My rabbit meat trail in Mumbai.
It’s not a good time to be non-vegetarian in Mumbai. Meats are being banned all around with the same fervour one would associate with banning narcotics. While researching the fine-print of the bans online, I stumbled across Kerala’s decision to ban the slaughter of rabbits for meat. Fearing that Maharashtra would soon follow suit, I decided to sample the meat in aamchi Mumbai. Needless to say, a lot of my friends and family who have grown up on a steady diet of ‘Cuddle Dem White Furball’ videos were repulsed by my plan. My girlfriend wanted to reconsider our relationship. As the popular meme goes: eat a chicken and no one bats an eyelid; eat a rabbit and everybody loses their minds.
I kicked off my food trail on a rain-drenched afternoon at Imbiss, Colaba. The Bandra branch stopped selling the meat because they thought it was banned in Maharashtra. I had to go solo as none of my friends were willing to bite into a ‘pet’ animal even though I was paying. A brainchild of veteran restaurateur Peter Maiwong, Imbiss has had bunnies on the menu since day one. With rabbits occupying an important place in Italian and other European cuisines, the meat was a no-brainer for the continental restaurant that prides itself on its meat selection. “Rabbits are a lot like chicken in terms of taste. Just like chicken, they take the personality of the sauce or curry they are put in”, said Dhiresh Verlekar - head of operations at the restaurant. He recommended a rabbit based stew as proof of his claim. A combination of mirepoix*, bacon, herbs, red wine, and spices, the stew is a house speciality. They serve it with German Spätzle (a German take on egg noodles) and tossed vegetables, and taking into account our Indian sensibilities, they make it spicier than its European counterpart.
Rabbit Stew at Imbiss, Colaba
As I dug into the meat, I couldn’t help notice the similarities it shared with chicken – lean, white and neutral tasting. There wasn’t any strong, distinctive flavour that one would find in other game meats such as quail and duck, making it perfect for the Indian palate, which prefers its meat to not taste / smell like…well ahem… meat. After doing a stellar job at wiping the plate clean, I bid farewell to Dhiresh and stepped out in the pouring rain, ready to hop into the next rabbit hole.
* Chef speak for a mixture of onions, carrots, and celery
Hotel Deluxe, Fort
The Fort based Hotel Deluxe has been my go-to restaurant for Kerala style seafood and traditional Onam sadyas; but prior to this trail, I had no clue that it also served, or used to serve, (more on that later) rabbits on request. You won’t find them on the menu but the restaurant will serve you the game meat of your choice, given proper notice (I notified the restaurant two days in advance). Their default recipe is a rabbit roast and I was served the same when I arrived. With medium-sized pieces of rabbit dunked into a thick spicy gravy dominated by caramelised onions, curry leaves and garam masala, this preparation sends your sweat glands into a tizzy. The meat itself is tender and, dare I say, more delicious than chicken made in the same gravy. Before I knew it, I had eaten more than I had planned to and partially chewed bones dotted the bowl where juicy pieces of meat once lay. Note to readers: rabbit bones are very delicate and can easily chip off. Be careful as to not hurt your gums with a rogue chip.
The rabbit roast at Hotel Deluxe
Restaurant regulars looked surprised to know that the place served rabbit. “I have been coming here since the last 10 years and I never knew that I could get rabbit meat”, said one of the patrons.
When I tried to strike up a conversation with the owner Bashir, he looked circumspect. On probing I realised that he was confused about the legality of selling rabbit meat in Maharashtra. He had mistaken the Kerala ban on rabbit to be a nationwide thing. No wonder the patrons were confused about what meat they can order.
When I called him a week later to see if I could have an encore, he told me that was the last time they served rabbit in the restaurant. Lack of demand, and probably uncertainty of the ban had prompted them to stop making rabbit indefinitely (Note: So do check availability before landing up for your rabbit meal). This was hardly the end of the world as I had by then found another restaurant serving excellent Kerala-style rabbit.
Cherry’s Kitchen, Malad
Situated opposite Orlem church in Malad, this restaurant is named after its founder Mr. Cherian, whose affable nature is a big part of the restaurant’s charm. Unlike Deluxe, you don’t need to pre-order but do call to check the availability of the meat. “Even though rabbit meat is available throughout the year in cold storage, I only source fresh stuff from a farm owner in Gorai”, said Mr. Cherian, explaining the reason behind the occasional absence of bunnies from the menu.
Mr. Cherian in his element
“The age of the rabbit plays an important role in the cooking process”, he told me explaining how he selects his meat. “You have to go for the youngest, as the older the rabbit gets, the harder its meat becomes”. He has his own special recipe for the rabbit roast that ensures the meat retains its juices even after it has been roasted. Less spicy than the deluxe variant but equally delicious, the preparation goes best with fluffy rice-based appams. As I wolfed down my third rabbit, he pointed out a bunch of girls who entered the restaurant shortly after I ordered. “They only have rabbit every time they come here”, he told me with a hint of pride. So much for girls not eating cute, furry animals. Girlfriend, please note.
Rabbit roast at Cherry's Kitchen, Malad
There are a couple of other Kerala restaurants that serve rabbit; but Spice of Kerala in Marol was hit with supply issues the last time I checked and Hotel Sanjo in Seawoods would just do bulk orders.
This list is definitely not exhaustive; so meat lovers hit me with places that I have missed out. Animal lovers, just go ahead and hit me. You are in queue.
Imbiss: Pipewala Building, Shop no. 3 , 4th Pasta lane, Colaba, Opposite, Camy Wafers, Mumbai. Phone: 022 33956096
Hotel Deluxe: Fort 28, SBS Road, Pitha Street, Near Hitkari House, Fort, Mumbai. Phone: 022 22042351, 022 66559914
Cherry’s Kitchen: Malad West, Near St. Joseph Garden, Justine D'souza Road, Orlem, Malad West, Mumbai. Phone: 022 28629413, +91 9892547720
Spice of Kerala: Marol 3, Near Uttam Dhaba, Marol Maroshi Road, Marol, Mumbai. Phone: 022 65262172, +91 9833454006
Hotel Sanjo: Seawoods 17/18, Laxmi Tower, Seawood Railway Station West, Sector 42, Seawoods, Navi Mumbai. Phone: 022 27720559, +91 9869687799
By Avijit Pathak
Photography: Avijit Pathak