The culture and food traditions of Bombay's indigenous East Indian Christians

The East Indians of Mumbai and their Food Culture

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East Indians?

My community is disappearing. What once was a thriving community in the heart of Bombay is now vanishing; and with it, all our traditions and culture. In a city of 22 million people, there are hardly 5 lakh East Indians left. Or was that 5 lakh across the globe?

The salt on the wounds? When most people talk about East Indians, they’re either talking about American Indians or Indians from the East of India. It’s like we didn’t even exist. Ha!

With so many inter-caste and inter-racial marriages that take our world forward, our community takes a step backward. Yes, we are becoming global citizens, but that doesn’t mean we should lose our culture. Just because we learn new ways of living, it doesn’t mean we should forget the old ones. Well, at least not all of them! Some things are best forgotten, but some must be remembered. The concept is ‘Roots and wings!’, isn’t it?

East Indian History: Who are East Indians?

Although Christianity in India has been ascribed to the proselytizing work of the Portuguese in the 16th century, it did in fact exist here much before that. The research of late Dr. Elsie W Baptista, the niece of Indian freedom fighter Kaka Baptista (who was also Lokmanya Tilak’s lawyer), shows that Christianity was brought to India by the Apostle Bartholomew. Of course, her work has been based on the work of learned men before her; the likes of Jerome (342 AD to 420 AD), Eusebius (265 AD to 340 AD), Fr. Stilitingus (1703 AD to 1763 AD), and many more.

To support her theory, here is food for thought. Although the Apostle and Saint Bartholomew is supposed to have been martyred in Armenia for converting the king of Armenia to Christianity, he wasn’t. Contemporaries now believe that Bartholomew was in fact martyred along the Konkan coast in Kalyan, India.

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How did he get to India you ask? Trade! India has been trading with European countries for quite some time now. Alexander’s invasion of India in 326 BC opened up the trade routes and the gates of commerce further. But even before that, trade between India and other African and Europe existed.

Even King David and King Solomon traded with India. According to 1 Chronicles 29:4, King David had received three thousand talents of the gold of Ophir. According to 1 Kings 9:28, Solomon received gold, silver, peacocks, sandalwood, ivory, precious stones and more from Ophir.

The place Ophir mentioned here was Sopara or सोपारा in Mumbai. Ophir or Soprara was one of the largest trading port in ancient times.

So who are the East Indians of Mumbai? And why are they called East Indians?

When the Portuguese came to India in the 16th century they forced all the Indian Christians to adopt western traditions and culture, and designated them as Portuguese Christians. Years later when Bombay was given as a dowry gift by the Portuguese to the British East India Company in 1661 on the marriage of Charles the Second of England with of Catherine of Braganza. Over the centuries, most of the local Christians in Bombay and the North Konkan found jobs working for or trading with the British East India Company and other British organizations.

However, as the railways developed and steamships started operating across India in the early 1900s, other Christians from Goa who were also known as Portuguese Christians started coming to Bombay in search of work. In order to distinguish the Christians of the North Konkan from the other Portuguese Christians, and to show that they were the earliest Roman Catholic subjects of the British Crown in this part of India, the indigenous or original Christians from Bombay adopted the designation “East Indians”.

Perhaps they didn’t think it through. They should have thought about the fact that a hundred years in the future the British East India Company would not exist, and people who haven’t heard about East Indians would jump to the conclusion that East Indians come from the strangest places. But, long story short, East Indians are the indigenous Christians of Mumbai and the North Konkan region of India.

East Indian Culture

*****[ I’d love to write about our traditional sarees, and our parasols, our music and our food. I’d also love to write about what’s lost in the pages of history and what may be lost soon.

I’d love it if one day when I tell someone outside India that I’m an East Indian, they don’t assume that I’m living on the East coast of India.

But I need to take a break from work to complete the rest of my research and update this bit. Will try to do that soon. In the mean time if you have something to contribute about our history, traditions, culture or food, please email me at abby@thewingedfork.com and I’d be happy to feature it.]*****

The Kaka Baptista East Indian Museum in Manori, Mumbai - Pic by TheWingedFork
Kaka Baptista East Indian Museum in Manori, Mumbai

But if you want to see some of the artifacts from our culture, visit the Kaka Baptista East Indian Museum in Manori.

