AFTER THE first swarm of commuters has left Churchgate station, a few stalls spring up near the subway outside platform four as night falls. There are those who take a quick bite of omelette pao as a pre-dinner snack before reaching home two hours later in the northern suburbs of the city. There are others for whom the omelette is dinner and others still who are the last customers having their breakfast at the same stall at 6 am.
Liaqat Ali Siddiqui, who claims to be one of the first to set up a stall at the station 25 years ago, dishes out at least 400 omelettes through the night. “Earlier, when there were no competitors, I would end up making 500-600 omelette paos, bhurjis, and my famous anda rice,” 38-year old Siddiqui says. As a 13-year old boy, Siddiqui set up an omelette stall to contribute to his family income.
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“My father would deliver pao to homes around Churchgate so I was aware of the area. I began selling omelette pao and bhurji pao in the night to earn some money,” he says.
Siddiqui recalls how in the beginning he would have to face harassment from customers who would refuse to pay after eating. “There would be fewer policemen and not much patrolling either, to check brawls or people misbehaving with us. Things are better now,” he says.
The other thing that has changed significantly, according to Siddiqui, are the prices.
“But, at least I do not have to work under anyone. I managed to buy a home, get married, start a family, all because of this business,” says the Navi Mumbai resident who sets his stall at 8pm every evening till 6am when he serves his last customer. He then returns home and sleeps through the day.
All his supplies, including eggs and bread, come through orders on the phone.
Siddiqui prides over the fact that despite many other food stalls coming up over the years, customers come looking for him. “Those who have tasted the omelette I make remain loyal customers. I do not have a secret ingredient, I think it is the experience of so many years,” he says.
The customers continue even after the last train leaves Churchgate at 1am. Many, looking for food after all eateries in the area are shut, do not go disappointed.