Is Colaba's oldest Chinese eatery serving Mee Mumbaikar fare? The answer sits somewhere between yes and no
This is one those stories meant to be a newsbreak. It turned into a non-story, transformed into a review, and is now 'just a few stray thoughts'.
Baba Ling, proprietor of Colaba’s Ling’s Pavilion, inherited the Oriental eatery business from his father, who ran another eatery one lane away. File Pic
Two months ago, when this paper inquired with the Ling’s, owners of Colaba’s most loved Chinese eatery, if they had introduced missal pav on their menu, they said no. We dropped in to check the Ling's Pavilion menu, and went away having licked our lips after a Stuffed Crab Claws dinner. Last week, we heard that proprietor Baba Ling had admitted to press about having “put the items on the menu”.
A U-turn! Let’s review, we thought. We dropped in at Ling’s, well aware of its history, wondering how it would marry heritage with political coercion. One of Colaba’s first Oriental grub houses, it was set up by Ling’s father Yick Sen Ling in 1945. Nanking stood one lane away from Ling’s, which Baba set up even while the father's establishment was feeding the well heeled of Mumbai.
That evening, Ling’s was predictably packed. The two menu cards handed to us had no mention of Maharashtrian dishes. We ordered for sliced pork and Ling’s Rice Supreme with chicken and mushrooms and then asked if they had any of the missal left. “No,” the steward said, returning minutes later to ask if we had read about the missal in the papers.
Dinner done, we met Nini Ling, co-owner. Here’s how the chat went:
Q. Why the confusion over missal?
Nini: I don’t know, to be honest.
Q. You don’t serve Maharashtrian fare, and you don’t have it on the menu. But Baba told the press otherwise.
Nini: My brother spoke to them [the publication]. But I don’t know why it’s news. It’s not ‘new’. Around the time the beef ban was announced, a political party was going to oppose the ban.
Q. The Republican Party of India?
Nini: Yes. And they must have calmed their leader down by suggesting that locals be catered to by asking restaurants to patronize Maharashtrian fare. We did this at that time.
Q. But it’s not on the menu now. The publication said it was.
Nini: You see, we have a few menu cards mentioning those dishes. It’s for the troublemakers. If guests come and insist on eating Maharashtrian food, we’ll serve it to them. We send one of our boys to a restaurant outside, buy the dish and serve it. What else can we do? We don’t want to upset anyone. If troublemakers come to the restaurant with demands, we’ll cater to them. Except, no one’s asking for “ek plate, missal”, at pre-independence Ling’s. The flag bearers of sons of the soil may want to consider that the electorate couldn’t care about what others eat. They also wouldn’t bother paying 25 per cent in service charge and taxes for a dish they get by the road for under R20. And so, a request, gentlemen: leave the Lings alone. After 70 years of living in Mumbai, and offering business to the Kolis who feed its seafood chain, they are probably more ‘local’ than you’d like to admit. And foodies, Ling’s isn’t compelling its chefs to stir up missal. It’s serving something from Shramik Canteen or some such outpost across the road, when met with a tantrum. That settles it then.
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