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Old-world charm meets boho chic cafés at Mumbai's Ranwar Village

With a plethora of trendy restaurants and hip cafés strewn along its meandering streets, Bandra’s erstwhile hamlet of Ranwar is a bastion of Mumbai’s boho chic brigade

Veronica's at Ranwar Village in Bandra West, Mumbai.
Veronica's at Ranwar Village in Bandra West, Mumbai. (Raul Dias)

Aa far as Ranwar Village legends go, the one about a certain resident with an aptly double-barrelled name of ‘Captain Captain’ is one that stays with me for a long time after I’ve first heard it. Apparently, in the mid-1900s, the curmudgeon was infamous for shooing off the odd loitering soul by introducing them to his airgun.

Today, he’s replaced by the security guard stationed outside this historic Bandra village’s perennially packed new eatery—Veronica’s. I’m barely an arm and a leg out of my car, when the shrill pitch of his whistle is enough for my driver to get the hint and accelerate towards a less hostile direction.

Debuting earlier this year, this sandwich shop is housed in the same conserved space of the erstwhile Judee Bakery. One that sits on the intersection of Waroda Road and Veronica Street. It joins the almost dozen other trendy restaurants and hip cafés that dot Ranwar’s twisted bylanes and dead-ended alleyways.

The twain shall meet
Imbued to this day with the distinct flavour of dual colonisation, the hamlet of Ranwar is one of the 24 original East Indian community strongholds of Mumbai—known as pakhadis that once made up Bandra West—with Ranwar lying within a charming neighbourhood that’s bookended by the Bandra Reclamation area and the bustling shopping haven of Hill Road.

The Portuguese influence in the architecture of the quaint cottages and balcão (decorative balcony)-fronted bungalows is very much evident. However, it is the landmark and street names one finds here, like Veronica Street and Chapel Road, that hark back to both its British and aforementioned East Indian heritage.

The latter, showing up in the form of Hetwadi, the compact little village square where the annual Christmas celebrations of Ranwar Village Festival takes place. It's a time when Ranwar’s mostly Catholic residents put up stalls selling everything from decorations to scrumptious East Indian snacks, and dishes like mince patties, potato chops, fish croquettes etc.

Also read | Those East Indians and their cooking code

Kalpana Snacks Mart at Chapel Road in Ranwar Village, Bandra West, Mumbai.
Kalpana Snacks Mart at Chapel Road in Ranwar Village, Bandra West, Mumbai. (Raul Dias)

Café overload
But thankfully, one need not wait for December to enjoy these goodies. Typical ‘Mom-n-Pop’ places like La Farina on Waroda Road and Kalpana Snack Mart on Chapel Road will give you a taste of patties and meat chops all year round. Still on Chapel Road, the popular Subko Specialty Coffee Roasters and Craft Bakehouse is the go-to place for any coffee lover with its wide variety of roasts and blends. For more coffee action, there’s always the tiny BooJee Espresso bar and the beautifully decorated Birdsong Organic Cafe, both on Waroda Road.

Opened earlier this month in August, Thea is the latest Ranwar neighbourhood eatery that can be found along Chapel Road. Named after the Greek deity in control of the sun, moon, and dawn, Thea is a triple-level fine dine restaurant, pâtisserie, and al fresco bar.

It was her deep love and nostalgia for the area that she grew up in that made Dipti Gohel decide, in February this year, to set up her eatery along Ranwar’s Waroda Road. Called True Fit Gourmet Cafe, it focuses on healthy and preservative-free ingredients. “I think the original vibe of Bandra as a locality is in these lanes with beautiful old bungalows and spaces. It’s such a charming area to break away from the daily hustle and chaos. In fact, True Fit Gourmet Cafe occupies the same space that once housed the nursery school I went to as a toddler,” says Gohel. Her café sits next to a popular crêperie called Café Condi. Both establishments are housed in a building, ironically named Ben O’Lil Haven.

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Christmas decorations at the 'hetwadi' (village square) in Ranwar Village.
Christmas decorations at the 'hetwadi' (village square) in Ranwar Village. (Raul Dias)

Conserving culture
While it’s pretty much expected of food business owners to wax eloquent of this very obvious boom, don’t the traffic snarls and increasing diner footfalls cause more than a bit of stress to local residents? Well, that would be a vehement “yes”, according to septuagenarian Jackie D’Souza who lives next to one of the new places mentioned in this piece. “My daily, peaceful walk to church has become a frenzied hike as I try to dodge the moving cars, while their incessant honking disturbs my afternoon naps,” she rues.

Bruce Fernandes, who has been living here for the last 38 years, however, has a different take. “I’ve seen the Ranwar Village area change so much and also beautified. The original ambience of this space has evolved as new food spots opened around the area. This brings more awareness of these inner lanes of Bandra,” believes Fernandes.

According to architectural consultant Sneha Kishnadwala who has done a research paper titled, Cultivating Culture in the lost Portuguese Village in Mumbai, India, Ranwar Village—with its prowess as an F&B stronghold of Bandra and Mumbai at large—can be considered as a classic example for how to make conservation sustainable. “One does this by cultivating their culture (in this case food) and making it appreciated by a much larger group of people. It is also important for conservationists or professionals like us to encourage locals to understand the significance and value of these communities,” says Kishnadwala.

Ergo, this article you’ve just read.

Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.

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