Go on immersive heritage walks by Mumbai's popular cafés

Bandra Walkitecture Walks starting at Veronica’s, Mumbai.
Bandra Walkitecture Walks starting at Veronica’s, Mumbai.

Summary

Restaurants and cafés in Mumbai are curating walks and offering diners a taste of more than just food and drinks

Restaurants and cafés in Mumbai are dishing out more than just food. Now, they are also offering diners experiential activities like art, architecture and typography walks in their neighbourhoods.

When chef Heena Punwani, founder of Mumbai-based Maska Bakery, was first looking for a space to open her bakeshop last December, she knew it had to be rooted in the local community and neighbourhood. Growing up, she had fond memories of visiting south Mumbai’s many local bakeries, from Kyani & Co. to Sassanian and Paris Bakery at Marine Lines.

Punwani says the idea was for Maska to be quintessentially Mumbai—right from the bakes to the branding. “Mahim has retained a lot of its old-world charm, it’s almost like a forgotten suburb that’s escaped gentrification," she says, adding that it made sense to give patrons a deeper insight into what makes their neighbourhood so special.

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Maska has been doing neighbourhood walks a couple of times a month since it opened, tying up with experts who take you through Mahim’s history, heritage and architecture, ending with breakfast at the bakery. This includes a typography walk with local resident Tanya George, about the many quirky fonts and signs that can be found in the neighbourhood.

Photographer and local resident Sunny Amlani leads a historical walk where patrons can learn little snippets like how Mahim is actually home to a large Sindhi community, its baking culture, or for that matter how the Mumbai police is the first to put a chadar at the Mahim Dargah during the urs mela in December which commemorates the Sufi saint, Makhdoom Ali Mahimi.

Maska Bakery also ties up with the Bombay Gypsea, which curates sailing experiences, for trips around the Mumbai harbour followed by a picnic on the boat. Links to register and purchase tickets for this are available on their social media pages.

A sense of community

Today, restaurants and cafés are going beyond the obvious and offering diners a taste of more than just food and drinks. At Mag St. Colaba, the restaurant has a concept called “Around the Block" that curates art, architecture and typography walking trails with experts. “When we launched in 2021, we knew we didn’t want Mag St. to be just another café, we wanted to create a space that was all about community," says Gauri Devidayal, co-founder and director of Food Matters Group, which runs establishments like The Table and Mag St.

“We really wanted to bring the neighbourhood to life, through stories that Colaba is known for, its heritage, the fact that it is the art district of Mumbai or the gateway to the Arabian Sea. We do sailing trips around the harbour in the cooler seasons," she adds. They hold about three walks a month, and tickets can be purchased online from the restaurant group’s website.

One such example is Mag St.’s collaboration with Art & Wonderment, run by historians Alisha Sadikot and Nishita Zachariah, for specialised art walks and gallery and museum-hopping tours for people looking for one-off experiences. According to Zachariah, there has been a growing appreciation for such tours among varying age groups. “In fact, a lot of people who sign up for our art walk with Mag St. are couples on dates. Everyone loves storytelling and these are a great way to extend an evening out, instead of just a movie or dinner," she notes. The walks typically end with cocktails and snacks at Mag St.

Storytelling-meets-food

While new restaurants keep opening up in the city, replacing the old and transforming neighbourhoods, there are a few who take the initiative to keep the stories of Mumbai’s beloved neighbourhoods alive.

Veronica’s, a sandwich shop tucked away in Bandra’s Ranwar village, not only draws eager visitors for its sandwiches, burgers and kombucha, but also for a lesson in history. Each month, the restaurant organises a tour in collaboration with Walkitecture, founded by architect Nikhil Mahashur, which showcases the architectural narrative of Mumbai’s heritage precincts and iconic neighbourhoods.

The walk starts with coffee and bakes at Veronica’s, followed by a two-hour walk through Ranwar and Pali village, both of which are home to charming bungalows and the Indo-Deco style of architecture that is unique to Bandra.

According to Mahashur, many of the attendees feel a strong connection to Mumbai’s bygone era, which fuels their interest for such trails. “One interesting aspect is that Veronica’s is housed in what used to be the well-known St. Jude Bakery (the bakery is said to have opened in 1952 and shuttered in 2004), adding an extra layer of historical significance to the experience," he says.

Last Christmas, Bandra Born, an experimental cuisine restaurant and cocktail bar, hosted a Christmas walk through some of Bandra’s charming by-lanes in collaboration with Houses of Bandra, a social media page that documents Bandra’s history and architecture. Guests indulged in a tasting session of Christmas beer and learnt more about how the suburb and its residents celebrate the holiday.

So, can we expect more? According to Devidayal, the by-lanes of old Mumbai have thousands of stories.

Yash Bhanage, founder & COO of Hunger Inc. Hospitality, which runs Veronica’s, concurs, saying that now more than ever, people want to dive deeper into their neighbourhoods, and be part of a narrative that is engaging and immersive. “These walks aren’t just about taking a stroll around the neighbourhood. It’s also very much about connecting with others who share similar interests," he explains.

Punwani says that in many ways, the idea is to make you feel like a tourist in your own city—each time unravelling a new layer to your favourite neighbourhood.

Arzoo Dina is a lifestyle journalist based in Mumbai.

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