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Matunga. A walk in the idli clouds

When you love someone more than they love you, it can drive you a little crazy. When you love someone who doesn’t care that you do… what do you do then? What do you do when you take a leap of faith and the ground below your feet crumbles away? What do you do when you look up from your sand castle and you’re the only kid in the playground?

I go back to a time of unconditional love: breakfast with my grandparents.

Having grown up a Punjabi in Hyderabad, idli-dosa may not have been the most obvious choice for breakfast. Yet, every weekend Dada & Dadi Ma would take us to Hotel Harsha for topi dosas or Sarovar for 70mm dosas and some post-meal swan feeding. More than anything else, I remember those mornings as pure joy. But sometimes I can barely recall their faces. And on these days people like Vipul aka Sporty Baba arrive like food angels. Not so long ago he organised a walk through Matunga’s cafés and I was allowed a quick glimpse at the joy of my childhood.

I stepped out of my cab and almost stepped on to a very tiny person. She was the smallest flower seller, with the brightest smile I had ever seen. Anxious to start eating, I bought an overpriced gajra and made my way to Arya Bhavan. We began with cylindrical Brahmin Idlis (Rs. 85) and “flying saucer” Paniyaram (Rs. 80). Our waiter didn’t have the patience to explain the difference or story behind the shapes to me but I was given one version of the story by a TamBrahm couple a few weeks later. There was a time when idlis used to be cooked in bamboos – we’ve moved on to steel steamers but the cylindrical shape seems to have stuck for the Brahmin Idlis.

IMG_4954The Paniyarams, traditionally only made at home, have a more Ayurvedic heritage. I was told that when buttermilk turned sour, which according to sattvic diets causes distress in our bodies, it would be added to the idli batter for a sweet/salty evening snack.

IMG_4955Our next stop was Ramashraya a few doors down. The dish to order here is Upma (Rs. 27). Even though we had three more stops ahead of us we couldn’t resist an Onion Mysore Rava Dosa (Rs. 52) and my staple order at all Udupis, a Sada Dosa (Rs. 32). Vipul insisted on also ordering their sheera (Rs. 35) – pineapple and blackcurrant. I did not care much for the weirdly flavoured sludge but an order of sheera seemed to be going to almost every table in the house.
We strolled through leafy colonies and coffee-tinged streets sprinkled with flowers and fruit sellers. It didn’t feel like any Bombay I had ever been to.

IMG_4903 IMG_4958 IMG_4957 Around the corner from Matunga’s famous Asthika Samaj temple is Amba Bhavan. Best coffee (Rs. 22) I’ve ever had. Just the best. After a customary stop at Mysore Concerns to buy coffee, we joined the longest queue in Matunga.

In Bombay’s dining scene, I have seen no greater equaliser than an Udupi café. And Café Madras is a perfect example of this. Cool-hunters and proper diners alike stood in a queue that snaked around the block – no reservations, no do-you-know-who-I-am, no special treatment. While in the queue I eavesdropped on taste debates of Café Madras over Café Mysore, Kamat-style sambhar over real sambhar, butter over white butter – this was my kinda crowd.

IMG_4952We ordered more food than we should have and licked our plates clean. The standout dish for me was Idli Butter Podi (Rs. 55), with an extra order of Mulga Pudi (Rs. 15). No synonym for cloud, soft, airy can do these idlis justice. A strong contender for my Last Meal…

Our final stop was at a decidedly non-Udupi shop – Gupta Chaat Centre for Chocolate Sandwiches (Rs. 50) run by six brothers from Uttar Pradesh. Would I come back? Probably not. Was it the perfect end to our walk around Matunga? Absolutely.

IMG_4959As I hailed down a cab I saw the tiny flower seller again, and not for the first time think about life occurring in circles.

I started this blog four years ago to distract myself from heartbreak. Four years of distractions later I find not much has changed. Life occurs in circles for as long as you let it I suppose. For as long as you choose distraction over dealing with things. The time seems right to stop for a while – the distractions, and this blog – while I learn how to deal with things.


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