Sunday, 25 November 2012

Bombay toast

Between finishing school and going to university, I spent four and a half months in India. Many years later, I read a book by William Sutcliffe called “Are you Experienced”. William Sutcliffe was born in the same year as me. His hero, Dave, like me, travelled to India in his gap year. Dave, like me, was about to read English at university. Dave, like me, was going to York University. I assure the reader of “Are you Experienced?” that my experiences were very different to those of “Dave” and that I have never met William Sutcliffe in my life.

“Dave” does not encounter “Bombay Toast” on his travels. I discovered it in about my second week in India, at St George’s Anglo-Indian School and Orphanage, Madras, where I taught for a couple of months. It was Tory, one of the other volunteers at the school, who described it to me when a stack of it arrived at breakfast time: “Bread dipped in a pancakey mixture and then fried”.

The key thing is that it should resemble a pancake, not an omelette. Unlike some versions of French toast, it is definitely sweet, not salty. This version is based on a recipe for “Pain Perdu” by Rachel Khoo. I leave out the fruit compote. The point of this is simplicity.


1 egg.
100 ml milk.
1 tablespoon sugar.
4 slices of brioche bread (this is closest to the Indian version of Western style sliced bread).
1 tablespoon butter.


1. Beat together the egg, milk and sugar and pour on to a flat dish.

2. Place the brioche in the mixture and soak for about thirty seconds on each side.

3. Heat the butter in a large frying pan on a medium heat.

4. Add the brioche and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden, then flip the slices over and cook the other side. Eat immediately. Cold Bombay Toast isn’t worth eating.

I discovered that Bombay Toast was readily available in the "Indian coffee houses” dotted around South India and it became my breakfast of choice on my travels. I associate it particularly with a breakfast by a lake in Ooty (official name: Udhagamandalam). There were a number of different versions of Bombay Toast, some, it has to be said, inferior: sometimes too thickly covered in batter; or with insufficient batter and tasting only of the oil in which it had been fried. Worst of all was the version available on Kovalam beach which was smothered with coconut and banana. On another occasion, in Mahabilapuram, I ordered four slices. The proprietor, possibly wilfully misunderstanding me,brought eight slices on the basis that a normal portion consisted of one slice cut into two. In other words, I had eight slices of Bombay Toast to get through.

Bombay is now officially known as Mumbai. "Bombay Toast”, on the other hand, has not been renamed “Mumbai Toast”.

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