If we had to pick one cuisine as the favourite of everybody at Homegrown headquarters, it wouldn’t be a very tough decision. It might be the creamy, filling goodness of North India’s tandoori baked meats and comatose curries that put Indian palates on the map, but it’s the delicious subtlety of Southern Indian fare that provides us with long-term comfort. This might come as a particularly surprising confession for readers who’ve followed our food posts for a while, considering a majority of this kind of food is vegetarian, but there’s something to be said for the ability to eat a certain type of food every single day and never tiring of it, and we intended to say it. Hence, our decision to dedicate an entire metre of cyberspace towards waxing eloquent about lovely hints of coconut, and the golden-brown crispness of the perfect butter dosa.
As always, our home city of Mumbai gets first preference so here’s the ultimate round-up of the city’s best South Indian meal offerings. Considering there’s a South Indian joint at just about every corner, it was difficult to be discerning so we didn’t discriminate based on state-wise segregation. Whether it’s the spicy seafood curries of Mangalore or the coconut-spiced veggies of Kerala, if we’ve found a good place to swallow it down whole, it’s on this list. We also went a step further and sub-divided our restaurant choices into three broad categories of ‘very affordable,’ ‘mid-range’ and ‘fine-dining’ for your wallet’s perusal. Now stop salivating and start scrolling.
Let the rasam games begin.
[And since we’d never claim to know it all, if you think we’ve missed out on one of your favourites, don’t hold out on us. Share your southern treasures with us in the comment section below.]
A. Very Affordable (Rs. 300 and under for two)
“For the days you wish you’d become a banker after all. But hey, who said cheap can’t be tasty?”
I. Mani’s Lunch Home (Iyer cuisine from the Palakkad border between T.N. & Kerala)
You should know instinctively when you venture around Matunga with a craving for some South Indian that you aren’t going to go away disappointed. Mani’s Lunch Home, a small eatery, will delight you with its coconut-heavy meal that goes easy on the oil, served in a thali or on a banana leaf. South Indian staples (Pallakad Iyer’s cuisine from the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu) are done right at Mani’s with the idlis being served soft, fluffy and admirably light, the medu vadas, potato vadas and aloo bondas piping hot and delicious, and the uttapams and dosas well-cooked and crispy to bite into.
Breakfast at Mani’s is available until around noon, and this is when you need to be here if you want to try out their most popular dish – upma, the traditional breakfast dish made from semolina that we recommend you have with their mouth-watering chutney. Our favourite part of visiting Mani’s has got to be their ungrudging unlimited amounts of coconut chutney and spicy Madras onion sambar, thanks to which many a plate of idlis, vadas and dosas have been inhaled, washed down with the very best filter coffee to kick off your day with.
Rice is king at this Tamilian restaurant, with your afternoon options including the cooling dahi rice, the classic and wholesome bisi-belle-bhath (the spicy rice-based dish made with sambar and mixed vegetables), tomato rice, lemon rice and tamarind rice.
Lunch, which starts by 10.30 AM, includes two bowls of rice, two chapattis, one cup of solid bhaji, two cups of a gravy-based dish, the to-die-for rasam (a spicy tamarind-based soup with tomato, chilli pepper, pepper, cumin and other spices eaten with rice) sambar, papad, pickles, buttermilk and curd with full meals served on fresh plantain leaves, with payasam, the mouthwatering sweet dish prepared of coconut, jaggery and broken wheat, served on Thursdays, Saturdays & Sundays.
Sundays also witness the preparation of a special dosa called ‘addai’ in the evenings, post-4PM, served with fresh butter with those unlimited quantities of chutney and sambar. This Tam-Bram eatery has much to boast of, such as having been accorded Winner of Best Vegetarian Restaurant Times Now Foodie Award, 2014 with the likes of Mukesh Ambani being spotted here occasionally.
In fact, Mani’s is so nice, they decided to do it twice – the family-run restaurant now has two outlets in Matunga itself.
Where: 153/C Mhaskar Building, behind DP’s Fast Food Centre, near Ruia College.
& 384, DADBAWALA SADAN, Opp: Sri Bajan Samaj, Telang Road, Matunga, Mumbai-400019.
Cost: With a limited thali at Rs 60 & Unlimited at Rs 150, you don’t need to think twice.
II. A Rama Nayak’s Udipi
Rasam is unlimited at A Rama Nayak’s Udipi restaurant – which in itself should be enough to help you make up your mind to visit this institution established in 1942, the first such food joint in the city. “Try eating in leaf in Indian way, without spoon,” a sign in the eatery amiably suggests, with the added incentive of the banana leaf section offering unlimited servings of each item. This one’s a real no-brainer.
Regardless, on plates and plantain leaves, limited and unlimited meals present themselves - both equally tantalising - with the food consistently turning out simple, light and tasty, qualities which we have really grown to value. If the slightly sour, always starchy elements of home-style South Indian fare is your thing – this is the place for you. Humble in all its non-air-conditioned (it’s one hour, we promise you’ll be fine) and spartan glory, A Rama Nayak’s is hygienic and does well to depart from the usual song and dance of idli-dosa to cater to a working-class crowd (‘Crowd’ being the keyword here since it’s almost always packed so make sure you arrive early to skip the queue).
