We’ve been experiencing some unusual showers of rain and thunder in Mumbai for the past few days. But, even without the random rains, the temperature would have still been dropping – after all, winter is coming. During the winter months, we Mumbaikars give up our daily ice cream sandwiches and golas in favour of hot channa and chai. However, my favourite street side snack during Mumbai winters is the humble bhutta, or (if you want to use the anglicised term) corn off the cob.
Scattered across the city, bhuttawallas set up shop every morning with their portable coal stoves, pots of chili powder, limes and stacks of uncooked corn cobs. Like with every occupation in Mumbai, the bhuttawallas come from all over India.
Each morning (one bhuttawallah I talked with told me), they buy sacks of corn cobs from wholesale markets like Crawford Market and then head to various spots across the city to set up shop. While there’s no specific hierarchy as to which area belongs to which bhuttawallah, many vendors do have their favourite spots, having developed a rapport with customers in the area.
In Mumbai, corn cobs are either known as the ‘bhutta’, which is a North Indian term or makkaai, which is the Guajarati term. Bhuttawallahs will respond to a request using either term by pulling the leaves off half of the corn cob and then placing it directly on top of the hot coals sitting on his wooden cart.
After allowing it to roast for a few minutes, occasionally tuning and fanning it, he’ll take the corn off the coals and spread it with a s mixture of chili powder mixed with lime juice and sometimes salt. He’ll then hand the corn over to you, take a nominal Rs.15-20 for it and leave you to walk away savouring the delicious, hot bhutta.
Where To Get Them?
Craving some warm bhutta right about now? We feel you. We’d suggest you try heading over to Cuffe Parade opposite the World Trade Center, where a bhuttawallah mans a stall that produces heavenly crunch corn, spread with the perfect amount of spices. Or, take your pick from any of Mumbai’s sea faces – Juhu Beach, Chowpatty, Marine Drive or Carter Road and get yourself a bhutta from one of the stalls there. There’re few better food experiences than savouring a warm corn cob while looking out at the sea. There’s also a stall Near King’s Circle in Matunga, which sells not just your classic bhutta with chili and lime, but also a unique, must-try garlic butta.
I’m not trying to dictate your eating habits here, but I find that the best time to enjoy bhutta is towards the late evening; watch the sparks from the fire as the bhutta roasts and then settle down and watch the sun set while eating; it’s a Mumbai experience like no other.