Unaccustomed to travelling alone, Mother took me with her in the evenings, in rickshaws that croaked like toads through the crowded lanes of Mumbai — the city that raised me.
A little sad for missing out on gossip and games downstairs where my friends gathered, I looked forward nevertheless to eating at Monginis, one of Mumbai’s iconic cake shops. We walked through narrow lanes that snaked all the way to railways stations, buying many things — from cut cubes of juicy sugarcane to coconuts from Sreedharan, the Keralite vendor.
Suspicious characters lurked on the roads; I was a child, but attuned to the many dangers around me. Mother never asked me about them, so I didn’t tell. Besides, I had to eat at Monginis. What if Mother got alarmed and led me away…back home WITHOUT Monginis?! Unthinkable.
The man who manned Monginis cake shop was tall with a moustache that twirled like ballerinas. He was a Keralite like me. Not that I knew for sure, but his accent was like Mother’s and his hair like mine (oiled and jet black). Ignoring his presence, I walked in to scrutinize all the flavours of icecream — pistachio, vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch.
There were other stores nearby — Namrata, which sold vada pav (Indian burger) and pedhas (milky sweet), was a hot favourite too. But there was something about Monginis.
The foreign twang of its name made it seem slightly superior to the rest. The smell of eggs and sugar and flour lingered in it. So this is what children from other countries ate, I thought. None told me it was founded by foreigners; I somehow figured it out on my own. M-O-N-G-I-N-I-S. Un-Indian.
As a Keralite girl, I enjoyed many things at home — payasam (rice pudding), appams (deep-fried sweet), aval nanachchuthu (beaten rice cooked with jaggery and shredded coconut). Nothing like a crystallized fruit though! Or a loosely rolled and stuffed pastry — Mother called it puffs for some reason.
Candies in brilliant foil, pies, caramel, nougat…the scoop that coaxed all those flavours out, rolling it all into one huge hill atop a crumbling cone of eggy biscuit, sealed the deal: Monginis it is and Monginis it always will be.
Three decades on, here’s a story that tells the history of Monginis, the iconic Indian cake shop founded by two Italian brothers (one of them a proud fascist!).
Click here for the story.