The thali usually consists of three vegetable curries, the fiery lentil-based sambar, and a rasam that is both tomatoey and peppery, just the way we like it. It’s also a fantastic cure for the cold in case you’re struggling with the weather changes right about now. Two phulkas or three puris, and two cups of rice, plus a choice of crunchy papadum (the kind that’s just not easily available anywhere else) curd, chhaas (buttermilk) and sweet dishes accompany. This is the unlimited meal, served on a banana leaf, we’re talking about of course, powerless to our gluttony as we are.
If it’s your first time here and you’re on your own, don’t be wary as friendly instruction signs like “Please buy your tokens in advance”, “Unused coupons can be used next time”, “Plate meal is ideal for the blue-collar man” and our favourite - “Udipi means good food”, will make you feel right at home as your respond to the callings of the banana leaf. With meals cooked twice a day, leftovers are a no-go here and the meal is a balanced one that’ll leave you full and satisfied, without feeling like you’re going to keel over and pass out in a food coma.
Satish Nayak, the son of the founder, says: “What was served 55 years back, we have maintained the same quantity and quality. It is the complete south Indian meal which attracts the customers.”
A tray of the various desserts they offer will be brought to you, your moment to shine, when you would do well to pick the kesari shrikhand sans regret.
Where: 1st Floor, LBS Market Bldg., Near Matunga Central Rly Station, Matunga
Cost: Apparently, time travel is possible @ Rs. 64 for a plate meal and Rs. 170 for a full meal
III. Cafe Madras (Influences from Kerala, T.N. and Andhra Pradesh)
Idli is not food, it is an experience. Soft, fluffy and heavenly to bite into, idli at Café Madras goes one step further with dousing the ghee-soaked idlis with sinful dollops of white butter. Team this up with the delicious coconut chutney and the torchbearer of caffeine rushes, the kaapi – and you’ll have a power couple right there. If you do have to be a rebel and order one of the thin, lip-smacking dosas, don’t forget to ask for the mulagapodi powder (the same dry chilli powder we affectionately refer to as ‘gunpowder’). The kaapi or filter coffee here is the stuff of legend and it’d be absolutely criminal to leave without swishing some around in those adorable steel tumblers. Better yet, make the trip just for this coffee! Moreover, the buttery idlis might be what most people hear about Cafe Madras, we’ve spent enough time here to recommend some less mainstream options. So just in case, you’re feeling a little adventurous, remember that the crunchy farsan with dahi, spicy usal and ragi dosa (the perfect combination of taste and health) come backed by us.
Where: 38 -B, Circle House, King’s Circle, Matunga, Mumbai
Cost: Just order your next kaapi already, it’s Rs 250 for two
IV. Hotel Ram Ashray (Udupi)
This is thankfully one of the badly-kept secrets of the area that used to be called the mini-Madras of Mumbai – and they really are all about the business. The spartan eatery starts dishing up their scrumptious fare bright and early at 6 AM, with the health-conscious finding that they have several choices to pick from here, with the flavourful paper-thin, rice batter-based neer dosa (or water dosa) giving oil the cold shoulder, accompanied by sweet grated coconut chutney and fiery lentil-based sambar, both of which will be replenished with no extra cost and no hard feelings. We do love our unlimited portions.
There’s also the upma pudi, with ‘pudi’ or gunpowder adding the oomph to the traditional semolina-based breakfast dish, which Ram Ashray serves fresh and seemingly completely devoid of oil. Experiencing the dosas here will have you pledging lifelong devotion like all the patrons before you with the spicy masala-slathered Mysore Masala Dosas always at the receiving end of rave reviews, and the less commonplace Ulundu dosa, the batter of which is made out of urad dal, a healthy option that comes out on top as well. The bisi-belle-bhath has gathered legions of loyalists, the rice dish cooked with lentils, spices and tamarind, flavoured generously with nutmeg, ghee and curry leaves garnished with fried crispies and a cooling raita that balances the dish out expertly. The pineapple sheera, a soft sweet dish with chunks of pineapple is a delicious speciality here, that makes for the perfect full-stop to a meal at Ram Ashray.
Where: Bhandarkar Road, Matunga East
Cost: Rs 200 for two people? Welcome to 1999.
V. Sharda Bhavan (Udupi)
The airy, quaint Sharada Bhavan restaurant comes with marble-topped tables and teak furniture that looks like it belongs to a bygone era, complete with old kota tiles lining the room that can seat a modest two dozen customers. The waiters, clad in neatly-folded lungis, will memorise the orders of a handful of tables with masterful precision, and you can be sure they’ll get them right; they’ll even strike up a conversation with you in Tamil when they have the odd second to spare. The menu is written on the wall, with only the rates having changed over the years, so don’t bother combing the furniture. Besides the staple neer dosas that melt in your mouth, mysore masala dosa, and the fluffy as hell upma, served with the mulagapodi, Sharda Bhavan also offers some dishes which are relatively unconventional such as the Kadi Wada, a whole medu vada without the hole in the middle, served with Kadi, the spicy besan-based comfort food gravy flavoured with curry leaves.
