It’s been 22 years since Ruia now, but once in a month I regularly drop in at the eateries that had nurtured me then. My father too accompanies us sometimes tells me that the taste & the aroma’s take him back 58 years. Somethings, I realize you dont want to change, ever. These places are such landmarks. For around seven decades now authentic food is made available to the guests with a consistency thats unbelievable. Consistency in quality over such a long period is by itself an achievement. People who have eaten here have carried in their memories the aroma,the taste and the atmosphere of these places. When the memories dim all they to do is revisit and refresh it. Its present here exactly as it was in its original glory.
I share with you these places. Hereunder have categorised them into two classes as Flavours from Madras and Taste of Mysore separately.The ownership or management maybe Tamil, GSB, Shetty for the stated restuarants below but the classification is strictly on cuisine type. The cuisine is quite different in its subtleness between them though the base items sound and look the same. Some places are new additions to the old eateries we frequented but are equally good. The new would have a (n) besides the name and were not in existence 15 years ago.
The Flavours of Madras
Sharda Bhuvan : Opposite Matunga (Central) Railway Station, LN Road, Matunga (E)
This place serves the best sambar amongst all South Indian eateries. It’s not the spicy-sweet variety of the regular Udipi joint one normally frequents. On special days one gets to have the vengayam ( small button onions\ ) sambar too. The food is top class and very economical. The service is good and the place itself has an old world charm of wide windows and marble topped wooden tables from an era gone by. This place serves the best Dosas , dosas as they should be. They are hot ,golden & of the right thickness and texture, neither too thin and crispy nor soft and flabby. Their pongal served on Sundays is exceptional and upma is very good too. For those who are partial to fried stuff , one should try the Kela ( Raw Banana ) bhajji. No meal here on in any of the snackeries mentioned hereafter is complete without a tumbler of piping hot kaapi ( filter coffee only ).
Mani’s Lunch Home : 153/C. Mhaskar Building, Matunga,Near Ruai College
A perennial favorite of all collegians is this landmark eatery. Founded in the late 1930’s the place is small, has about 16 covers inside. But people are served in their cars, on the sidewalk on plastic stools too. Almost Parisian one would say, not quite. This place is always buzzing and getting a table is a task. Eat out on the walk but eat here one must. The Dosa’s are good here too but the signature dish is the idli wada chutney or sambar. Both Sambar and chutney are unlimited and wonderful. My mouth waters as I write this and should be going there soon.
Mani’s have a lunch home that serves meals at Sion and another one now on Telang Road which they opened a few years back. Here, full south Indian meals are served on ellai or banana leaves. If one prefers then the same comes in steel plates. The meals are rice meals so don’t ask for chappatis or roti’s. Go there really hungry.The food is traditional with its three courses in rice. This place does not have the same buzz as its snack joint though.
Anand Bhavan : 461/A,Ram Niwas,Maheshwari Udyan,Ambedkar Road, King Circle
Anand Bhavan is a favorite of the locals who are tamil bramhins and gujaratis. This is on account of the non-deviation from traditional recipes. The Onion Roast or Onion Uthhappa is a dream come true. One should also ask for the molukkapudi ( dry red powder chutney topped with sesame oil ) to go with the idalis and dosas. This place also serves some genuine Tamil sweets and savouries. Badam halwa and Badam kheer, so also the khaara boondis are exceptional. This restaurant is run by GSB's from Udipi , but the flavour is too Tamil to be put in the other segment.
Amba Bhavan Coffee Club : Bhandarkar Road, Patel Mahal 373, Matunga (C.R.)
This place is the haunt of pensioners who would converge for filter coffee and conversations. Though slightly low profile in comparison to the other three, it has its own fan club. The filter coffee is truly yummily bitter and the roasted chicory beans flavour is unique. The usual fare of Idlis, dosas and snacks are available here too. The fare is good but the bustle of the others is missing. Quiet though it is now,the standard is way above any standard Udipi joint in any other suburb. They have another outlet in Vile Parle which is quite popular again amongst the old Gujaratis of that area.
