The Ultimate Tamilian Food Trail Through Chembur - Homegrown

The Ultimate Tamilian Food Trail Through Chembur

As far as South Indian food meccas go, Matunga has always reigned supreme in most city loyalists’ hearts. But really, it’s all dependent on your parameters. If you’re the kind of food lover who’s easily content and quick to consider idli-dosa-sambar a good representation of the cuisine as a whole, the options are endless. If you’re the kind of person willing to brave monsoon slush and traffic clusters for regional authenticity however, the options are both more refined and hidden. The Eastern suburb of Chembur has long been considered the heartland of Tamilian immigrants, and there’s a series of iconic eateries the community has left in its wake.

Sometime in the ‘60s, Tamilians, along with other South Indian communities migrated to various areas across Mumbai, settlements popping up from Wadala to Chembur. With them, they brought their wares and their ways. You can see it in the mounds of chrysanthemums in early morning flower markets, hear it in the cacophony of veshti-clad men and gold-ornamented women as they head to temples on Sunday mornings and you can most certainly smell it in the wafting subtle scents of the food at a dime-a-dozen authentic eateries. Chembur happened to be one of them. As people began to settle down, a new kind of hunger emerged. Vada Pavs were great for a while, but they couldn’t compare to the food these new Chembur-dwellers had grown up eating. A variety of spiced rice preparations from bisibile to pongal, perfectly cooked appams, think and crunchy appalams, and buttery idlis served on a clean banana life with spicy mulga podi to boot. Food that was simple, healthy, mostly vegetarian compared to the other South Indian cuisines, and most importantly, reminiscent of home.

The first-generation settler’s hunger for home quickly made Chembur a hotbed of now-legacy restaurants while second and third-generations have gone on to cement the city’s growing appetite with newer places that offer more variety than ever before. Join us on a Tamilian food trail of the suburb and see for yourself.

I. Mani’s Lunch Home

Mani’s lunch home has been the go-to place for reasonably priced Tamil food for the residents of Matunga and Chembur alike, across different eras and geographies. In 2016, this restaurant had to shut shop in Matunga and relocate to Chembur, as the building it used to operate from was going to be redeveloped. But the steep rent and the hassle of moving into a new place was worth the 14-year old legacy of serving authentic Tamilian food to the people of Mumbai. Mani’s clean and simple aesthetic is balanced out by the student crowd that takes over the restaurant in the afternoon. Famous for its Tamilian and Palakkad cuisine in particular, Mani’s sambhar is true to its roots and customers can get as much of it as they want. Their lunch menu is full of exciting thalis (a limited and unlimited one) and their upma-sheera combo is a must try! If you’re looking for an exciting Sunday brunch then this is the place to go for its Onion sambar and potato roast. Originally a South Indian snack place only, Mani’s was first set up in 1937 by V. S. Mani Iyer, and is currently run by his son K. S. Narayanswamy.

Pro Tip: It might have started for snacks but we recommend going the whole hog for the unlimited Thali.

Cost: Approximately Rs. 400 for two people

Mani's Lunch Home. Image Credit: HungryForever
Mani's Lunch Home. Image Credit: HungryForever

II. Geeta Bhavan

One of the oldest family restaurants in the area, Geeta Bhavan’s iconic violet interiors have been soothing eyes and tummies for decades with its dependability. With its efficient service, clean surroundings, and proximity to the Chembur railway station, Geeta Bhavan is known to have had patrons like the late Hindi-film industry actor Raj Kapoor. They say one of the keenest demarcators of the quality of Tamilian food is the Sambar and Geeta Bhavan, again, nails it. Some have even compared it to the sambar preparations of Chennai-based food chain Saravana Bhavan, which is no small praise.

With an exclusively extensive vegetarian menu for its loyalists, this little eatery is no longer so little as the owners often have to arrange for outdoor seating on particularly crowded evenings. If you’re looking for a place that’s quick with its takeaway orders then this is one of your best bets. The Mysore Masala Dosa here is prepared much differently, and locals swear by their Rasam Vadas and Butter Adais.

Pro Tip: If you’re planning to try this place out, don’t forget to ask for unlimited chutney and sambar!

Cost: Slightly pricey but totally worth it, a meal for two will cost you Rs. 450.

III. Ayappan

If you’re heading for an early morning run in Chembur and want to grab some breakfast right after, then Ayappan is one place you can step into at 7 am for a delicious Tamil breakfast to begin your day with. A newbie in a neighbourhood that is adorned with Tamil restaurants dating back to the previous century, Ayappan’s food is the perfect blend of traditional Tamilian cuisine in a relatively modern environment.

The restaurant has two seating areas––an AC and a non-AC one––and is known for its authentic filter coffee and savoury chutneys. One thing that’s probably worth mentioning is their selection of Parothas. From Chocolate Dry Fruit Porotha to a Fruit Parotha, or even a special Kashmiri Parotha––they have something for everyone with a sweet tooth (or not).

Pro Tip: If you’re someone with a particular aversion towards regular idlis, then their Podi Idli is something we’d recommend.

Cost: A meal for two will most likely cost you Rs. 400

IV. Hotel Navina

Hotel Navina might have evolved with time but it’s still a strong contender as far as homemade Tamil food in the area is concerned. It’s also pretty light on the pocket. It has both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes on its menu, along with a refreshing variety of Parathas and Dosas. The Kothu Paratha––available with a combination of either eggs or potatoes––definitely steals the show!

Pro Tip: Known for its really quick and efficient service, this place is ideal for quick bites through the day!

Cost: One of the most student-friendly places that we came across, a meal for two here costs just Rs. 100.

V. Cafe Molgapudi

Staying true to its name, Cafe Molgapudi in Chembur has a number of Molgapudi dishes that one must try. Their rasam deserves a special mention. And their breakfast and special food combos are some of the best deals that we came across while looking for low-budget options. This is one of the few places where the quantity, quality, and price of the food go hand in hand. We’d recommend trying their Rava Dosas, Puliogarai, the Thali and Butter Idli, of course! Located in Chembur camp, it might be a little difficult to spot this cafe unless you’ve been there before so let Google Maps assist you.

Pro Tip: They have something called a ‘Pizza Dosa’, and even though that’s not exactly authentic, we suggest you give it a shot.

Cost: Just Rs. 120 for an appetizing special combo

Special Mention

Chembur’s Tamilian culture is evident not just in its extravagant lunch thalis and breakfast combos, but also in its department stores that have long been the suppliers of authentic kitchen food ingredients. If you wish to cook a Tamilian feast at home, here are department stores you should visit.

Valli Stores

One of the first few stores in the area, Valli Stores is where most of the Tamilians in the area rush to when their kitchens are running out of essential supplies like coffee powder or Coimbatore butter. Opened in 1964 by a man named T. Chellaswamy who’d just arrived from Tuticorin, today it is run by his son Karthik and is pretty famous for being the only one that sells ayurvedic marundhu––a kind of medicinal halwa that is consumed by Tamilians.

Valli Steels

A sister concern of Valli Stores run by Karthik’s brother Alagesan, it sells a number of stainless steel items that comprise Tamilian households. From the Coimbatore wet grinder to appam pans and filter coffee makers, there’s pretty much nothing you won’t get here.

Ratna Department Stores

Ratna’s speciality lies in the fact that it sells not just Tamil ingredients (sourced straight from Tamil Nadu itself) but also stuff that’s exclusively imported. It also has the most exquisite collection of ready-made Tamil snacks such as adhirasam, wadai, and appam.

Feature Image Courtesy: The Travelling Spoon

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