Slightly sour, it’s definitely an acquired taste but one that really sticks. Buns puri is a Mangalorean speciality made out of maida, mixed with sweet ripe banana and fried as a puri at Sharada Bhavan. Thick, fluffy and with a slightly sweet taste to it, this can be eaten with coconut chutney and sambar (so spicy here, that it’ll make your eyes water with joy) or even with a gravy vegetable. There’s also the rasam vada, with the pungent rasam, like the sambar, being particularly spicy, with the distinct flavours of tomato and pepper, paying much more heed to authenticity than a lot of eateries in the area. The Ghee Onion Rava Dosa is also a great bet, with chillies, ginger and onion cloaked in a perfectly roasted crispy dosa doused luxuriously in ghee, to be had with several servings of wet chutney and a dry chutney, mixed with oil, as well.
Where: Opposite Matunga Station, LN Road, Matunga (E)
Cost: At Rs 110 for two, it’s right back to the wall menu for more.
VI. Deluxe Fort (Authentic Kerala Cuisine)
The languorous mood of Deluxe captures the feel of God’s own country in more ways than one, and this eatery is home to the anomaly where the vegetarian thali is found to be more desirable than the non-vegetarian alternative. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant’s Keralite banana leaf thali hits the spot with the shot of the tangy rasam appetiser, the karela-infused gravy, the slightly sweet unripe banana dish, the roasted chill in the achar mixes, papad, pickle and red rice - grains that pop in your mouth playfully, making sense of the Malayali obsession with rice. Sambar rice is doled out generously at Deluxe, the spicy soup and white rice leaving you feeling stuffed as you wipe the plantain leaf clean. Teaming up the thali with a succulent pomfret fry or a delicious fish curry is the way to do this authentic Kerala eatery the right way.
Where: 28, SBS Road, Pitha Street, Near Hitkari House, Fort
Cost: Rs 300 for two
VII. Sneha Restaurant (Authentic Kerala Cuisine)
As brown fans whirr overhead, you might find yourself hot and uncomfortable at this no-frills but fully-functional restaurant, and if you know what’s good for you - you will let your gastronomic sensibilities take precedence.
Keralite food is one that generally stands in the shadows of the more commonplace Udupi-style eateries, but this is an eatery that is one of the most underrated in the city. The Keralite parottas are nice and slightly sweet, with the beef chilli fry really taking the limelight with the bite-sized chunks of chubby meat set off by the sweetness of brown, caramelised onions, tossed in spices with the notes of pepper lingering over and really heightening the flavours of the meat, with the finishing touches coming from the curry leaves. The surmai fry is another winner, with the fish coming with a light batter coating, the full and fresh flavours pommeling you in their glory, testified to by food-lovers who have waxed eloquent about the freshness, firmness and crispiness of the fish, coupled with the perfectly-estimated spices. While these two dishes - and chicken sukka, which is likely to be different from any other you’ve tasted in the city, taking centre-stage for main courses, there’s also the succulent lamb korma and lamb biryani which qualify as worthy contenders, along with the flavourful fish curry rice being another solid dish vying for your tastebuds. Kappa biryani, a Keralite rice dish made of tender beef and mashed tapioca, cooked with masalas, ginger garlic, onion, mustard seeds and chilly, is a mouth-watering Christian culinary feat based in the state.
If it’s a simple breakfast you want to grab, vegetable stew and appams, the traditional Keralite pancake made of rice batter and coconut milk is a good bet, or keep it simple and stick to the fluffy idlis and thin, crispy dosas. The banana fritters, plump, soft and crisp with golden batter, are served only at tea time so keep that in mind when you pay this eatery a visit.
Where: Opposite Paradise Cinema, 53, LJ Road, Mahim
Cost: Just 300 for two, for food straight out of God’s Own Country.
VIII. Idli House (Udupi)
As we mentioned earlier, explaining the experience of eating idlis is a defeating exercise and Idli house did us one better by letting South India’s ultimate breakfast dish take its rightful, exclusive place of dominance on the menu, much to the teary-eyed joy of idli-aficionados everywhere. The steamed rice idli is no shrinking violet here, nor is it any kind of vada’s sidekick. Located at the bustling King’s circle area in Matunga, Idli House is affordable and even has a nominal concession for students to indulge in the variety that offers 16 different types of steamed, rice cake goodness all of which are served with unlimited coconut chutney and sambar bursting with a spicy flavour.
