The best kothimbir vadis around and a chutney bowl full of hope. Maharashtrian food succour at Sahyadri Veg Diet in Mumbai's 'hospital district' of Parel

Thali peeth with white butter with sukha lasoon chutney, dahi chutney
and batata vada. Sahyadri, Mumbai

Food fuels faith

“Let me tell you something about the history of this area,” said the gentleman who was sitting opposite us at the tiny table in a small but very clean restaurant opposite the KEM Hospital in Parel in Mumbai.

The owner earlier seemed to look at him to check if this arrangement was fine when my friend and I were asked to share the table with him. The gentleman, who seemed to be in his late 40s or early 50s, gave a Buddha like smile to say that it was.

The many layers of Parel. At the extreme end is the ITC
Grand Central Hotel while the houses in front are from
an earlier era and there is the College of Surgeons sandwiched
in between

“This area is a hospital area,” he continued. “You have KEM, Wadia and Tata’s. The patients at these hospitals primarily belonged the Maharashtrian community once upon a time and worked in the cloth mills nearby. They and their relatives would come to restaurants such as this one to eat during their hospital visits. The demographics of the city has changed though. The mills have shut down. Most patients and their relatives here now belong to the north of India.”

That's Mr Pravin in grey and I am with a new friend that I have recently made

The gentleman, whose name was Pravin and who turned out to be a Malayali from Mumbai, gave the above explanation when he heard me tell my dining companion that it was sad that we could not get Maharashtrian dishes such as pohe and thali peeth, which were on the menu of the restaurant, as we were told that the stock was over.

The Sahyadri restaurant in Parel that we went to is located beside Aditi Restaurant
and is vegetarian. There's another Sahyadri in the vicinity that serves non-veg

The restaurant that we were at is called Sahyadri and is 67 years old as I learnt later. It was started by a gentleman named Atmaram Salunkhe, who is no more. He had come to Mumbai from Ratnagiri in coastal Maharashtra to start the restaurant slightly after India became independent. Just as had Gopal Totaram Gore, the octogenarian owner of Hotel Kshirsagar down the road, whose Malvani mutton masala I had fallen love with a few years back and have written about earlier in the blog.

Taking over the reins of Sahyadri from the late Mr Atmaram was his son, Nandakumar Salunkhe. Nandakumar featured in Pravin’s personal history with the place it seemed.

“I am a bio-medical engineer,” said Pravin. "I have been coming to this area for three decades now. My work is with the hospitals here. In the olden days, the owner (Nandakumar) would sit at the corner by the till. At times he would look at me and say, I know you have not made any money today. Pay me the next time.”

Thirty years later, payment is not an issue with Pravin but at the end of his snack, he always get a cutting chai on the house which is not added to his bill. It is a tradition between him and the Salunkhes it seems.

Continuing the legacy of Atmaram Salunkhe at Sahyadri today are his grandsons, Nitin and Rajiv. The latter was at the cash counter during our visit and Pravin later introduced us to him. Rajiv is the one who told me about his family’s story which I shared earlier in the post.

Giving me company at Shyadri was a recently made friend of mine whom I call JayZeee thanks to the rather unique spelling of his name (Zaved instead of Javed). JayZee and I had come to another hospital here, the Global Hospital, which is comparatively new in the area compared to KEM, Wadia and Tata. A very dear common friend of ours from Kolkata, one whom you have often seen me mention in my blog, was getting operated for a tricky bypass surgery there that morning. Towards the end of the five hour long surgery, a doctor friend of ours came out of the OT and said that the grafts were almost done and the surgery was near complete and had gone as per plan.

On hearing the news, JayZee (who is not actually JayZee) and I went down to have a cup of tea while our friend’s wife kept up the vigil outside the OT. That’s when we stumbled upon Sahyadri.

While we did not get to have pohe and thali peeth at Sahyadri that day, we did taste one of the nicest kothimbir vadis that I have ever had, if not the best. These are small gram flour and fresh coriander leaf based pakoras from the kitchen ok Maharashtra. What I loved about these deep fried delights at Sahyadri was they were beautifully airy inside and the texture was not doughy at all. JayZee (who is not actually JayZee),  has travelled a fair bit in to the interiors of Maharashtra on treks I learnt, and agreed that there were one of the best kothimbir vadis that he has had too.

We tried the ‘Puneri misal’ at Sahyadri too and loved it. I must say that this was possibly because it was more Mumbai cha than Puneri (pardon my Marathi). I had been to Pune recently and eaten at some of the misal legends there – Damodar and Sree Krishna. The misal there had a more watery sauce (tari) which was served separately from the vegetables and which the diner had to add together. The misal in neither of the Pune restaurants had sprouts or legumes and both were covered with shev. Both were on the sweeter side and were served with sliced bread.

The misal at Sahayadri was served as a one dish misal, and not with the tari separately, and this is the practice today in Mumbai. The dominant flavours were savoury with a dash of chilli heat (but not excessively so). It had a crunchy farsan topping it and not just the thin shev that the Pune misals had. The misal was served with pav at Sahyadri, modern Mumbai style, which I personally prefer as a pairing with misal compared to sliced bread as the pav soaks in the curry or gravy better. The 'Puneri misal' at Sahaydri is more Parel than Pune it seems, and this made me happy as this is the misal I am used to.

