YOUR GUIDE TO ALL THINGS TAMIL IN CHEMBUR
Even the most die-hard Mumbaikars often have a blind spot when it comes to parts of central and eastern Mumbai. Unless you travel by local train on the Central or Harbour lines, stations like Tilak Nagar and Chembur that comprise this Mumbai South Central constituency can seem remote. Chembur has, however, always been shorthand for all things South Indian – and more specifically Tamil – in Mumbai. It is where the molaga podi is never in short supply, and the filter kaapi decoction is bona fide.
The original outpost of Mani’s Lunch Home is still in Matunga, but since January 2017, Chembur is also home to this South Indian joint. Run by Palakkad Iyers, what sets it apart is the authentic sambhar, unlike the sweet, syrupy sambhar you find in most Udipi joints in Mumbai. Come for the filter coffee and plantain bhajji but stay for the rava upma and four-course meals served on the banana leaf. For Rs. 400, a family of four can imbibe the most authentic Tamil vegetarian meal this far west of Chennai.
Mani’s isn’t the sole purveyor of fermented South Indian snacks – you can also sample the wares at Ayyappan Pure Veg., Geeta Bhavan, or Cafe Udipi – all of which have been around for longer. If you prefer non-vegetarian food, there are the famed Hotel Sunny and Hotel Navina, where the TV is set to Sun News as patrons consume chicken or fish with parotha.
Mani’s Lunch Home, Shop No.86, Komal Building, Road Number 2, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2402 1112
Ayyappan Pure Veg Hotel. Shop No.72, Shell Colony Road, Near Muthumariyamman Temple, Chembur, Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 098330 48505
Geeta Bhavan, 70/H, Geetmala Building, Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati Marg, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2527 8948
Café Udipi, Plot No. 72, Hira Baug, Central Avenue, Chembur, Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2521 1121
Hotel Sunny, Shop No. 43, Shell Colony Road, Shramjivi Nagar, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2522 3549
Hotel Navina, Shop No.77, Shell Colony Road, Shramjivi Nagar, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 098332 66168
Ratna Department Stores boasts of Rao’s molaga podi, Mysore Concerns filter coffee, home-ground idli and dosa batter (marked with an I or a D to distinguish between them), and various Tamil snacks and ingredients from appalam to til oil sourced straight from Tamil Nadu. Some of these ingredients are not hard to find in most grocery stores nowadays, but Ratna has an impressively vast spread of both Tamil and international/imported ingredients, which makes it a pantry staple. You can also find ready-made snacks such as appam, adhirasam, idlis, wadai, and madras onion pakodas.
Ratna, however, is not the only claimant to the throne of the Tamil store in Chembur. Valli Stores has been around for a year longer than Ratna, opened in 1964 by T. Chellaswamy who moved here from Tuticorin. His son Karthik, who has run the store since 1999, says nearly three-quarters of their regular customers are Tamil. Unsurprisingly, he adds that his most popular sale items are the coffee powder and Coimbatore butter, along with vadam, vathal, and pickle. Valli Stores is also the only store in Chembur that sells ayurvedic marundhu, the medicinal halwa consumed along with Diwali bakshanam/snacks by Tamils.
Karthik’s brother, Alagesan, runs a store across the street called Valli Steels that sells stainless steel utensils, and puja articles, specialising in the Coimbatore wet grinder (for making dosa, idli, or wadai batters at home) as well as paniyaram and appam pans, filter coffee makers, brass lamps, and incense stick holders. Murugan Steel Emporium is another haven for those seeking stainless steel dishes for their kitchen.