For the uninitiated, exotic options like khotto, cooked and tucked into triangular cups of sweet, aromatic jackfruit leaves, and muddho, served correspondingly with kekdi leaves, all of which can be requested for with additional butter, in answer to which your plate will be blessed with a generous dollop of homemade white makhan that melt in your mouth. Kanchipuram idlis, seasoned with cumin seeds, peppercorns, ginger fenugreek seeds, and rava idlis, which combine the goodness of many dals and spices, are other delectable idli varieties that you absolutely cannot miss out on. ‘Pudi’ or gunpowder chutney is something we just can’t help ourselves coming back to, seeing as how the only thing it does is make our favourite fluffy delicacy that much better.
We’ll be damned if we’re leaving this kingdom where idlis rule supreme without a cup (or three) of the strong, life-giving. filter coffee.
Where: 462, Ram Bhavan, opposite Jain Temple, Next to Vasant Breezy Chamber, Dr. Ambedkar Road, King’s Circle, Matunga (E)
Cost: At 150 for two, it’s time to stop counting how many idlis you’ve had.
IX. Anand Bhavan (Udupi)
If Cafe Madras is too crowded for belief and you refuse to leave without getting your fair share of South Indian fare (a cause we’d strongly stand by you in support of), Anand Bhavan is a great alternative in the area to head out to. Home-style upma is show-stealer at this little lunch home, so don’t be shy to order seconds or thirds of this soft, savoury dish. The Mysore rava dosa combines all the good things in life to present you with a thin dosa cooked with roasted rava (suji), slathered with the spicy Mysore masala, served with criminal coconut chutney and sambar you cannot get enough of.
If you really want to test out the extents of your tastebuds (which are presumably screaming in joy and terror) - go ahead and order the mouth-numbing Mulagapudi but we suggest you have it with something tame like a fluffy idli to balance things out. Health freaks, listen up - Anand Bhavan thinks about you too - at least when they’re serving those delicious pesarattu dosas, made from green moong dal and teeming with nutrition. Sambhar bhath - the spicy lentil-based soup generously served with white rice, the classic bisi bele bhath, a potpourri of lentils, vegetables and rice that’ll have every Indian yearning for a trip to the South and filter coffee to wash all the goodness down with will ensure you never dismiss a generic hole-in-the-wall eatery again without trying it first.
Where: 461/A, Ram Niwas, Maheshwari Udyan, Ambedkar Road, Matunga East, Mumbai
Cost: At 150 for two, that Mulagapudi is not going to be the only reason you’re crying.
X. Om Sri Guru Datha Om Sai Ram Andhra Mess
Andhra mess, as it is affectionately called for the short of breath (us) has no qualms about its authenticity either in food or its name. Unlimited quantities of rice beckon, as a part of the thali here, along with a spicy chutney, a spicier sambar, tomato-based rasam, curd, pappusaar and a vegetable side dish.
Like a lot of hole-in-the-walls that grew to be legacies being so heavily reminiscent of home for working individuals, Andhra mess caters to a lot of young bachelors from Andhra Pradesh residing in the Navi Mumbai area and blessing them with the invaluable gift of home-style food from the state, also providing them with a place where they can meet other people living and working in similar situations. Turns out, the cook at Andhra mess was actually a Malayali named Chandran who has spent time in kitchens in Bangalore, a city brimming with Andhra eating houses. A disgruntled voice at the end of a hopeful phone call revealed that their chicken biryani and egg curry are other dishes that have created a soft spot amongst regular patrons of this modest eatery that is true value for money.
Where: Shop No 3, Plot No 11, Rajii House, Sector 5, Ghansoli, Opposite Railway Station, Navi Mumbai - 400701
Cost: Rs. 150-200 approx
XI. Amba Bhavan (Udupi)
Udupi power - we’re back with Mumbai’s best-known South Indian cuisine with Amba Bhavan whose clientele might find you sitting shoulder-to-shoulder either with a priest from a local temple, college-bunking students or gaggles of Gujjus who just dig South Indian fare. Regardless, it’s this love for your staple idli/vada/dosa meal or ‘tiffin’ as it’s generally referred to that unites us all at a place like Amba Bhavan.
Another one of the warm places suffused with old-world charm in the Matunga area, the no-frills restaurant offers a simple menu with the usual rava dosa, sada dosa, ghee sada, idli sambar, vada sambar etc that the waiters will rattle off to you with a you-know-what-I’m-talking-about look like a little ritualistic chant. Some specialities you can find at Amba Bhavan are the kadi vada (lentil-based vadas without the hole in middle immersed in the yoghurt-based comfort food kadi, seasoned with curry leaves) and rasam vada (vadas in hot, spicy rasam). Not a drop of sweet sambar is to be found at this eatery that places real value by authenticity, with just the right amount of jaggery in the sambar succeeding in neutralising the pungence of tamarind without taking away from the spiciness of the whole song-and-dance. Another great touch is the methi seeds used in the batter of the dosas, adding a heavenly flavour that goes sinfully well with the sambar. Kela bhajji, raw banana coated in besan batter and then fried, is another speciality they do really, really well along with their pesaratu dosas, made from pulses like green moong dal, which gives the dish a raw and fresh nutritious value.
