The first time I craved a plate of momos in Bombay- truly craved, in the basest, most visceral sense- I cried.

I sat on the steps of my (very first) office, allowed myself to get soaked in the rains I was still getting used to, and mourned home. I mourned for the wide roads, for the languages I could understand as I eavesdropped, for the cheaper liquor, for the available parking space, and most importantly, I suppose, for the food I left behind.

Delhi tends to intoxicate you. It’s not just a city, really, but a way of life. Now, one may argue that all cities have their certain habits and idiosyncrasies, but no city permeates your being quite like Delhi can. You may be from Kolkata, from Chennai, or from Lucknow, and you may always claim to hold your identity steadfast, but Delhi wears down on your defenses. It beguiles you with unapproachable amounts of power punctuated with the warmest sense of belonging. You can be a Delhiwallah, but Delhi is never truly yours.

The only city seemingly impervious to the magic of Delhi is Mumbai. Bombay, as I still rather stubbornly refer to it as, holds tight to its inculcated disdain for Delhi. It prides itself as quite the antithesis, with its studied dismissal of gaudiness, of unfettered, expensive exuberance, and of a lack of finesse. It’s easy to see this come to life when you enter a college. Asking someone if they’re from Delhi isn’t just a friendly question, but a careful gauging of the behaviors they’ll be at the receiving end of, at least for a few months.

Moving from Delhi to Bombay is often a cultural shock, and more importantly, a culinary one. The daily plate of momos is replaced by a Bombay sandwich, which often leaves you muttering about how your daily snack doesn’t need so many fresh vegetables. The liquor prices, especially if you come from the Delhi of MyBar, leave you bereft. Kala Ghoda might claim to be the ideal Hauz Khas replacement, but can a place truly be Hauz Khas if you don’t end your lunch overlooking the virulently green lake?

I don’t know.

I spent very long finding comparisons, finding similarities, and finding anchors. I spent far too long finding Delhi in Bombay, and I always fell short, because Bombay can’t be Delhi. Delhi smells of kebabs and tikkis and parathnas. The winters smell of roasting peanuts and rewaris, laced with the heady smell of bonfires and coffee spiked with Old Monk. Bombay smells of briny fish, sea salt, coconut oil, and bakeries. They’re too different, right from what makes them, to what they make.

Bombay makes kinder people who adjust to circumstances. They take what they’re given, and make the best of it. That’s why, I think, everything is wrapped up in a paav. When I say everything, I do mean everything from a normal vada, to a samosa, to an omelette. Everything ends up nestling into yeasty paav that Delhi never seems to get right. Carrying it around as the day moves ahead is almost a life skill all Mumbai dwellers have perfected. Often, you’ll find your cabbie eating the same vada paav you were scarfing down a minute ago. Maybe it’s this sense of camaraderie that makes them go by the meter every single time.

After being spoiled rotten by the likes of Rajendar Da Dhabha and small, unnamed bylanes of Chandi Chowk, the vastly vegetarian fares of Bombay streets can leave you in quite a lurch. Vegetarian food had come to be defined as ‘nonvegetarian elements replaced by potato, and if I paid a little more, substandard paneer’. And then, I was introduced to the wonders of Jain food. The idea of food without garlic or onions (Jain Pizza, dear god) terrified me because it was unknown, unfamiliar, and almost a threat to my status quo. In retrospect, it felt a lot like Bombay did, to my Delhi existence. But slowly, steadily, my appreciation has grown.

I’ve discovered the joys of Gujarati farsan, of exceptional dhansak in tiny cafes that feel like my own secret, of raspberry soda in the classic Pallonji bottles, of caramel custard at clubs where I feel history all around me, and most importantly, of humility. Food in Bombay isn’t a ferocious, almost desperate celebration that Delhi makes it out to be. There’s enough to keep the most adventurous epicureans occupied, of course, but food isn’t stressful. It isn’t a stand-in for social might, and it isn’t a metaphor for a larger, more sinister story. It just is, and it is loved for all that it is. Food is a simple fact of life, and that’s about it.

This humility, and simplicity, chafed at me. I was used to food that took effort, both in creation and in appreciation. The intensity of the moment when the heat of a tandoor wafting against my face as people carefully pulled out kulchas was a lot more familiar than the nonchalance of the sandwich wallah. The nuances of a golgappa seemed to float away in the face of panipuri, with its lukewarm countenance and tepid flavours. The abject lack of good paranthas, kulchas, and naans anywhere left me a little uncertain about my ability to fit in. My final breaking point, however, was the biryani I ate at a place supposedly known for its biryani.

They served it with daal.

I was at a loss.

But the next day, I found myself at Brittania with a friend. He decided to order for us, and berry pulao, jardaloo salli boti (mutton flavored with apricots), and patra ni maach (surmai steamed in banana leaf) gave me some hope. The same night, I went to Trishna with my parents for some garlic butter crab. Now, Trishna is the biggest con this city has known, because both locals and tourists swear b y it. The food is just above average, and there are better places at walking distance. But it’s quintessentially Bombay. It’s quintessentially home.

I think the best way to describe the difference between the cities is to look at the seasons. Delhi lives in extremes. Parched summers, blistering winters, and just a few days when the plains deign to be kind. Bombay, on the other hand, is made up of moderates, and temperates. This is quite funny when juxtaposed with the way these cities live. Delhi’s slow, quiet startle is always at odds with Bombay’s manic need to make things happen, and to chase dreams.

I was sitting on Marine Drive the other day, thinking about how I was still in awe of the sea after two years of living by it. I clutched a Bombay sandwich in one hand, and a cutting chai with the other. I tried to juggle these with my phone, because I was writing a poem about my different homes.

‘One's the lady of the temperate
The other, the mistress of the plains
One moves on steel tracks on land
The other, in the skies she sails
One smells like Atlantis would
The other, like spices and grain
One feels like the ocean breeze
The other, like gusts from lands far away
And I'm just a bard who chronicles
The travails through which both exist
I survive in scraps of love and belonging
Both my mothers bestow on me.’

If someone asks me where I am from, I think I’ll pause before answering now.

‘From around here, I think.’

(Harnidh is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Policy. Her first collection, The Inability of Words (Writer's Workshop 2016), is now available. Her work is published in journals like EPW, Brown Girl Magazine, The Bombay Review, Cafe Dissensus Daily, The Sunflower Collective, amongst others. She was chosen as a winner of 25 Under 25 by Campus Diaries under the 'writing' category. She's currently working on her second book under Thought Catalog Press, New York).