Traditional East Indian Food

Most of us have been brought up without learning the community language either, other than a spattering of words, myself included.

Ask the younger generation of East Indians nowadays, and many of them might say they don’t know how to cook the traditional vajri curry or even the trotters khudi. Some may even laugh at the fact that vajris aka cow and goat stomachs or trotters aka goats hooves are considered a traditional delicacy, until they taste them and realize that they’re actually quite amazing. Most East Indian cuisine is. 😉

I had originally planned on writing a piece about how a handful of East Indian ‘aunties’ make these dishes. But time just seems to pass with the swiftness of a horse at the races. And mom and my aunt are so busy caring for granny that they don’t have time to cater to the likes of me.

And so now, a few months later I’ve dug up some of the old pics of the East Indian dishes that my mom makes, with her special twist, especially her spicy chicken tope.

Here they are. Some of our favorite East Indian recipes. For the ones we’ve not added here yet, just find any East Indian ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’ (as they’re lovingly called’) and they should tell you. If you can’t find any, well, it’s probably because we are disappearing, isn’t it? If you find them, and they don’t tell you the recipe, let me know and I’ll write them down the next time.

And no, I haven’t found the time to take pics of tongue moile or other recipes yet. So if any of you nice ‘aunties’ would love to talk about them please ping me.

Brain Masala

Brain Masala curry - TheWingedFork
Brain Masala curry

Yeah, that amazing dish of goats brains with a special spicy masala tastes amazing. It’s even more mouth-watering with my mom’s addition of coconut milk, cashewnut paste and cream. Have you ever tried it that way?

Crab Curry Masala

Crab-Masala-before-crab-curry - TheWingedFork
Crab Masala before adding in the Crabs

Everyone loves crab curry. Buy a dozen or two dozen fresh crabs from the market and salt them. Fry the crab masala and then add in the two dozen humongous crabs. Regular curry. But mom’s secret recipe includes adding in garlic and onion paste and slit green chillies. It adds so much to the flavour!

Sorpotel

Mom's sweet Sorpotel - TheWingedFork
Mom’s sweet Sorpotel

Mom also makes a better tasting version of sorpotel. Her secret ingredient, my homemade wine instead of vinegar? I absolutely love sweet sorpotel, as do most of my friends that gorge on her food. So different!

But since I haven’t had the chance to put up mom’s recipe, click here to see the step by step sorpotel recipe with pictures from Uncle Jude in Australia.

Vajri Khudi

Add-in-the-chopped-potatoes-and-the-goat stomach-pieces the the curry - TheWingedFork
Vajri khudi in the cooking

Goat tripe curry or vajri khudi is a food that my relatives have a love-hate relationship with. Me, some days I love it, some days I don’t. It’s hard to decide. To judge for yourself, read the vajri khudi recipe here.

Chicken Tope

Chicken Tope - TheWingedFork
Chicken Tope

Chicken tope, much like mutton tope is an easy all in one recipe. Be it for lunch or dinner, it’s the East Indian quick fix or all in one dish. Chicken, poha, and bottle masala. What else do you need?

Beef Tongue Roast Recipe

East Indian Beef Tongue Roast
East Indian Beef Tongue Roast

Beef tongue roast could make or break your party! How? It’s a dish that disappears quickly because it’s awesome! Everyone loves it. So if you don’t have enough tongue roast at your East Indian family gathering or party, there will be complaints! Click here if you want a recipe for an easy to make East Indian Tongue Roast.

Foogias

East Indian foogias are small ball shaped sweet bread that go well with any meal or just with plain tea - TheWingedFork
Foogias

Little golden fried balls of dough that are soft as heaven and disappear as quickly as they’re placed on the table, that’s foogias. Foogias are just one of the many traditional East Indian varieties of bread; the others being handbreads or apas, chitaps, orias, and more.   

The foogias batter is a mixture of maida (refined wheat flour), a little bit of rice flour, coconut juice or milk, sugar and yeast that is mixed and left to rise overnight. In the morning the dough is formed into small balls by squeezing it through the thumb and forefinger and fried till golden brown. The foogias are eaten with dinner or lunch and go especially well with moile or sorpotel.   