Don’t be shy to ask for mulagapudi or gunpowder chutney to go with your dosa, idli or anything else you want as the whole experience really is quite incomplete without it. Leaving Amba Bhavan without trying the filter coffee would be absolutely criminal. It comes in two stainless steel tumblers that you can mix the coffee in to your heart’s content without getting a second glance, and we have to admit the kick you get with this coffee is sharper than what you’d get from the coffee at another eatery in the area.
Where: 373, Patel Mahal, Bhandarkar Road, Matunga East
Cost: Rs 250 for two. Ok, this is getting ridiculous.
XII. Lalit Refreshment - Taste of Kerala (Authentic Malayalee-Influenced Cuisine)
Located in Fort, Taste of Kerala serves up some of the softest, most delectable Kerala parottas that can be had with a variety of fish, mutton and chicken curries that vie for your gastronomic attention. Traces of coconut and pepper will waft at you enticingly from the moment you step in, and you can be sure that they’ll make their presence felt similarly in the food. There’s also seafood, a lot of it priced by catch, and the fish curry here is made well with coconut, and tasty to boot, but we suggest you stick to the succulent Kerala-style chicken chettinad, biting into the conversation of spices, an ebb and flow of heat peppered with tanginess, with only the luscious, creamy texture to quell it. Or perhaps the beef chilly with a side of fresh Surmai fry (or to hell with it, just go with the fantastic beef pepper fry) would complete your meal with the trappings of a (potentially Mallu) carnivore’s paradise.
Other offerings on the menu that’ll lift the true Keralite’s spirits include karimeen polichathu (pearl spot cooked in a banana leaf with sauteed tomato, green chillies, turmeric powder, curry leaves, ginger and coriander powder) and fried kallumakkayu, mussels fried with chilly powder, turmeric powder, fennel seeds, pepper powder seasoned with curry leaves. If you come in earlier in the day, don’t forget to try the iddiyappam, a traditional Kerala breakfast dish made with roasted rice flour and coconut.
Where: 6/A, Prospect Chambers Annex, Pitha Street, Near City Bank, Fort
Cost: Rs 400 for two. Get used to it.
B. MID RANGE
“Oh average (priced) joes, we love you so.”
I. Dakshinayan (Tamil Nadu Cuisine)
More than the light Udupi style food that has featured on much of this list, Dakshinayan serves up Tamil food, with traces of Keralite cooking, characterised by the typical gunpowder chutney and a sambar that is spicy without being too oily. Dakshinayan is popular for snacks like the fluffy and light mini idlis that melt in your mouth, pepped up with the signature mulagapudi powder to make sure you remember it. An alternative is their ‘ambassador idli’, which includes mini idlis in spicy sambar, seasoned with onion, coconut and coriander. Nachni dosa - a wholesome, dark-coloured dosa made of ragi, with green chillies, ginger and onions - is a nutritious option that you shouldn’t say no to here. There’s also thick and flaky Malabar parathas are served piping hot with a delicious vegetable curry and a raita to balance it out to tempt you, while the spicy sambar rice and tangy rasam rice are both extremely filling meals in themselves, served with papad, buttermilk and pickle. This eatery is always bursting at the seams, so make sure you’re patient and don’t leave without trying the sevai (rice vermicelli) that they pride themselves on - take your pick from the varieties that include tomato, curd, tamarind, lemon and coconut. The pongal served here is another instant hit, with a distinctive creamy texture that’ll have you ordering for seconds before your plate is clean.
Where: 183, Teen Batti Road, Walkeshwar, Malabar Hill, Mumbai
Cost: At Rs 600 for two for this quality, you know you’re doing South Indian food right.
II. Modern Lunch Home (Mangalorean Fare)
Modern Lunch home, located in Sion, is one of the better-kept secrets of Mangalorean food in the city. Non-descript to say the least, the ambience isn’t the sorts to enchant you and draw you in but if you knew the gastronomic wonders that awaited you inside, you’d be making a beeline towards this little joint.
The Kori Roti (or crisp roti, almost dosa-like) accosts you first with its huge portion size, and then with the chicken curry that it is served under; making for a meal the stuff of dreams. Cleverly divided into two portions to prevent the customer from being drowned in the goodness, the chicken curry is bursting with flavour and so delectably creamy, it’s masterful without being over-the-top. It is this subtlety of flavour, combined with the texture of the sauce and the tender chicken pieces that really cinches the deal at Modern, resulting in a veritable balance of both taste and texture. The kori roti doesn’t become soggy as you devour it, as you’d expect, but softens as it soaks in the spices and flavour of the curry: the masterstroke in the feat.
The mutton masala made fiery with chillies and spices, and the paper-thin neer dosa is another power couple of a combination that attempts a similar delicate sort of balancing trick and succeeds phenomenally, with the mutton masala good enough to relish on its own as well.
Where: #5, Harak Niwas, Near Railway Station, Sion East
Cost: Rs 500 for a bite of heaven seems pretty legit.
