It is difficult to spot Mumbadevi Jalebiwala amid the maze of shops in Kalbadevi. A fruit seller in the market of jewellers helps us out by accompanying us all the way to “Kulfi House”.
When asked to clear our confusion about the shop’s name, Mumbadevi Jalebiwala’s third-generation owner Harish Rawal, 52, lets out a hearty laugh. He says, the shop used to sell kulfis till his grandfather, and Mumbadevi Jalebiwala’s founder, Dhularam Rawal, shifted the focus to jalebis in the mid-1890s, owing to the trouble with milk supply.
The sweet was a massive hit and brought instant fame to the tiny shop, a few feet away from the Mumbadevi temple. “Our shop, which opened around 1891, sits literally at the feet of Mumbadevi and a large number of our patrons have been temple regulars.” So, in 1897, when Dhularam registered the business, he named it after the goddess. Kulfi House is how the older patrons still refer to it.
Dhularam, the youngest in a family of cooks from Rajasthan, moved to Mumbai in the late 19th century in search of work. With the cotton mills and opium business booming, the city had become a huge draw for migrants. A number of cloth traders and jewellers from Gujarat and Rajasthan had settled in and around Kalbadevi and Zaveri Bazaar. Dhularam realised the opportunity that lay in opening a sweet shop in the heart of Kalbadevi, right next to the temple to a goddess who lends her name to the city. “This temple is considered auspicious for migrants, which is why a number of old, moneyed families, with roots in other cities, still come and pray here,” says Rawal, citing the example of Reliance Foundation founder-chairperson Nita Ambani. “She is often here before an IPL match of her (cricket) team Mumbai Indians.”
Unlike the city’s more common crispy reed-thin variety, Mumbadevi Jalebiwala’s jalebis, at Rs 46 for 100g, are thick, juicy and crisp, with no added kesar or elaichi flavouring. And the USP is its signature pattern. “Our jalebi has two rounds of coils and a line that cuts through those coils.”
Over the years, the neighbourhood has significantly changed. Businesses have replaced residences, making it one of the busiest areas in the city. This is also why Zaveri Bazaar twice became a target of bomb blasts — in 2003 and 2011. Rawal vividly remembers the chaos and mayhem. “It was a scramble as people tried to escape the neighbourhood or find a safe spot to take shelter at. Many ran into our shop and stayed till the police had secured the area.” The security in the area has increased since and vehicles are no more allowed to drive down all the way to the temple.
Sundays, when the businesses are closed, are more peaceful, but also the busiest for Mumbadevi Jalebiwala. During the festive season, the queue to enter the temple can even stretch to over a kilometre.
The sweetshop owners have never considered expanding the menu (comprising just jalebis), though three branches in suburban Mumbai have opened up. “The only prominent change we have made is replacing the coal bhatti with a gas stove,” says Rawal. And unlike several old establishments facing property disputes, Rawal and his extended family continue to run the shop peacefully. “We, brothers and cousins, have businesses and jobs, so we take turns. My two elder brothers and I are managing the shop in this financial year, my cousins will take over next. We are able to do this because of our will to stay connected to this shop and Mumbadevi, who has blessed us all.”