Waltz In Matunga

Time out of office on a weekday is always fun. Even if you do have to get back to work eventually. It would be funner if the rest of the day was an unscheduled holiday, of course, but one makes do with what one gets.

So I find myself sauntering down a road that was probably desiged to be a nice, quiet side-street with colony gates opening into it but has metamorphosed instead. The road has grown up and now sees hourly traffic snarls, cars and cabs zooming and vrooming up and down and a bright neon multiplex thrusting itself in between the faded painted hoardings that came up about fifteen years ago (when the road was oh, about in its teens).

It’s scorching hot after a week of grey skies and incessant rain. Great, I left my sunglasses behind and carried my extra-heavy-duty rain protection gear instead, that’s making my otherwise ubercool bag bulge like a pillow. No matter I tell myself, in Matunga, nobody will mind.

No taxiwalla is willing to ferry me to the station and my stomach is starting to make itself (or its emptiness) felt so I pause, mid-traffic to think. If I were in Dadar, I’d pop in to sample some no-frills delicious Mahrashtrian cuisine. I spend a peaceful few seconds thinking about kokum sharbat, patra, shrikhand-puri and masale bath. The honking behind me jolts me out of my reverie so I rush on. Bandra and I would have stepped into any of the cafes, restaurants and hangouts I know so well. Town has its own delights. Even if Tea Center has ceased to function, there’s always Samrat where I’ve enjoyed many a solo lunch with the waiters dancing attendance. Yes, I know, I know that Gujjus don’t consider Samrat fare as ‘good food’ but like I said, one makes do with what one has.

My gastronomical soliloquy has carried me comfortably down the entire stretch and I’m almost near the station. I sense an Udipi close by and I walk in. Did I say ‘sense’ it? Yes, when one is hungry, one’s senses are much heightened and besides can any Mumbaiker miss the Shetty-style maroon/navy blue uniform-clad water boys, cleaners and waiters? I’m in Udipi land alright. Except…I’m most surprised to find the place almost deserted. An Udipi at lunchtime deserted? Besides I’m fairly certain I’ve been to this one before and it has reasonably nice food. Nonplussed I drift to one of the empty seats, taking in the darkness in the nether sections and waiters in huddles. One of them directs me to the inevitable ‘A.C.Room’ upstairs. I trudge upstairs only to find one single waiter and one sole customer both looking at me very curiously. So I back out, my customary confidence vaporizing and other senses taking over (“Yikes!”) and decide to sit downstairs.

The man at the cash register a few feet away whispers loudly to one of the water-boys to…

Remove ash-tray!

Funny, I’ve never seen an ash-tray in an Udipi before. But the water-boy shows up and I forget all, savouring the cool water in a way only someone who has walked down a road on a hot day can. I run my gaze down the menu. Chicken items, Mutton items, Egg curries, Fish dishes, Snacks (yes, they spell it right!) and beverages. Uh….in an Udipi? Of course I know that the Shetty clan are as carnivorous as the next guy and enjoy their fish and meat. But you’ll never find even the smell of one of them in an Udipi. And ummm, has anyone in Matunga heard of meat?

Tentatively I ask,

This used to be a vegetarian restaurant?

The waiter shakes his head and then comprehension dawning late says,

No, this is a bar. Our veg restaurant is across the road.

YIIIIIIIIIIIIKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKES!!!!!!!!!!

So, of course, I beat a hasty retreat. If you need to ask….well forget it, don’t even ask.

Across the road I wonder if the glass of water I had, tasted any different from a restaurant. What if they had spiked it? Someone spiked my Breezer with beer once! I shudder off all those annoying senses that are surrounding me and tell myself firmly that

I would know if someone spiked my drink. And what’s a little beer going to do to a rum drinker?

In the vegetarian restaurant (which, I note is bustling with activity, much to my relief) I sink into a chair right near the entrance. Two minutes later the menu still hasn’t been arrived and I haven’t even been given a glass of water (not that I’d need another one after that beer-spiked glass I downed not five minutes back). So I scowl in impatience and move to a better location. Right near the mirrored walls, on the sofa side where I have a view of cashier, water boys, waiters, wash-basin and the door to the kitchen.

What I need is a good thali. Nothing like simple pseudo-home fare to calm the (beer-spiked) nerves. The shiny steel platter arrives in exactly the time it takes me to walk to the wash-basin and come back. Three soft and thin chappatis (I hate those doughy, chewy parathas or ‘parotas’ as the southie restaurants call them) surrounded by round katoris all along the rim. The curd is set in the katori and I break the smooth surface to test it. I note that the cream is just thick enough to bend a little before breaking but light enough to not crumple. Next, the crucial taste test. Hmm….lovely! The proof of the Udipi is in the curd-eating.

One after the other, I sample each katori, deciding which ones I like and which I don’t and can be evacuated from the plate. So out goes palak gravy (*sob* but gastroentitis was enough to throw me off my favorite green veggie in the monsoons…even if today is an uncharacteristically sunny day!). The beetroot-bhaji follows suit. I never got used to that evil thing. Lovely colour, horrendous taste. No wonder they say it’s good for the blood, it tastes like blood too! The sambar-ey thing joins them (who ever heard of sambar with chappati?). So I’m left with aloo-bhaji, brinjals in a coconut-ey orange gravy, payasam (kheer), a watery brown thing that I always decide I will try but never do and the curd. I line up all the remaining katoris to the frontlines, place the mini-papad in the conclave they form and open and re-fold the three chappatis seperately. Ready to begin!

