On any weekend, as you walk along Gokhale Road, not too far from Dadar’s Our Lady of Salvation Church, and just before you arrive at the local branch of Waman Hari Pethe jewellers, you will pass a little lane that leads to an old, squat building. Scores of people queue up all the way to the end, to the iconic city eatery, Aaswad. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a table without waiting for long. But do wait, with bated breath, to be served a plate of the misal pav (at Rs 62), that made this, for a time, the most famous Mumbai restaurant. This was in 2015, when the recognition of “the world’s tastiest vegetarian dish” was bestowed on its misal by Foodie Hub, one of the largest networks of local food experts in the world.
Rather modestly, though, Suryakant Sarjoshi, the 52-year-old second-generation owner, says, the recognition wasn’t so much for Aaswad’s particular misal but for Maharashtrian food in general. “In fact, there are better misals out there than ours. My own favourite misal is the one made by the Phadtares of Kolhapur,” he says, “Aaswad was just the medium through which the affordable, staple misal got global recognition.”
The secret is matki, or moth beans, as the basis for the dish and that they had long ago standardised a recipe that was tweaked and perfected for Mumbai by his mother Mangla Shrikrishna Sarjoshi. “Many places use vatana (dried green peas) to make misal because it’s cost-effective, but the original recipe calls for matki, which is peculiarly suited to absorb all the flavours. So it feels like a richer mouthful,” says Sarjoshi. And, he says, they only use top quality farsan (sev and chiwda mix used as the topping), that has been supplied by the same vendor from the start. Aaswad’s masalas are freshly prepared too. “We make the wet masala every single day, and the dry masala every two days. This ensures that the aroma of the spices is not lost,” he says.
Aaswad Uphar & Mithai Gruh was opened in 1986 by Suryakant’s father, Shrikrishna Ganesh Sarjoshi, who migrated to the city in 1968 from the Konkan region and began working in Dadar’s Trupti restaurant as a salesman. Shrikrishna work rewarded him with a partnership at the restaurant. But when in 1984, the building which housed Trupti was demolished for renovation, he found himself at a loose end. So, he founded Aaswad opposite Sena Bhavan. “Our restaurant was inaugurated by (the late Shiv Sena supremo) Bal Thackeray,” says Sarjoshi, who became involved in its running since 1986, while still studying, taking full charge in 1999 after his father retired.
Aaswad’s delicious staples of thalipeeth, kothimbir vadi and misal bring in a steady stream of customers. The famous ones include the Thackeray family and Union minister Nitin Gadkari, who, Sarjoshi says, drops by whenever he is in the city. Since the 2015 award much of the customer base has been non-Maharashtrian and Sarjoshi is happy to serve variations on Maharashtrian dishes, fashioned by his wife Smita. “Come in a few weeks and we’ll serve bhakri nachos with pithla topping and batata vada and misal sizzler,” he says.