Corned Tongue or Salted Ox Tongue Recipe

East Indian Corned Tongue With Chutney
East Indian Corned Tongue With Chutney

Yummy as ever, corned tongue is something we eat for special dinners, be it weddings, funerals or celebrations. Making corned tongue takes time and effort, and you have to do it just right to satisfy the tastes of many. There’s always a traditional salted tongue recipe to the rescue, and this is ours!

Gluten Free Chitaps or Rice Crepes

Gluten Free version of Chitaps - TheWingedFork
Gluten Free version of Chitaps

These light and fluffy crepe like savories are yummy, tasty and a whole lot more. I’ve always loved chitaps and find them delicious. So this time I made them myself using a gluten free recipe.

East Indian Pork Vindaloo

A must-have dish at weddings, birthdays, parties and even funeral celebrations, the traditional East Indian vindaloo recipe has its own variation in every East Indian home. A derivative of the Portuguese carne de vinha d’alhos, you won’t an East Indian or Goan who doesn’t love eating this lush spicy dish. If you’re looking for our recipe, here it is!

BBB Curry

Mom's-Balls-and-boobs-curry - TheWingedFork
Mom’s original – brains, balls and boobs curry – tasty and spicy

Okay, this one isn’t original East Indian food, is it? But it’s made using the East Indian jungle khudi masala, so it’s sort of a derivative of our lovely cuisine. I love the BBB curry. Goat brains, balls and boobs in that spicy gravy. It’s so much better than eating them on a shig.

Mutton Paya Curry or Goat Trotters Curry

Rich red mutton trotters curry or paya curry is one of the popular East Indian dishes
Rich red mutton trotters curry or paya curry

One of the most loved East Indian dishes has to do with feet, goat’s feet to be exact. Okay, well sheep feet sometimes too. But feet! I have some friends in European countries who can’t even understand how we eat fish heads, goats feet is too far for them. But like I always say, offal is good! And mutton trotters curry is as yummy as ever. And seriously, how can you go against tradition? Just try to make your own paya curry and see!

Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken - TheWingedFork
Roast Chicken Thighs

I have no idea where the pic of the whole stuffed roast chicken went. So here’s the pic of just the roast chicken thighs. Always tastes amazing with the kashmiri chillies, doesn’t it? Especially with the caramelized onions. And me, I just love those roast chicken skins, almost as much as roast pigling skin. Don’t you?

On that note, I need to go look for the missing chicken. Hopefully it’s not roaming headless somewhere, spilling stuffed liver pudding from its insides. 😉 Maybe we’ll catch up again sometime soon for other East Indian food? Maybe sorpotel pav or chitaps?

Prawn Chilly Fry

Prawn Chilly Fry is easy to make in 20 minutes
Prawn Chilly Fry or Shrimp Chilly Fry

Now prawns are one of the favorite foods of some people, my sister included. No wonder mom makes the traditional prawn chilly fry quite often. This recipe for the traditional prawn chilly fry or shrimp chilly fry is easy to make in less than 20 minutes.

List of East Indian Recipes For Meals

Traditional East Indian Pickles & Salads

Kadmat or Cuchumber

Cuchumber kadmat - refreshing East Indian salad - TheWingedFork
Refreshing Cuchumber or kadmat salad

Remember the heat of summer that’s only cooled by that refreshing mango salad? Here’s my dad’s version of the traditional East Indian kadmat recipe.

Dry Bombay Duck Pickle

Awesome-tasting-bombil-pickle - TheWingedFork
Awesome tasting bombil pickle

The East Indian Bombay duck pickle or Dry Bombay Duck Pickle or Sukha Bomblache Lonche is a yummy pickle made of dried Bombay ducks and also works well in chilly fries and other dishes. Click here to get the recipe.

 East Indian Mango Chutney

The East Indian Mango Chutney is very like the murabba, chunda or Varenye - TheWingedFork
East Indian Mango Chutney

Another favorite pickle is the East Indian Mango Chutney. It’s so like the murabba or varenye isn’t it? We make kilos of it in May and expect it to last through winter. But most times it’s gone by the end of the monsoon. Have to probably make a few more kilograms next year. Recipe link here.