III. Apoorva (Mangalorean Fare)
Power-packed flavours in their seafood and a bar make this Mangalorean eatery stand out in the restaurant culture in the city. With a mantra that has consistently gravitated towards the freshness of their food, Apoorva has catered to the working crowd looking for a delectable meal for around 25 years, a more pocket-friendly alternative to the Mahesh Lunch Home or Pratap Lunch Home that have also found their way to this list.
KP Shetty kicks off his day with his cooks grinding freshly grated coconut, curry leaves, chillies, ginger and garlic and four other kinds of masalas to ensure the freshness of the food. We suggest you go with the piping hot bombay duck, succulent from the inside, and the rich, creamy and flavourful goodness of pomfret gassi, with fresh fish cooked in subtle coconut milk and robust spices, best with light melt-in-your-mouth neer dosas, the perfect antidote to the voluptuous curry. The curry of gassi is made with coconut and chilli, with the sourness coming from tamarind, the use of which sets the typically Mangalorean dish apart from Goan and Maharashtrian Gomantak curries, which use kokam instead. Practically any fish fry at Apoorva comes highly recommended, with the pomfret and surmai fry coming out on top, right next to the chicken and mutton sukkas, cooked in a dry coconut-based preparation. Whatever seafood or meat-based indulgence you pick, don’t be afraid to either kick-off or round off a meal this good with a gin and tonic or whiskey.
Where: Vasta House, Noble Chambers, SA Brelvi Road, Fort
Cost: Only Rs 700 for two
IV. Pratap Lunch Home (Mangalorean Fare)
Generally populated by an army of regulars, this 52-year-old Mangalorean eatery is generally crowded, but makes shellfish that is definitely worth calling out to the tikka-sporting waiters twice for, once you’ve managed to get a seat, that is.
If you’re a crabs person - welcome to your wonderland, because the crabs gassi here is beautifully done, cooked in coconut masala done just right, and teaming this up with the neer dosa is always a good idea. The prawn gassi, neer dosa with kori or the delectable prawn biryani here is a good bet as well; make sure you order for the traditional kokam and coconut sol kadhi that’ll cool off your palate after all the tear-inducing spices and masala. The fresh as hell surmai fry here contends with the equally fresh pomfret, marinated in garlic and pepper and then grilled, for the coveted ‘best dish’ title, both touted by regulars as delicacies you shouldn’t miss out on. The kori roti (crisp roti) and truly Mangalorean gassi, a spicy coconut-based curry, is what you should settle on to keep it simple (and ‘settling’ is really not what the dish is going to feel like).
Located in a bylane in Fort, Pratap comes with a bar (much to the joy of hungry patrons who enjoy a beer with their seafood) and the fish is sourced from the fish market nearby. The heritage lunch home is frequented with office-goers, families and other patrons who have a distinct ‘media’ vibe to them, united in the cause of some of the best seafood in the city.
Where: 79, Lucky Mansion, Janmabhoomi Marg, Fort
Cost: Gassi’s going to be worth it, at Rs 750 for two
V. Ankur - The Coastal Bistro (Mangalorean Fare)
The more we delve into South Indian meals, the more we are in awe of Mangalorean cuisine, with its sheer variety of dishes that explore the realms of authentic cooking without a qualm. Ankur restaurant is located on the very street named after its late owner, Mudanna P Shetty, who opened shutters about 70 years ago, ‘Fort’s Mangalorean thali and Udupi pioneer’.
Today, Ankur has succeeded outstandingly in contributing to the city’s culinary landscape with delicacies that depart from the standard sukkas and gassis to offer specialities like the South Indian yeti rawa, fresh prawns coated with semolina and then fried, or the fish Thekady made with surmai, where the fish is marinated in hand-ground spices and ginger, garlic and red chilli paste, and then cooked to perfection (without going haywire with the oil the way a lot of places do). The squid Kandapur truly is North Mangalorean food at its finest, cooked with a red chilli masala without coconut, with the squid being freshly caught and not frozen and consequently, chewy, the way a lot of places in the city serve it. Mop this up with some soft, thin neer tellas/dosas to keep it real. We do love our seafood fresh, and Ankur sources its fish from a private supplier near Cafe Military in Fort - what we also love is when we see a common mistake artfully avoided.
The fish Kochi, a Keralite dish, is also great here, with fresh fish cooked just right in a medley of ginger, garlic, pepper and herbs. The Kerala prawns are another instant hit, with the sweet and tender prawns cooked in a roughly chopped pepper and curry leaf base that is spicy and good in equal measures to induce tears, served in a typically Keralite coconut-based gravy. The rawas kalimiri might be too spicy for some but we say, if you’re already tearing up - finish what you started, with this dish that constitutes of freshly-ground peppercorn paste at it base that gives the fresh fish extra texture on the outside. Vegetarians, do not despair - for although the menu might be relatively limited, Ankur puts the same kind of love and ground-up effort into the Kerala paneer and Kerala potatoes (both cooked in a paste made up of hand-ground spices and pepper) - not to mention the same amount of aromatic spices! The Kundapur potatoes are another great option if you want something that’s typically Mangalorean, and the Ankur Sol Kadi is different from the Konkani sort you’ve probably tasted before, tasting like spicy buttermilk with ginger and garlic generously added to it, along with beetroot that also imparts a pinker colour to the tradition cooler. If things are getting too real for you, take a breather and order the caramel custard for dessert - it’ll come to you rich, dense and delicious.
