I love Mumabi for its food. You name it and you get. Fine dine, street food, budget meals, cafes, lunch homes, boardings (a local name for eateries that serve budget meals with a fixed menu) and of course fast food chains, we have it all. You could eat in Mumbai and literally taste any part of India or even the world. However, we also have a culinary identity of our own. Here are some eats that you absolutely cannot leave the city without.
The Udipi Culture
‘Udipi’ is a place in South India. While the food has nothing to do with the place, it is believed that the gentleman who brought this food to Mumbai, in order to make a living, belonged to that town. Ever since, the all-day-eateries that serve south Indian breakfast and snacks are called ‘Udipis’ in Mumbai. Yes, the food they serve is South Indian but is served Mumbai style; tweaked, twisted and mixed up to create our own flavour. All Udipis serve pure vegeterian food, tables are available on sharing basis, the do’s and don’ts are longer than items on the menu and service is quick but not always friendly. Do not get intimidated, it is an experience. I would recommend at least one breakfast at an Udipi joint.
Menu Highlights: Dosa (Rice Crepes), Idli (steamed rice cake), Upma (semolina cooked with vegetables), Medhu vada (deep fried rice cake), Pineapple Sheera (sweetened semolina), filter coffee. You’ll find variants of each on the menu, ask another local guest in the restaurant for recommendations to suit your palate.
Places to hit:
Cafe Madras, Right opposite King Circle Garden, Matunga East
Cafe Mysore (My Pick), Right opposite King Circle Garden
Ram Ashray, Near Matunga Central Railway Station
Manis: Near Matunga Central Railway Station (a small hole in the wall that is very easy to miss)
Call this a cliché but come-on, the Vada Pav belongs to Mumbai and no-one else. Also called the Indian Burger or a poor man’s meal, this is what the city tastes like- hot, sweet for some spicy for the rest, soft at heart but a little crisp as well. Made from potato, you’ll find the stuffing tempered with mustard seeds, curry leaves, ginger garlic and indian spices, shaped as dumpling, coated with gram flour and deep fried. This dumpling, called the vada, is stuffed between the pav or Indian bread and garnished with a spicy chutney, a sweet chutney and tempered chilies. The other variant is bhajji pav or potato fritters stuffed between the bread instead of the dumpling. My only recommendation for those bold individuals with a sensitive stomach is to ensure that the dumplings are fried right in front of you, make a request and they will oblige. You could tip them for the kind gesture. Also, skip the chutneys.
Places to hit:
Ashok Vada Pav (My Pick) Opposite Kirti College, Dadar West
Aram Vada Pav, Opposite the CST or former Victoria Terminus in South Mumbai
Anand Vada Pav, Oppo. Mithibai College, Parle (A famous joint but in the suburbs, away from most tourist attractions.
Chaat is a colloquial name for ‘savory’ or ‘sweet and sour’ in Hindi. The origin of ‘Chaat’ is a matter of dispute between the people of Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. We all have a similar yet distinct streak in our flavours. We are all extremely proud and defensive about our chaat so we’ll let you decide on who wins this war on taste. Most of the preps contain crisps, potato, onions, coriander, chutneys, puffed rice, curd, spiced water, raw mango etc. Make sure you specify your degree of tolerance towards spicy food. I recommend you identify a good hygienic restaurant in order to savoir chaat without doing much damage to your system.
Menu highlights: Pani puri, Sev Puri, Bhel, Dhai Bata Puri, Tokri Chaat, Chana Chaat, Pav Bhaji
Places to hit:
Nothing like getting invited to a local home (My pick)
Swati Snacks, Tardeo, South Bombay (My 2nd Pick)
Elco Pani Puri, Hill Road, Bandra West (They claim they use sealed bottled water)
The word literally means ‘plate’ while in the Indian culinary dictionary it means a plate that serves an entire meal ranging from a minimum of 4 courses to a maximum if 21 courses. I’m not sure how the Math works and it really doesn’t matter because you are pulled straight into a food coma which takes a few days to recover. I’m a huge fan of thalis because it is more economical than buffets, with lesser wastage and just the right amount of variety. Thalis are generally cuisine specific and the reason I’m writing about it is because in Mumbai you’ll find them all. So you are transported to another part of the country without spending too much time, money or energy to really get there. take your pick, build an appetite and indulge in my multi-ethnic Mumbai.
Places to hit:
Shri Krishna Boarding, Outside MAtunga Central Railway Station (My Pick)– I’m a little partial here because this Boarding serves my comfort food. It gets really close to my grandma’s kitchen and plus, you have the option of dining on a banana leaf which is an experience in itself. The thali serves food from the Canara Coast, mostly coconut based and is pure vegetarian. It is one of the cleanest kitchens I have visited that serves more than a few hundred people every day. Very economical with excellent service. Closed on Mondays and be ready for a long wait on weekend. Would recommend their lunch menu, however they are open for dinner as well.
Bhagat Tarachand, Kalbadevi, Zaveri Bazzar: This no-frills restaurant is situated in one of the busiest streets of Mumbai (all the best for the search) but the first bite from the thali will transport you straight to a fragrant field in Punjab. This thali is again vegetarian but trust me, you will not miss the protein. Quality food, great taste, a little heavy on the stomach but extremely light on the pocket.
Highway Goamantak, Bandra East: You may not find this listed on any of the popular charts but it is my favourite in Mumbai for local seafood. Simple and classic recipes with no frills. I love family-run restaurants, especially the ones where the owners eat there themselves. Their food is spicy but as authentic as Konkan seafood can get. Closed on Thursdays.
Revival Ki Thali, Chowpati, South Mmbai– I was a huge fan of their thali when they were called ‘Rajdhani’ at Kalbadevi. The thali is elaborate, tastefully served and the ambiance is now of fine dine. You may want to check for reservations. This food can easily suit the western palate as it is not spicy. Gujrati thalis are very popular in Mumbai and you’ll find a number of restaurants offering the spread. Some others are Thaker Bhojnalaya and Chetna in south Mumbai.
K Rustoms Icecream, Churchgate
This one is my childhood favourite. Unique to Mumbai and one of our oldest culinary gems, their iconic ice-cream sandwiches are quite fun to eat. The ice-creams range from INR 30 onward and their menu is quite impressive too. The Parsi family has maintained their standards in flavour and service since 1990 at least(that’s as long as I can remember). The K. Roustom ice cream is no competition to the European creameries but it is definitely a sweet way to end the gastronomic journey in this city that never sleeps.