Ratna Department Stores, Haware Parekh Chambers, Road Number 5, Ghatla, Chembur, Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2520 3389
Shri Valli Stores, 32/4, Sarvodaya Building, R.C. Road, Postal Colony, Chembur, Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2522 1146
Shri Valli Steels, 39/ 5, Neelkanth Shopping Arcade, Next to Vijaya Bank, R.C. Road, Chembur, Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2528 2162
Murugan Steel Emporium, Shop No. 2, Saideep Building, Plot No. 82 A, Near Indian Bank And Syndicate, Bank, Govandi Road, Chembur, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400071. Phone: 022 2521 1769
The BMC vegetable market under the foot overbridge connecting east and west Chembur has nearly 180 stalls, the owners of most having moved to Mumbai from places in Tamil Nadu like Kanyakumari, Tuticorin, and Tirunelveli several decades ago. The vegetables here are also Tamil cuisine staples – from drumstick, white or yellow pumpkin, cluster beans, plantain flower, chayote squash, and various types of gourds and yams. Mamis or mamas flock here to buy the freshest produce as well as banana leaves and wild plantains, both of which are only available in this market. They will most likely stop to pick up flowers down the street at Padma Florist. From jasmine to tulsi and fragrant lamp oil to incense sticks, Padma florists are a one-stop shop for house pujas, wedding decorations, Ganapati, and Navratri flower arrangements.
Padma Florist, Laxmi Market, 4, Narayan Gajanan Acharya Marg, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 098199 60732
Co-optex, a Tamil Nadu government initiative to promote handloom weaves, has had a showroom in Chembur for nearly 40 years, offering the finest saris – whether Coimbatore soft silks, Kanjivaram silks, Kanchi or Madurai cottons – at a flat discount of 20 to 30 per cent.
Other shops like Kaveri Silk House or Sarvodaya Vastra Bhandar are run by Rajasthanis but cater to local demand with singudi cotton saris, kanchi silks, and even panchakachams (the dhotis worn by Tamil Brahmin men). The necessary bling to accompany a Kanchi silk – from fine gold to temple jewellery – can be found at Mahalaxmi Jewellers and N. Gopaldas Jewellers.
Co-optex, Hira Baug, Plot No 72, MDS Marg, Near Railway Station, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2521 1580
Kaveri Silk House, N.G. Acharya Marg, Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2521 3424
Sarvodaya Vastra Bhandar 4 A, Narayan Gajanan Acharya Marg, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2528 2220
Mahalaxmi Jewellers, Bhairavkripa Building, N.G Acharya Marg, Near Flyover, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2528 8788 / 022 2528 0538
Gopaldas Jewellers, DK Sandu Street, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2529 2928
The church, temples, and associations like Ahobila Muth, Shri Shringeri Shankar Muth, Muthumariamman Temple, Thiruchembur Murugan Temple, Bethel Tamil Church, and Marathi Tamil Sangam are a draw for Tamils who flock to the temple deities or church weekly and also during Margazhi (the Tamil equivalent of Lent, which takes place in December).
They host functions all through the year – such as Tamil New Year, Rama Navami, or Pongal – which offer a chance for the community to not only mingle, pray, and seek blessings but also give back. The Ahobila Muth, for instance, offers free prasad to everyone at 7.30 p.m., which patrons can fund.
Ahobila Muth, Chembur East, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400071. Phone: 022 2528 7183
Shri Shringeri Shankar Muth, Road Number 5, Basant Garden, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2520 6978
Thiruchembur Murugan Temple, Chedda Nagar Road Number 2, Temple Complex, Chedda Nagar, Mumbai 400 089. Phone: 022 2525 0303
Bethel Tamil Church, 296, 297 & 298, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Tilak Nagar, Chembur (e), Mumbai 400 089. Phone: 098696 95453
The Chembur Fine Arts Society is really a mecca for Carnatic music and Bharatnatyam in Chembur. Started in 1962 as a cultural society, the FAS expanded into a cultural centre when the auditorium was added in 1993. Today, it’s the beating cultural heart of the suburb with its concerts during the Tamil month of Margazhi (December to January) and classes.
Students flock to the FAS every Vijaya Dashami (the traditional start of the academic year for classical dance and music), and the expanded syllabus now includes Hindustani bhajans, Marathi abhangs, and Sanskrit kritis.
Chembur Fine Arts Society, Fine Arts Chowk, R.C. Marg, Chembur, Mumbai 400 071. Phone: 022 2522 2988