Equipped with a bar and even happy hours that take place from 6 PM-8 PM, Ankur is that cosy restaurant frequented by a motley of brokers, bankers, lawyers, regulars, tourists and families, that’ll have you coming back for more.
Where: Tamarind Lane, MP Shetty Marg | Meadows House, Behind Central Bank of India, Fort, Mumbai 400050, India (Gateway of India)
Cost: Coastal Indulgence comes in at 750 for two
VI. Kerala House (One Guess)
As the official government guest house of Kerala, you can be sure to find authentic regional fare here at unbelievably subsidised rates. Lunchtime here on weekdays will find hungry Malayalis and food-lovers from everywhere, alike, devouring the meal that consists of the spicy sambar, tangy rasam, three different kinds of vegetable dishes and boiled rice, which is also called ‘raw rice’ and tends to have larger grains, mixing like a dream with sambar and other curries; the texture making it a cultivated taste.
You should definitely give it a shot here, though, to complete the simple but sublime meal, that offers an experience quite different from anything else in the city you are likely to try. Typically, avial is one of the vegetable dishes in the meal, a mixture of vegetables, coconut, curd seasoned with curry leaves and coconut oil. The ginger pickle, sweetish-spicy, and the dry and picked chilly typically found in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, are the exclamation points to a wholesome meal that you’re definitely going to remember.
Sundays and festivals like Onam and Vishu make a celebration out of the Kerala sadya meal, served on a banana leaf with the usual suspects like the popular avial, thoran, a mixed vegetable stir-fry with grated coconut, mustard seeds and curry leaves, and pachhadi, a vegetable and curd dish with coconut. There might also be injam puli on the plantain leaf, a tamarind and ginger lip-smacker and the meal is served with Karingali Vellam, hot water with some coloured herbs that are supposed to aid digestion, a Kerala household custom, instead of plain water. The parotta with egg curry or the creamy chicken curry, or fish curry and rice and options you should look into if you’re looking for something less elaborate but whatever you do, make sure you order a shot of the tangy rasam once you’re done licking your fingers clean, for the real deal.
Where: Plot 8, Sector 30 A, Vashi
Cost: Rs 500 for two
C. Fine-Dining (Rs. 1000 - 5000)
“Because sometimes splurging can save your soul.”
I. Trishna (Mangalorean + Hyderabadi Cuisine)
With a legacy of 40 years, Trishna was renovated and rechristened from its original name ‘Matrubhoomi’ in 1991. Tucked away in one of the labyrinthine lanes around Kala Ghoda, it finds its undisputed place in this list as a mid-range option for quality South Indian meals, especially when it comes to seafood.
Catering to patrons ranging from office executives to sportspersons and media personalities, the cuisine is primarily Mangalorean, however, Hyderabadi influences can be traced back to with few of the dishes. The jumbo prawn Hyderabadi is definitely the right way to kick off a meal here, along with the pomfret done Hyderabadi-style; barbequed with a coating of freshly ground pepper, accompanied by the liquor of your choice from the well-stocked bar. There is also a Hyderabadi dal here that has gathered loyalists over the years to vouch for it, with other options to constitute your main course including Mangalorean preparations like the authentic crab and prawn gassi, a coconut milk gravy cooked with a medley of Indian spices and tamarind, and Hyderabadi fish tikka.
Mr Anchan, the owner, refuses to serve anything but the freshest seafood, with their supply coming in from all along the coast ensuring that the concept of seafood isn’t limited by seasonal variations. Local Mumbaikar and tourists alike make up the steady influx of patrons found making a beeline to this legacy of a restaurant especially for the crab in the butter pepper garlic sauce (the jury is out for the culinary origins of this one).
Where: 7, Sai Baba Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort
Cost: Rs 2,500
Lunch: Noon–3:30 p.m.; dinner: 6:15 p.m.–12.30 a.m.
II. Mahesh Lunch Home (Mangalorean Fare)
This Mangalorean joint, over 30 years old now, features into the triumvirate of seafood joints in South Mumbai that also include Trishna and Apoorva, as cited by popular food blogger Kalyan Karmakar, whom we can thank for Finely Chopped.
The butter pepper garlic squids or crabs (take your pick) haven’t wavered in quality since, with the seafood served swimming in butter (check), with the first bite pommelling you with first the to-the-point rock salt, followed quickly by the crunchy masterfully-browned garlic. The squid comes cut into rings and fried Indian-style and the sinful butter pepper garlic dish is something you should order sans regret, served with a robust red curry to boot.
Top this off with something nice from a bar menu that endearingly highlights the health benefits of beer and brandy. Other combinations that you can’t go wrong of variations with here are the coconut-based prawn gassi, spicy with fresh well-cooked prawns, or the delicious surmai curry with lacy appam made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk or the soft neer dosas, set off with a side of perfectly fried fish (you say fried, we say surmai). Mahesh Lunch Home has formed a triumvirate of its own sorts today, with three outlets at Juhu, Fort and Vashi.
