It all started with a call from Vipul saying that he was planning to do a walk in Matunga with a few friends on Saturday and that he was inviting me to join in.
I knew Vipul through the Finely Chopped Walks. By his count, he has come to 6 of them. His love for Mumbai and its food is infectious and very evident on his twitter handle @sporty_baba. In all the walks, regardless of where we were, Vipul always talks of the central Mumbai locality of Matunga and of his love for it and the food there. Which is why when Vipul offered to do a walk there a few Saturdays back I readily agreed. After all there is nothing like discovering a locality and its food through the eyes of someone who loves it.
So we met on a Saturday morning a few weeks back and there was Vipul all pumped and ready to start. Through the morning he kept us enthralled with stories of his beloved Matunga. Of how Matunga was apparently set up by the British after there was a big plague in Mumbai and why it was therefore relatively well planed. That the name Matunga came from the fact that it was once the resting grounds of the elephants of a king based in Mumbai and that ‘Matunga’ derives itself from the name for elephants. He spoke of the cosmopolitan nature of the suburb which is also considered to be Mumbai’s mini South India due to its South Indian residents, temples and of course its plethora of South Indian Udipi restaurants.
Matunga is famous among food lovers in Mumbai for its many South Indian restaurants. Driving down to Matunga for a South Indian breakfast is quite the Mumbai weekend ritual. The only ‘problem’ when you are faced with so many restaurants is deciding on where to go and what to order. That’s where it made sense to have Vipul guide us. Vipul used a cricketing analogy and said that the ‘strike rate’ of Matunga is such that you will never have a bad meal wherever you go and that they were all quite easy on the pocket. He of course had his favourites and took us to a few of the places which were more around the Matunga Central station than the ones on the main road near the circle. So we skipped the Madras Cafe and Mysore Cafes and Idli Houses. We didn’t do Rama Nayak, the thali place, as Vipul said that a Rama Nayak meal is a meal in itself and cannot be paired with anything else.
So what is it that makes it to the top of Vipul’s Matunga list?
Our first stop was Arya Bhavan. A small two storeyed restaurant with the upper floor air conditioned. There was a small queue to get in and we got a seat in the upper section which was earlier full of foreigners with DSLRS and big lens getting their fix of Matunga. The mood fairly idyllic inside on that Saturday morning. Vipul’s orders were fresh fluffy idlis, some dunked in sambar while others served separate as I prefer the latter. There was khichdi like bisi bela bhaat and the little fried vadas called paneeraams. All light and easy on a still slumbering and barely awake tummy. A breakfast which eased one into the day.
Next stop was Ram Ashraya, a busy cavernous place with a long queue to get in.
The deal about Ram Ashraya according to Vipul are the sheeras or sweet semolina puddings. There is the constant, pineapple sheera, which I found quite nourishing and maternal. Then the special of the day, the black currant sheera which the others in the group liked but I found to be a bit too strong and sweet. With our sheeras we had our first filter coffee of the day. I couldn’t be on a South Indian walk and not have a dosa so Vipul ordered a Mysore onion dosa which was packed with flavour and crunchy. The sambhar here was slightly cloudy and creamy compared to that in Arya Bhavan. We also had an interesting rasam vada where the sharp taste of the rasam and the chillies in the vadas where an electrifying counterpoint to the sweetness of the sheeras.
We then stepped out and walked past a shop called Quality where Vipul said South Indians come to buy their fix of filter coffee.
Then past flower shops and a South Indian temple we walked to the beat of Vipul’s Matunga tales till we came across a small shop called Amba Coffee Club where Vipul said we must absolutely try the coffee.
We walked in and ignored the sign asking customers to keep their silence. The others were obedient though and gave the place a feel of a library. Stuffed we tried to have a bite of the kadi vadas and pesaratu dosa which Vipul ordered. Pesarutu dosas are made from green moong I think and the taste of the pulses were quite prominent here giving it a certain raw freshness.
Yes, the coffee at Amba Bhavan had a kick and was sharper than the ones we had had at Ram Ashraya.
We stepped out and ambled to the circle, absolutely stuffed. Past Rama Nayak, Udipi, Cafe Mysore, Madras Cafe, we were too full.
We did have a last stop though. Health Juice Centre. A juice bar and sandwich shop in the lines of the more famous Batchelorrs and Haji Ali Juice Centre. Vipul and a foodie friend of his who joined us swore by Health Juice centre and we all shared some pretty thick and energy packed pineapple, strawberry and sitafal juices and milk shakes. We were now full to the brim and ready to head back.
Vipul had often told me about what he often said was his inexplicable love for Matunga. That morning each one of us shared and felt Vipul’s love for Matunga love.
PS That’s Vipul, the Sporty Baba, as always in a sports jersey in the pictures below