I later sent the pictures of the food that we had to my friend Dr Pradeep Rao, who is a partner at Global Hospital, and thanks to whom and his colleagues my friend got the courage to come to Mumbai from Kolkata for the surgery. We are all connected by the bonds of food you could say as both Pradeep ,and the friend who got operated in his hospital, were friends I had made through the blog. Pradeep and I had gone to Mangalore together earlier this year to eat.

I did not mention the name of the place when I sent the pic but Pradeep saw the pics and immediately replied saying, “Sahyadri? Give my regards to Rajiv.”

Seven days later

JayZee (who is not JayZee), our friend’s wife M and I, came back to Sahyadri exactly a week after my first visit to the restaurant. This time in the evening and not in the afternoon. I insisted that M come out and have dinner as she was staying at the hospital with our friend every night and not eating properly I was sure. She didn’t want to eat but the vadan bhaat toop which I asked for her at Sahayadri… dal, rice and ghee … all ordered separately and the potato bhaaji that I asked for her on the side, gave her much needed comfort, energy and strength it seemed. 

Different people have different ways of showing their support to people. Some are good at giving encouragement. Others in giving hugs. My way is to feed people as I realised.

Rajeev Salunkhe, current co-owner of Sahyadri,
and grandson of the founder Atmaram. Smiling at
the back is Pravin who has been eating here from
Rajeev's dad's time

I told Rajeev about Pradeep when I met him the second time. Rajeev said, “of course I know him. He and his brother, Prashant, used to eat here when they were med school students. They dropped in here to eat as grown ups too when they came back Parel and were deciding on joining Global. They still do.”

Our mood was less sombre this time. Thanks to the brilliant job done by the doctors at Global, our friend had begun to recuperate. He had just been shifted to a regular room that evening and was to be discharged the next day. Seeing him out of the ICU cheered us all no doubt, but the patient the most. He had fought quite a battle after all.

Dal rice, potato bhaaji, ghee, achar, batata vada and thali peeth during our
second visit at Sahyadri

The lovely batata vadas that JayZee (you know by now that he is not really JayZee) and I had at Sahyadri that evening, were just the celebratory treat that we needed. They were served piping hot. Seasoned perfectly. The spices were well balanced. They tantalised your taste-buds but didn't burn shock and awe them with their spices. The gram flour coating was thin and crisp. The potato mash inside, very cuddly and happy. Incidentally, this unlike the misal earlier was more 'Puneri' than Mumbai-like. Unlike the round batata vadas of Mumbai, the batata vada at Sahyadri were flat like those of JJ Garden in Pune. “Covers the pav better,” as I was told in Pune.

This time we managed to get the thali peeth at Sahyadri too. Thali peeth is a sort of multi grain Maharashtrian flat bread which is made with a mix of millet and rice flours. This was served with the traditional accompaniments of white butter and dahi chutney at Sahyadri. 

Thali peeths are tawa roasted in kitchens with no oil by Mahatrashtrian grannies but shallow fried in most restaurants that I have been. Due to logistical reasons I am told.

“We make a large batch of thali peeth on the tava at the start of service every day,” explained Rajeev. “We then shallow fry one and serve it once  an order is placed as the customer is not willing to wait for us to start making this from scratch.”

The thali peeth at Sahyadri was wickedly crunchy, very well flavoured and tasted rather joyous, just as had the batata vadas, that we had that evening.

To finish with, we had chaha, Marathi for tea. We had it without sugar and on both occasions (we had it the first time too) the taste of the tea came through strongly unlike in many other places in Mumbai where after milk, masala, sugar and ginger is added, one cannot taste the tea at all. This was good!

Puran poli with chaha at Shayadri

I paired the chaha with puran poli. A sweet roti stuffed with a dal and jaggery mash which is had on auspicious occasions such as birthdays, Holi or even Ganpati Puja in Maharashtrian homes from what I have given to understand. This was a first for my two friends and they too felt that this made for the perfect thanksgiving end to what was for a blessed evening. 

They sell puran poli by the packet at Sahyadri. Once we placed our order, they heated one and served it with ghee and jaggery. The beautiful part of the puran poli at Sahyadri was that it was not excessively sweet.

My friend came back home the next day, looking like a new man. Seeing him walk in, I could not but say a silent prayer of thanks to the universe, the marvellous doctors at Global and also to the Salunkhes of Sahyadri.

The food and hospitality at the Maharashtrian owned Sahyadri had given us three Bengalis much needed succour when we needed it over the past week. As I am sure it has to many harrowed and tired souls for close to the forty years of its existence in Mumbai’s ‘hospital zone.’

Places like these are the true legends of Mumbai’s culinary scene in my books. I am sure that you would agree with me on this.
With JayZee (who is not really JayZee) 

Posts that could also be of interest:

  1.  My first visit to Khirsagar
  2. Misal tasting in Pune
  3. Garden vada pav in Pune
  4. Mangalore with Pradeep Rao