“I am not a glutton. I am an explorer of food.”
Crisp, buttery dosas, soft idlis and a hearty curd-rice-with-tadka meal (Thayir Sadham for any purists out there) acts as comfort food for Indians all over its varied landscape, regardless of what your dietary staples might be. If you live in Mumbai, a city of immigrant cultures, this slightly hyperbolic statement is truer than ever before. Aside from the unbeatable flavour profiles, South Indian meals tend to be light, affordable, and even extend themselves from vegetarian to vegan for the city’s more disciplined diets. Unfortunately, hundreds of impostors having picked up on this unending culinary favouritism have tried to provide their own dosa-idli fixes to the point that you might have lost all faith in the concept of enjoying an honest, authentic South Indian meal.
Luckily for you, we double up as South Indian fairy godmothers, which is why we know that if you’ve been on the hunt for perfect south indian food, then your search ends at Matunga. One seemingly unimportant station, the wayward stop between Bandra and Dadar to some, but the ultimate destination for South Indian eateries for those who know what’s what.
I. Value for Money South Indian Thali at A. Rama Nayak & Sons
Established by A. Rama Nayak in 1942, this restaurant is every Mumbai-dwelling South Indian’s answer to their cravings for some homely meals. Rama Nayak is referred to as the ‘Father of Udipi in Matunga’ by those who know him, both for his mouth watering food and for creating a truly homely ambience for his treats. Several witty one-liners such as ‘The owner of this hotel also eats here’, are uniquely positioned to draw you in to this hotel that’s divided into 2 parts— the plate section, where the sign reads, “Plate meal is ideal for the blue collar man,” and the plantain leaf section.
Add to the mind-blowing food and the fact that it is so light on your pocket, their impeccable hygiene is yet another feather in their cap. Meals here are prepared twice a day ensuring that no leftovers are served. They even make their pickles every two days.
What you’re getting: Their flagship thali, whose calorie count is about 1500 to 1600 per plate, or the plantain leaf thali meal.
Cost: At Rs. 225 for the basic thali it’s very college student’s dream come true.
Pro tip: They have left no room to impress their patrons, which is why you can look forward to unlimited meals on Independence Day, Republic Day and Rama Nayak family special days too. Now that’s what we call good service.
II. Authentic Tam-Brahm Flavours at Arya Bhavan
Arya Bhavan is the ‘Happy Ending’ to the story of Mr. Muthuswamy, who graduated from supplying milk in the Matunga Labour Camp in the Dharavi Area to selling idlis and dosas at Dharavi. Today, receives, somewhere between, 50 to 60 catering orders every month for parties and weddings hosted by the Page 3 personas of Mumbai. Arya Bhavan is the result of the recent conversion of a fast-food joint ‘Relax’ to a place that serves up gastronomic delights of the South Indian, Gujarati and Kutch community in Matunga.
What you’re getting: The paniyaram (steamed dumplings made from idli batter). Customers vouch for its ‘Thirunelveli’ flavour. Also try the idiyappam (rice flour pressed into noodle form and then steamed), and the variety of idlis: Brahmin, Iyengar, Kanjivaram, and Buttercoin with gunpowder chutney (a lentil and chilli powder mix that is also known as ‘molaga podi’).
Cost: Approximately Rs. 350 for two people. We’ve heard people swear by the fact that they serve the softest steamed idlis you can find in Matunga, so this is a real steal.
Pro tip: Ask if you can pack a little molga podi for your own home, it goes with everything!
III. Idli Extravaganza at Idli House
As the name suggests, this is a one-of-its-kind restaurant that is the place to go to quench all your cravings for the soft steamed rice cake. From savoury to sweet, they have a wide variety to offer, but there’s more to this three-table eatery than meets the eye.
Mr. C. S. Kamath, the manager, ensures that the idlis are prepared in the traditional style of the Goud Saraswat Brahmin community to which he belongs. He has brought a modern mindset to the menu and cooking processes by using equipment such as electronic steamers, lessening the overnight fermentation time which would otherwise cause acidity, not to mention expanding the menu to accommodate the tastes of the Jain community. They have replaced onions with cabbage in certain dishes and now, all the Jains in Mumbai can get a taste of some authentic South Indian food, reformatted to their own interests.
The creators of Rama Nayak started Idli House solely for those on the lookout for light food. Each table has coconut oil, sesame oil and two types of podis that will go with almost everything you order.
What you’re getting: We recommend their pepper idli, mysore upma idli, khotto (steamed in jackfruit leaves), mudho (steamed in kedki leaves) and the jackfruit idli (only available in season).
Cost: Rs. 150 for two people. No, we didn’t forget to add a zero at the end.
