YOUR GUIDE TO ORDERING WELL AT MATUNGA'S UDIPIS
WORDS BY KETAKI SAVNAL
The flavours of South India came to Bombay in the 1920s with the GSB (Goud Saraswat Brahmin) Konkani cooks who came to the city to cater to the growing population of young working men from Karnataka. As their patrons grew wealthier and moved to the suburbs of Dadar and Matunga with their families, the cooks moved with them and expanded their stalls into restaurants. Today, many of the owners of these restaurants – known as udipis – are second- or even third-generation restaurateurs and are constantly devising new ways of appealing to the younger generation, either by maintaining their traditional menus, opening up to online delivery, or being inventive with their dishes or decor. It's an exciting time to be hungry in Matunga.
Sharda Bhavan has large airy windows, lovely hardwood tables, and a quaint checkerboard flooring. The menu is limited, but every item is perfect. Those who grew up with traditional South Indian idlis know that their grainy idlis are the real deal. The sada dosa is the one of the best in all of Matunga. For those who like their Mysore masala dosa with a thin coating of masala and a plain potato sabji in the middle, this is the place to go to.
Sharda Bhavan, Lakhamsi Napoo Road, Matunga, Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 022 2414 1271
Sweet sambar alert! Arya Bhavan is where all the Matunga ladies-who-lunch go. It is also where you should go if you want to taste the latest in South Indian food innovation. The idlis are light and fluffy, and you can only do justice to them if you order them plain and with sambar on the side, but I'm often tempted by the thaat idli (idli steamed in a plate and topped with butter and dry peanut chutney) or coin butter idli. Skip the Brahmin idli, which is disappointingly just idli made in kulfi moulds. There's a whole section of Muthuswamy specials from which I always order the mighty rava biscuit: a plate of tiny rava dosas stuffed with vegetables and grated cheese.
Arya Bhavan, Shop Number 9 And 10, Bhanujyoti Building L.N. Road, Opposite Matunga Railway Station, Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 022 2415 9449
Hotel Ram Ashraya
Most non-locals come here at 5 a.m. if they've been out all night and are starving. Be warned that dosas aren't served until 7 a.m., but if you're severely in need of grease and carbs, the sabudana should cut it. The idlis are pleasant enough, and the sheera is superb. During lunchtime, the pongal avial makes for a lovely treat. But the real secret, one that only locals know, is that the best time to visit is 3:30 p.m. when they make their goli bhajji (also called bonda), a savoury fritter made with wheat flour. It runs out fast, and I almost never make it in time.
Hotel Ram Ashraya, 24, Shreeji Sadan, Bhandarkar Marg, Opposite Matunga Kabutar Khana, Matunga, Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 022 2410 2369
Amba Bhavan Coffee Club
If you want a quick evening coffee and a bun puri, this is where to come. A bun puri (also called Mangalore bun) is a slightly thick, sweet puri made with a mix of banana and wheat flour. A perfect bun puri should be crunchy on the surface and then pillowy inside, and Amba Bhavan comes close to perfection. I think theirs are the best, only because they don't put cumin in their batter, which allows the bun to reach its potential as the perfect Indian coffeecake.
Amba Bhavan Coffee Club, Patel Mahal, Bhandarkar Marg, Maheshwari Udyan, King's Circle, Brahmanwada, Matunga, Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 077383 85955
Cafe Madras is an all-time favourite, and for good reason. Their rice dishes and the appams with stew are especially worth trying, as is the set dosa, a slightly sweet, thick pair of dosas cooked with ghee. While you're waiting for your table, you can check out the neighbouring Cornucopia, an artisanal grocery store set up by same owners, and take home some of the soup of the day for your next meal.
Cafe Madras, Kamakshi Building, No. 391/B, Bhaudaji Road, Matunga, King's Circle, Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 022 2401 4419
The air-conditioned upstairs section at Mysore Café is the most luxurious and private an udipi can get and is perfect for dates. The rasam here is far subtler than any of the others and tastes more like thin tomato soup. It pairs excellently with the vada or the khotto (which is a Konkani idli steamed in a jackfruit leaf cone). The dilkhush dosai is a dosa stuffed with potato, vegetables, and tons of grated cheese and is best when shared or ravenous. The sambar is slightly sweet but delicious. The kela bhajjis (unripe banana fritters) are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of filter coffee. The vibe is no-nonsense, clean, and spartan. Take home the rice pakodas from the packaged food counter for your next Netflix binge.
Mysore Cafe, Shop No. 1/461-C, Durlabh Niwas, Maheshwari Udyan, King's Circle, Matunga, Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 022 2402 1230
The bun puri at Anand Bhavan is slightly disappointing because it is made with cumin, but it is still steaming hot and crunchy/fluffy if you get there in time for evening tea. The missal pav is my favourite, although it tastes nothing like the Maharashtrian missal and is instead a fiery, watery concoction with a few white peas floating around. The pesarattu is perfect for someone looking for a healthy snack, because it's made with mung beans and you can ask nicely for them to go easy on the oil.
Anand Bhavan, 461/A, Ram Niwas, Maheshwari Udyan, King's Circle, Matunga, Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 022 2401 5745
A Rama Nayak's Udipi Idli House
Idli House – a name that warms the cockles of the heart and brings to mind a warm, edible igloo/gingerbread-house-with-a-much-lower-GI. But Idli House is strictly an eating place, not a meeting place, and everywhere you look there are signs threatening to charge you if you waste sambar or chutney. Brave the uncomfortable conditions and stand at the bar if you have to for the khotto and mudho (a cylindrical khotto). The best part of the experience is watching the joy in the eyes of a first-timer who realises that there is unlimited coconut chutney and two dry pudis (one made with curry leaf powder and the other with peanut) brought to the table in massive bowls and served with tiny, tiny spoons that make you feel like a monster for taking too many helpings. Tip well so your server will bring the chutney bowl to your table sooner next time, and buy some of the dry pudi on your way out to offset your guilt of overeating the free stuff.
A Rama Nayak's Udipi Idli House, # 462, Ram Bhavan, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Road, Maheshwari Udyan, King's Circle, Matunga, Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 022 2401 2422
A Rama Nayak's Udipi Shri Krishna Boarding House
This list wouldn't be complete without Rama Nayak's, even though they only offer a thali with a set menu. My thali favourites are the daali toi (a traditional Konkani dal, tempered with mustard seeds, green chillies and curry leaves) and the upkari (stir-fried beans or cabbage). Straight from the owner's lips come these wise words: take a coupon for a limited thali, another coupon for the dessert of the day, and a few extra coupons for second helpings. It works out cheaper than the unlimited thali, and if you don't use all of your coupons in one meal, you can bring them back for the next one.
A Rama Nayak's Udipi Shri Krishna Boarding House, 1st Floor, LBS Market Building, Lakhamsi Napoo Road, Near Matunga Central Railway Station, Matunga, Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 022 2414 2422