India’s original grilled cheese
When I was a kid growing up in Mumbai, street food was everywhere. After a walk on the beach, a Bollywood movie, or an exhausting day in traffic, we could always find a vendor who’d assemble one of the city’s iconic street snacks, known as Aamchi Mumbai. Basically an overloaded grilled cheese, the sandwich consists of white bread slathered with tangy mint-cilantro chutney, filled with spicy masala mashed potatoes (made with cumin, mango powder, fennel, and more), and layered with fresh cucumber and tomato slices. Then it’s topped with shredded Amul cheese, a famous Gujarati brand of white cheddar. What this all adds up to: a gooey, messy, delectable treat.
The Mumbai sandwich’s origins are murky, but it likely gained popularity in the 1960s, when migrant workers who’d made their way to the big city—then called Bombay—needed a quick and affordable snack. While India’s economy was changing, so were people’s palates; the city’s sandwichwallahs created an appetizing future by combining elements from the country’s colonial past. Bread and potatoes were brought by the Portuguese, the British invented the sandwich, and spices and chutneys are an integral part of Indian cuisine.
We sampled most of the sandwichwallahs’ creations and identified a few favorites in each neighborhood. Some loaded their sandwiches with extra butter, beets, raw onions, and chopped green chilies, while others added crunch by topping them with fried bits of noodles called sev. With cars and pedestrians lined up, vendors swiftly grilled the bread on large charcoal-heated cast-iron plates, called tava, and served the sandwiches on paper plates with ketchup and ruffle chips. Now, most of them have electric griddles.
Decades later, I found the same zesty flavors at Kailash Parbat, an outpost of a Mumbai-born international franchise in Patel Plaza in Decatur. (There’s another in Alpharetta.) The sit-down restaurant offered a more formal ambience, table service, and real cutlery—but the layered sandwich induced a familiar nostalgia. —Sucheta Rawal
More sandwiches to know
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This article appears in our July 2023 issue.