Where: Kings Apartment, Juhu Tara Road, Juhu
Cost: Rs 1500 for two
III. Dakshin ITC
The cuisines of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh find a confluence point at the luxurious Dakshin restaurant in ITC Maratha, where humble and royal recipes alike come together to form a menu that sidesteps the generic idlis and dosas to bring you a diverse spread from Chettinad, Nellore, Mangalore, Kerala, Mysore, Tanjore, to name just a few.
Vijay Malhotra, Executive Chef, ITC Maratha, explains, “The local mindset still thinks of South Indian cuisine hovering around idli, dosa, sambhar and vada, and nothing beyond. Therefore, probably, the entrepreneurs here are less adventurous in testing their hands at running a fine dine South Indian restaurant.”
Specialities like the Andhra Gongura Mamsam (a fiery red delicacy where boiled mutton is cooked with sautéed chopped onions, cumin seeds, ginger-garlic paste, gongura leaves, red chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and curry leaves), the Keralite meen moilee (a low-spice coconut milk-based fish curry made with green chilly, turmeric and curry leaves) and the Kannadiga masa stew, a fiery mutton delicacy to singe the taste-buds in the best possible way, find their way onto your plates here at their most authentic.
Subtle flavours receive the attention they deserve here - often overlooked in other South Indian restaurants - and the meat and fish dishes are cooked exquisitely, with special attention to their marination in spices, making for an interesting range of flavours ensconcing the distinctive feast of flavours that the Southern part of the country is home to. Rice-based and coconut-dishes reign supreme, manifesting themselves in dishes as the Keralite breakfast puttus to the sweet paayasams for desserts. Spongy appams and lacy iddiyapapams are also executed with finesse here, best teamed with the aforementioned basa stew or the home-style Kerala stew; you are truly going to be spoilt at this mecca for South Indian food.
Kick-off your meal on the right note with a shot of the tangy and delicious rasam, served in a goblet. The Iyer’s Trolley is one of their offerings that is wildly popular, a live trolley named after Chef Paramasivam Iyer, which serves mini-adais, crisp dosas, banana-flavoured dosais, fluffy and light appams and kunni paniyarams (made from steaming batter) served with an array of freshly-ground chutneys, including a tomato and onion chutney, a curry leaf chutney, coriander chutney and the quintessential coconut chutney, that compliment the savoury food delightfully. This one’s definitely a must-have.
The Madhurams (desserts) feature a range of tastes with lentils and milk, rice and coconut being combined in unique ways.
Where: ITC Maratha, Sahar Road, Andheri East
Cost: Rs 5000 for two
IV. Konkan Cafe
The fine-dining seafood restaurant at the Vivanta by Taj hotel is modelled after ‘Nallu Kettu’, a typical single courtyard house in Kerala, and offers tempting fare from the coastal region bracketed by the Sahyadri range and the Arabian sea; a handful of scrumptious delicacies from way down South are on offer.
Chef Ananda Solomon takes the helm here, having ‘spent months in people’s homes down south, gleaning secret skills from wizened old ladies whom he persuaded to share their recipes. Coconut, rice and fish are consequently revered here for the role they play in South Indian food in all its complex variations, and freshness and flavour take precedence, with the spices hand-ground and the food even cooked in earthenware vessels.
Solomon himself cited the curdee (prawn) mango as his favourite dish, consisting of grated raw mango cooked with curry leaves, onions, green chillies and garlic, with small prawns marinated in turmeric and lime juice added at the end.
“I’ve had some of the best coastal seafood here, and I linger over their seafood display for long, planning my meal, which is always a memorable experience,” Best Eats judge Sanjiv Khamgaonkar has said about Konkan Cafe.
The Mangalorean fish curry, spicy and bursting with flavour, meen polichattu (fresh fish cooked in a delectable, rich gravy and then wrapped in banana leaves and roasted) and the seafood thalis are the items on the menu your eyes should be peeled for to experience this for yourself. As a part of the thali, bowls of spicy sambhar, tangy rasam, fish fry, fish curry in red sauce, traditional chicken curry and masala bhaat present themselves even as you salivate over the aromas. Malabar parottas and fluffy appams accompany the spread, with the fish fry absolutely lip-smacking, the succulent flaky fish crusted with crunchy semolina to balance texture and taste alike. Cooked in red onion and tomato, the fish curry is delicious and the chicken curry is made with whole pods of garlic, lots of onion and curry leaves - with both dishes spiced expertly, making them culinary feats in themselves.
Where: Vivanta by Taj President, 90, Cuffe Parade
Cost: Rs 3000 for two
[If this article makes you painfully hungry, allow us to add to your discomfort by gently encouraging you to read more on Mumbai’s best thali options, or perhaps the city’s best seafood. No? Breakfast then? Ok that’s enough sadism for one day.]
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