East Indian Tomato Kusondi

Tomato Kusondi Pickle Recipe
Tomato Kusondi Pickle Recipe

A perfectly sweet and tangy pickle made from tomato, the kusondi has been carried to far reaches of the planet. Yes, every time relatives come down to India, they carry back bottles of the tomato kusondi with them. Find out more about the yummy East Indian tomato kusondi pickle here!

List of the East Indian Salads and Pickles

Traditional East Indian Drinks

Kimad

East Indian Kimad - TheWingedFork
East Indian Kimad

Quite similar to mulled wine or brandy, the East Indiankimad is a mix that will warm your bones on the cold winter nights. This warm drink is made with a mix of spices and country liquor. And is almost always served at the East Indian umracha paani before the weddings.

East Indian Currant Wine

Traditional East Indian Currant Wine
Black Currant Wine

Is there any East Indian who can say they’ve not tasted the traditional wine? Served at christenings, communions, weddings and more, the traditional East Indian wine makes its entrance at celebrations before any other drink does. No celebration and no party can start without the ceremonial toast with this sweet port-like wine. And every family has their own recipe for this wine, some are even well-guarded. Ask an East Indian aunty for a recipe, and they might leave out a key secret ingredient of the wine; or so they say. But if you need our recipe, follow the link in the list below. Sukhala!

List of the Traditional East Indian Drinks

Traditional East Indian Desserts

Marzipan Easter Eggs

Marzipan based East Indian Easter Eggs - TheWingedFork
Easter Eggs

Easter to the East Indian Catholic Christians is very different from Easter in Western countries. Food wise, I mean food wise. I know we’re all celebrating the resurrection of the Messiah. I was talking about food, or rather sweets. Our Easter Eggs are not normal eggs that are painted or any of those sweet chocolate eggs. Our eggs are made or marzipan, a yummy cashew or almond based sweet that is homemade and shaped into Easter Eggs, bonnets, bunnies and chicken.

Pancakes

Colorful pancakes for Shrove Tuesday - TheWingedFork
Colorful pancakes for Shrove Tuesday

There’s a lot to be said about the traditional East Indian pancake that’s filled with a lush sweet coconut filling. But why say anything, when I can just go and share the recipe with you. Click here for the East Indian Pancake recipe.

Sand Cake or Rice Cake (Modified Gluten-Free Version)

East Indian Sand cake or gluten free rice cake recipe
Sand cake or Rice Cake

Sand cake has been named for a reason. Its texture feels much like grains of sand. And it tastes absolutely perfect when it’s fresh out of the oven. Drizzle some jam on it and it gets even better. Sand cake is traditionally made using a mix of fine wheat flour and rice flour, but here’s my modified gluten free sand cake recipe!

East Indian Christmas Sweets

Christmas-Sweets-left-to-set---TheWingedFork
Christmas sweets left out to dry

Where do I start? Mass pav, tartlets, cordial, vanilla cream, sojee halwa, cashew rock, thalie sweet, coconut cake, walnut fudge, date rolls, too many delicious East Indian sweet desserts to name. I’m trying to make a good long list of everything. If you have a bit to contribute just email me at abby@thewingedfork.com If you want to read what I’ve assimilated so far, the list of East Indian sweets is here.

Honey Balls

My granny's delicious version of honey balls and snow balls - TheWingedFork
My granny’s delicious version of honey balls and snow balls

Snow balls or honey balls or aitolas or popoges. Whatever you call them, they taste awesome. So here’s a post of my sis making my grandma’s version of honey balls. The ones my aunt from the other side loves as much as we do. That’s why we make them ever so often and take them over. Here are granny’s honey balls.

Links to the East Indian Desserts

The Food Culture of the East Indians of Bombay, India - By TheWingedFork
Traditional East Indian Food - TheWingedFork
The East Indians of Bombay, their food and culture
The East Indians of Bombay, their food and culture
About the East Indians of Mumbai, India and their food culture

6 thoughts on “The East Indians of Mumbai and their Food Culture”

  1. Thanks for your website enjoyed reading it the history part of it, yes pity we are getting diluted with other communities
    Don’t stop writing about us.
    Rgds Adolf and Hetty
    Perth.

    Reply
  2. Thank you! Definitely won’t stop writing. If you or anyone you know would like to contribute information about the culture section, we’re really hoping to expand on it one day.

    Reply

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