A young, homesick and hungry student sits down at a table with his friends and orders a meal. When the food arrives, he digs in and after the first bite he breaks down sobbing. Between bites and wiping the tears from his face, he says softly, “I miss you Ma…”
No, it’s not a Bollywood film I’m talking of here. It’s about Crystal – a small, nondescript hole in the wall restaurant with a grand view of Chowpatty beach and the Marine Drive bay.
And it was this story, narrated by a friend who was part of the group when the melodrama unfolded, that inspired my first visit to Crystal many moons ago.
While time may have taken its toll on the décor (thankfully you don’t go to a restaurant to eat the décor, at least not me), the food still brings out intense emotions.
Crystal serves earthy, robust, straight from the heart Punjabi food. The kind of food served at home, prepared with the same love and effort that mother would.
The Rajma (red kidney beans in a mild tomato based gravy) is perhaps the best I’ve eaten in all of Mumbai. The Baingan Bharta (roasted eggplant mashed with onions and spices) makes me break out into song. And the Dal Makhani (mixed lentils slow cooked with spices and served with a dollop of white butter) captures the very essence of Punjab. As does the rest of the one page menu.
They used to have a hearty selection of Stuffed Parathas (pan fried Indian flat breads filled either with cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes or grated white radish) but unfortunately staffing problems have temporarily driven them off the menu. But the owner, K K Khanna, promises they will be back soon.
You can’t leave Crystal without trying the Kheer. “It’s what we’re known for”, says the portly owner. And he’s right. This lip smacking dessert is made the way it should be – milk along with rice, sugar and nuts is simmered for hours in a large vat, making it thick and tasty.
Crystal. Big on taste. Big on flavour. And if you are a homesick immigrant to this city, big on emotion too.Crystal Restaurant – 19, Chowpatty Sea Face, Marine Drive, (Next to Wilson College), Mumbai 400007, India. Tel: (+91 22) 23691482. Lunch: 12.30 pm – 3.30 pm. Dinner: 7.15 pm – 10.15 pm. Monday closed. Cash only.