The South Indian Concerns Ltd : 401, Concerns Building, Telang Road, Matunga (Central Railway), Matunga
This place on Telang road is famous amongst its residents and travelers. It easily is the most popular joint for bachelors who sought work in erstwhile Bombay and stayed in the lodges or as paying guests in the locality. The trend continues, now even families come here to have wholesome meals. It is food like the Tamil mommy made at home and served with equal concern, hence the name. Today the set up is more professional and the food is superb. Average meal cost today is between Rs.40-60. Sweets are extra. A full three course meal of Chaadam ( Rice) with Sambar, Rasam ( Tomatoes or Tamarind), Mor –Butter milk with two bhaajis one pachaadi or curd based salad. Its followed by a glass of Buttermilk. Apalams or poppadums accompany the meals. It is not so crowded in the afternoons on week days, but weekends & dinners one may have to wait his turn. They parcel meals too but one has to carry their own containers. ( Now Closed for Meals ..available only for their own lodgers )
Hotel Madras Café : near Bhau Daji Road and King Circle junction
Not quite there now, this joint is dimly lit and run down off late. But the Bissi Bella Bhaath ( Sambaar Rice mix )is easily one of the best I have had anywhere in a long time. Modestly priced and totally value for money, food is excellent but dim atmosphere & peeling paint turns me off and people who are not so light sensitive can enjoy the food. Better option is to parcel it home if you stay closer.
The Taste of Mysore
A Rama Nayaks Udipi Shri Krishna Boarding : Next to Matunga station (e) 1st flr, Entrance from behind Matunga Market Building
This is a top class meal act. When South Indian meals are referred to this place would quite easily occupy the top spot. May it be the options (Limited /unlimited , ellai/plate, single/family) for wholesome food, convenience or its service. The food is simple and here you are served chappati’s too. They have coupons for everything and you sit on the table and keep handing in coupons. Now apart from this irritating aspect and the fact that finding the entrance to this place is a fine art this place rocks. Once you have entered you wont return either hungry or dissatisfied.
Ram Ashraya : Opposite Kabuttar Khana , Bhandarkar Road, Matunga (E)
This is one of the best Udipi joints for snacks. The Dosas and Idlis are good and the sambar is nice , again not too sweet . The winner, here is the curd-rice, which has pieces of sliced ginger or cucumber in it accompanied by lemon pickle. Definitely worth a visit, this place is quite crowded.
Hotel Saraswati : Opposite Matunga Station (E) Far entrance
This is a typical Udipi as it can get in the heart of Matunga. But it stands its ground and serves delicious food in a very clean ambience quite professionally. This place is large in comparison to the others so getting a place is not an issue here,
Café Mysore: 1/461, Durlabh Nivas, Bhaudaji Road, Opp. Maheshwari Udyan, Matunga
The touch in the cuisine though tagged Cafe Mysore is more Mangalore in flavour. This joint amongst its south Indian peers, is more high profile than content in my opinion. It was the first south Indian hotel to have an A/c section and was higher priced than the ones above. The others (save Sarasvati) still don’t boast of a/cs and focus on the food. The signature dish here is the Rasam wada and Mysore Masala dosa, the takeaway savories are more interesting than the food served in the restaurant. It’s marketed well and is adequate on all parameters of food and ambience.Service does leave something to be desired. Given a choice with the others above, Café Mysore won’t feature here in my list but singly on its own it has its merit and is well known.
Mahabhoj (n) : Bhandarkar Road, Diagonally opposite Podar College in line with Matunga Gymkhana
This is another joint which serves meals. It has become extremely popular and there is a lot of waiting. Primarily in my opinion because seating inside is inadequate. This joint serves good meals but is neither a patch on either Concerns or Shri Krishna Boarding. Yet people swear by it and it’s finally a matter of preference. The tastes are balanced according to local customer’s preference and there in the purist in me was offended. But it is popular so I may be mistaken in my stand.
Idli House (n) : Next to Vasant Breezy Chamber, King Circle, Matunga (E)
This is a new place but it certainly makes the cut here purely on account of merit. The idlis are nice and the varieties are terrific. The Khotu ( Jackfruit leaf wrapped ) or mudho ( banana leaf ) and the kancheepuram idli are all part of the varieties here. Chutney sambar or butter accompany it and is very good. It’s a must visit place. Another nice aspect is that in plate there are four idlis and quite nice sized portions. Superb for people who watch their weight, just don’t take the butter and u can live here. But one small complaint, its closed during lunch times..quite silly but true.
Given the above list my personal preference favours the Flavours of Madras. But you go try all and form your own preferences. The trial itself can be a feast to last a week.