinking snacks. This was with friends and when it was just the two of us, in cheap locals and metropolitan hotels, for lunch and dinner, and all the times before and after.

What I like about Bombay is hard to say exactly. I first came here in 2011, and, was exhausted after two days. I was travelling cheap and the hotel I had found was being renovated so they were drilling into the walls throughout the night. I caught a train all the way to Delhi, defeated by it with my brother-in-law, but not quite bowed. I returned in 2016, and, stayed for two months. That was a better trip, and, when I ventured out of town to a small hill station nearby I came back renewed for the monsoon. And yet, the second time here I was also trying to fight the city, criss-crossing town on a daily basis, going out in downpours when I should have stayed home, eating risky food and getting sick by being stupid.

This trip is short, for a week and because of work, but now it feels like I can get along with Bombay. I am fighting it less than I was. I am learning how to be here, how to be part of the city in a way I had not before. What has helped is where we are staying – Khar, which is a hip, welcoming and green district with a number of great, local things. The importance of neighbourhood charm matters here because Bombay is a city cut up by traffic. Avoiding traffic cannot be emphasised enough, at least for me. Sitting still, horns honking, lurching to and fro can take it out of you, especially if you are not used to it. If you keep it local, you will be better for it, even if you are travelling by car with AC. Some restaurants have AC, but all you really need is a fan or some shade, lest you melt into a puddle if you are outside for too long, at least for most of the year. January is supposed to be better, and, you might even need a light sweater.

As for what to eat, I like all the puri snacks – pani to sev to bell (they could be thought of as individual tapas for those who have not visited); I like vada pav, a kind of fried potato dumpling inside a white bread bun with chutney or pickle or sauce; I had some excellent okra that reminded me of small village meal on a trek I did ten years back in the Himalayas; plus dosa, idli, vadai, which are South Indian treats and remind me of the places my mother’s family comes from way down the coast. All of them were on the table this time around plus a great many other things besides. In terms of memorable moments from this trip, I had a wonderful thali lunch the first day I was here at Madras Diaries then there was very good mini vada pav at Pali Bhavan then there was a wonderful meal with friends upstairs downtown at Crystal Ice Cream (which does not serve any ice cream at all) then a cosmopolitan experience at Olive Bar and bits and pieces in between from all around. It was, in this way, somewhat hard to leave because there is a certain rhythm here that engages all your senses. There is a lot to see and do and eat along with simply being when we are in this city. I will have to come back for it.

And though my trip was mainly vegetarian, I did have one moment of glorious meat-eating sublimity. It was at a street side stall where two young guys grilling chicken over charcoal. They then wrapped these succulent pieces of thigh in a handkerchief thin roti before squeezing in lime, a coriander sauce, and pink onions. I ate it right then and there while it was steaming hot and fresh enough for the many, many gods. No finer moment was had, and, it was worth traveling all this distance for. To revel in chicken in a week of being vegetarian – I was the sweeter for it even if it was a little bit of mischief that made you think twice about it.

Where to eat: MadrasDiaries lunch thali; Pali Bhavan appetisers; Crystal Ice Cream for North Indian; The Village Shop for cake and tea; Olive Bar for cocktails; KitchenGarden for salad; any guy on the street for all the snacks, please.


Of late, I have been writing some reflections on the suburbs. I grew up in the suburbs and consider myself a suburban person more than anything else, at least in terms of identity. It has the possibility of being a different kind of being that comes after some others; it is located; and for me, it feels like a true reflection of who I am, by experience and upbringing.

So, what is happening in the suburbs when it comes to food? Lots of things are happening there; and, a lot of my previous posts have featured suburban restaurants, from Monsterella to Claremont Bunnings to Subiaco Farmers Market. It is impossible to write about the suburbs in any complete way, other than to suggest they are capable of diversity, richness, and pleasure. They are a place that is a world. Some of my favourite places are suburban, especially the Wembley Food Court.

If this blog started on the Upper West Side in New York, it has come to rest in the suburbs of Perth (at least for now). Perth does suburbs very well, which is to say it balances the city and the country, synthesising them into something better than the sum of their parts.

Now, I do like a suburban adventure, but what makes it suburbanist? It might be necessary to suggest that a suburbanist experience of the world is the negation of a suburbanite in the popular imagination, which is to say that it is the opposite of the alienated, late-capitalist, isolated, individualist, regulated. Being a suburbanist is a good thing. It is a true thing with meaning, value, reason, beauty, and importance. This being a Sunday, I felt like I needed something like that, and, given I have recently moved from Wembley to Mosman Park, I wanted something local that would satisfy me.

Enter Twin Beaks.

Twin Beaks is an occasional fried chicken burger pop-up in North Fremantle. It is a twenty-minute walk from my house and is run out of a garage by an enterprising trio Duncan, who I had met before and recall as a very nice bloke, took the orders, while Max, who I recognised by name, fried the bird, and the third, seamlessly readied the burgers before they were placed in their cardboard boxes. The chicken portion is generous with a crispy bready batter; the slaw a crunchy complement; and a choice of many sauces slathered on there. You can choose two with one on the bottom half of the bun and the second on the top – this seems like a very good idea, because it helps you retain the moisture without squeezing the sauce out because of excess at the top. I liked that feature most of all.

But, perhaps what I like about Twin Beaks, is how suburbanist it is. By this, it is small scale, local, artisanal of a sort, well intentioned, fun, tasty. It sees the potential of the suburbs for what they truly are, and, works with it to produce the first suburbanist burger I have ever had. This is not the home-made rissole slapped on a BBQ had in the backyard, but nor is it the fast food drive through that is replicable anywhere in the world. This one had soul, or, to put in the language of my in-law, a bit of mabarn. And that indefinable something is what sets it apart. I cannot wait for it to show up, wherever it does, whenever it does. I will walk there from home again even if it means crossing a highway, rounding a river, and stumbling home in the dark. Superb.