For the love of good food….
There is a description about Haji Ali Juice Centre as a meeting point of gangsters and their lovers, in a well-researched and one of my most ear-marked books, “Maximum City” by Suketu Mehta. This description, the location right outside a popular shrine and the reputation of the place having one of the city’s best strawberry milkshake has always enamored me.
The Haji Ali Shrine is a testimony to the rich historic, cultural, traditional fabric of India. This beautiful shrine located at the end of a thin strip of the Arabian sea, has a legacy of over 580 years behind it. If only the walls could talk, we are sure they would make for some colourful stories of the days gone by.You can see people of all faiths walking up the path flanked by beggars and vendors on both sides. The shrine’s digital presence can be viewed on http://www.hajialidargah.in/). The shrine is visited by over 40,000 pilgrims especially on Thursdays and Fridays! (Source: Wikipedia)
And where do these 40,000 pilgrims go after paying homage to the saint?
Cut to the Haji Ali Juice Centre located right outside the main entrance of the shrine! As the name suggests, the eatery is well recognized because of its close proximity to the shrine. The café serves a range of juices, which is the mainstay of the menu. Apart from these, you will find fruit creams, pizzas, sandwiches and rolls. Surprisingly, it is a pure – vegetarian joint, as compared to most Mohammadean joints.. There is a very basic seating arrangement with 6-8 tables, but most of the customers choose to stand on the pavement and watch the amazing Pizza/Sandwich making process and what goes into it.
When you go to this joint, you can be forgiven for thinking that the only thing served in the name of food is the Veg. Cheese Pizza. Visibly, that is their best-selling item. You can watch the assembly line production of the pizzas in front of you.
The pizzas are of the same size as the small pizzas in the chains that we regularly order from, but tasted very different. On a small pizza base, after a smattering with a special tomato sauce, it was filled with finely chopped onion and capsicum, sliced tomatoes and a mountain of cheese. And I do mean MOUNTAIN! This pizza is not recommended for the faint hearted. Take a guess how much Cheese is used by this eatery daily….. 10 Kg? 30 Kg? 50 kg?…… Nope, a whopping 70-80 Kg everyday!
The pizza is served hot out of the oven, on a paper plate. In the truly Indian way, it is garnished with sev and coriander (Corriander….. The ultimate Indian Garnish !). The base is absolutely crunchy with gooey, superbly-melted cheese filling up your mouth. The mish-mash of capsicum, onion, tomato and the melted cheese is a lot to take in and can stuff you completely. However, at Rs. 190 it is definitely not cheap, but then it is easily shared by two people! This is one of the few places where the Mozarella cheese pizza is more expensive than the Veg Cheese Pizza, albeit by Rs. 10.
Then it was time for my favourite part – strawberry milkshake!!! Their strawberry cream as well as the sitaphal (Custard Apple) cream also sell like hot cakes. The strawberry milk shake was thick and full of flavor, garnished with slices of the fruit. The taste boasted of real fresh strawberries in every slurp. At Rs. 150, I thought the giant glass was a good enough deal.
My husband had a mosambi juice (Rs. 90). While the quantity was good enough, we have had better.The thing about Haji Ali Juice Centre is that if you go there, opt for either the pizza or the unusual items like a custom-made juice or the awesome-looking fruit creams. For the plain-jane juices, you might be better off having them at one of your neighborhood juice stalls.
And of course, go there for the experience of eating or drinking, standing outside one of the most revered holy places in the Maximum city, with the sea breeze blowing around you hundreds of people crossing you in a hurry to get somewhere (like most parts of Mumbai!).
Shut only for 4 hours in a day, this is a great option for those late-night food cravings. While actor Salman Khan thought differently, Haji Ali Juice Centre is open from 5 in the morning to 1 at night.
This place is worth an experience, for sure!
P.S. To verify Suketu Mehta’s research 🙂 and much to my husband’s chagrin , I asked the server “Yahan Gangster log aate hain kya?” (Do you have gansters visiting here?). The look on the servers face was one of amusement. Somehow I felt I was not the first person to ask him that question and he replied with a cheeky grin, that “Haan, bahut aate hain” (They sure do, a lot of them…).
Name: Haji Ali Juice Centre
Address: Lala Lajpatrai Road, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400026. Landmark: Haji Ali Shrine
Specialty: Fruit juices, Veg Pizza, Fruit cream
Food Quality: 3.5/5
Value for money: 2.5/5
Overall Rating: 3/5