Pro tip: Every dish on their menu is priced below Rs. 50, which means that the end-of-the-month is going to seem much brighter from this day onwards and this place is an absolute dream for out-station students.
IV. Dosa Delights and the Idli Burger at Shree Sunders
Shree Sunders does its bit to elevate its positioning from ‘an udipi restaurant’ by serving food in clear glass cutlery. The variety of dosas is a huge draw here.
What you’re getting: The pesarattu (a moong dal dosa stuffed with chopped onions), chettinad dosa, pav bhaji dosa and pizza dosa. The idli burger is a must try too.
Cost: Approximately Rs. 500 for two. Definitely a little heavier on your pockets than the others on this list. But their fluffy idlis make up for it
Pro tip: Never choose a Shiv/ Shri/ Sai Sagar over this place again.
V. Battle of the Bhavans: Sharda, Anand and Amba
These three eateries typically serve similar food, at similar price points so we thought it best to chronicle them together. The sevai is the special at Amba Bhavan but only available on Tuesdays and Fridays. The food at Anand Bhavan seems deliciously home-styled while Amba Bhavan is known for its Jain versions of wada, sambhar, masala dosa, kelabaji and ravadosa. Opposite the Matunga Station, you will find Sharda Bhawan. Their upma and also the rawa dosa are to die-for! Their banana bondas served fresh in the evenings are something worth taking a trip to Matunga. The chutney served at Sharda Bhavan is hailed as the best in the area; and its kadi-idli and pineapple sheeraare famous too.
What you’re getting: At Amba Bhavan, have the sevai—it’s the special but is only available on Tuesdays and Fridays. if you go on another day, try the Jain versions of wada, sambhar, masala dosa, kelabaji and ravadosa. Anand Bhavan is known for its home styled home-style upma, set dosa, Mysore onion rava dosa, sambhar bhath, bisi bele bhath, pesarattu and filter coffee. Finally, at Sharda Bhawan, the upma and rawa dosa are to die for. As are their banana bondas, their kadi-idli, pineapple sheera, and their one-of-a-kind coconut chutney.
Cost: Approximately Rs. 200 for two at all three of these South Indian stalwarts. So if you do a breakfast-lunch-dinner marathon, you won’t be down by much.
Pro tip: No need to choose one over the others. The food at all is light enough that you can have it all.
These two cafes, though competing with each other, are owned by the same family. Cafe Madras might be more popular, what with its long waiting lines – especially on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings and evenings. Cafe Mysore, on the other hand, might be more appealing for the same reason – no waiting lines and an A/C section that the other lacks. Both places have a similar charming no-frills ambience with their barefoot waiters and simple settings but the food is unique to each.
What you’re getting: The white butter with the idli butter pudi at Cafe Madras offers stiff competition to the chilli paste on the inside of the Mysore dosa at Cafe Mysore. The idli gadbad at Cafe Mysore is a must try as is the besibele bhaath at Cafe Madras.
Cost: Meals at both cost approximately Rs. 250 for two people. Talk about a sweet deal.
Pro tip: The filter kaapi is great at both places, so if that’s the deal maker or breaker for you, then it’s time to accept that this one is officially a tie. We recommend going to whichever one has a shorter wait to get a table. Simple.
VII. Sheera overload at Ram Ashray
For all those who miss breakfast because they want to beat the morning crowd in the locals, Ram Ashray is a godsend. Since it opens early, it is a great place to grab some breakfast, provided you have the time to make a stop over at Matunga.
What you’re getting: The upma served here is soft, well seasoned and accompanied with sambar—and comes highly recommended by us. While the sheera prepared here is quite simply the best you are ever going to taste. Pineapple, Strawberry, and Kesar are just a few of the flavours.
Cost: Rs. 200 for two people. Go here and make a meal out of sheera.
VIII. Bonding over Bondas at Mani’s Lunch Home
Mani’s Lunch Home seats only about 20 people, yet at any given point, there are always at least that many people of different ages meeting up over the different foods offered here, teeming over the entire premises.
What you’re getting: It depends on when you get here. The morning menu consists of pongal and potato wada in addition to the regular options of idlis and dosas. The afternoon session serves up tomato rice, lemon rice, and tamarind rice, while the evening session consists of varied bondas—vegetable, mysore, dalwada, onion pakoda and more. And the unlimited chutney and sambar are going to make you their loyal patrons.
Cost: Rs. 250 for two. Seems to be the magic number for these Matunga favourites, doesn’t it?
Pro tip: On Sundays, Mani’s prepares a special southern dosa called adai in the evening, served with pure fresh butter accompanied by chutney and sambar.
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