The first morsel is dunked into payasam and disappointingly yields nothing more than two dripping fingers. So I beckon to a passing waiter and ask him,

Did you just dump the liquid in? There’s no payasam here!!!

He looks ready to argue but is pulled off by his colleague who tells him to replace it. In a blink I have another fresh katori, hot this time and filled half with soft rice. Damn and I was hoping it would be semiya-payasam. Don’t tell my mum since I feign a dislike for payasam but I love the feel of a not-too-watery, not-too-sugary semiya-payasam within a chappati. Rice will do just as well so I attack tuck in. My fresh lime soda arrives in the ubiquitous beer-mug (beer again!) with a straw in it which falls off the minute it is set on the table.

Mid-way, I’m interrupted by people standing next to my seat. Ah, the next occupants standing so as to ‘grab the seat’. But they sit down instead. And I’m mighty surprised. This is two men, the sort that I’d walk past quickly on the road anticipating their stares following me down the road. But they don’t of course. This is Mumbai at lunch-hour and the rules are different. A person eating alone and sitting in a table meant for 4 (tightly squeezed) has effectively stated that they are fine with company. Company does not speak or look. The rules of the shared table are much the same as in a closed elevator. No eye-contact and hold your breath till its over. One of them steals a glance at my almost empty katoris and I retract my uncharitable thoughts on staring. Hunger speaks across languages.

Meal done, I speed up the finishing bits and ask for the bill (yes, not ‘the cheque’). On my way out, I pause to buy a beeda. A bright green betel leaf wrapped around a mysterious something, topped with colourful dried coconut and finished with a clove through it. What Udipi meal is complete without one?

* The restaurant that served up this wonderful lunch is Ganga Vihar, close to Matunga Road west.

About Ramya Pandyan
IdeaSmith is the digital doppelgänger of Ramya Pandyan. I am a writer-storyteller. I work as a Content Specialist, consulting, training and delivering Social Content that drives conversations & builds communities. Tweet me at @ideasmithy or write to me at Ideasmithy[at]gmail[dot]com.

17 Responses to Waltz In Matunga

  1. sqrlnt says:

    you;re in matunga W?! I spent all my life in Dadar and Matunga W.. let me know if you need any pointers for restaurants…yeah, and that kataria marg used to be really a small lane way back in the day..now its horrible traffic.but i still miss it :(

  2. Amey says:

    Yo had to talk about shrikhand-puri and masale bath and then give a loving description of thaali. There are some unfortunate souls who don’t get to eat thaali :(

    In that spirit, why would anyone spike water with beer? Aren’t there stronger options available? :D

  3. Philip says:

    Forgive me, but may I venture to suggest that the watery brown thing may have been rasam? And semiya payasam with chapathi is plain sacrilege – I don’t know where you get such horrendous ideas from :)

    Philips last blog post..An Apple a Day Will Make You Bankrupt in Two Days

  4. maxdavinci says:

    whatay description. its just unfair!
    11 in the morning here and i’malready thinking of lunch.
    hard to visualize my boring salad/sandwich as a thaali

  5. neha says:

    Thank you so much for making me feel hungry. :(

  6. Lekhni says:

    I am so glad I read this while eating my lunch :) (Else, I would have felt hungry too)

    You’ve never tried sambar with chapati? I will eat chapatis with anything that has a gravy or is semi-liquid :) But not semiya payasam :o

  7. Adithya says:

    Nice lunch!

    Wait, Matunga you say? Have you been to Maha Bhoj? I hope it’s still there. You HAVE to go there. It is proper meals, maami mess style! And the curd and buttermilk! If I remember correctly, it comes little bit further from Welingkar Institute of Management on the opposite side. It’s been five years, I don’t remember exactly. But if you know Giri Trading Center in Matunga, just keep going forward and the road turns left. It comes on the right. Tiny place. Please go and have full meals! Blog about it or tweet your thoughts! :p

    Adithyas last blog post..Come a Full Circle

  8. RukmaniRam says:

    “This used to be a vegetarian restaurant?”
    “No, this is a bar. Our veg restaurant is across the road.”

    That happened to me too! (although, thankfully, I did not sit down in there!)

    RukmaniRams last blog post..Gander in danger

  9. Renovatio says:

    I think I live there. Fairly close at least. A minute away from the Magnet.

    Renovatios last blog post..Bombay it is.

  10. Monsoon says:

    I’m glad I spent a few minutes reading this… For reasons that cannot be understood and neither can be explained. But thanks :-)

    Monsoons last blog post..Lost

  11. ok. now i am terribly hungry suddenly. and thirsty hic.

    A Cynic in Wonderlands last blog post..Kyuki Sassy Bhi Kabhi Bahu thi

  12. IdeaSmith says:

    @ sqrlnt: Mumbai used to be pretty.

    @ Amey: I don’t know. Why would anyone go to a beer bar in Matunga?

    @ Philip: The same place I get the nice (read boring) ones from. :twisted:

    @ maxdavinci, neha, Cynic: Muhahahahaha :mrgreen:

    @ Adithya: Thengyu for the tip-off. Will visit and blog/tweet as instructed, saar!

    @ RukmaniRam: No kidding! Same place?

    @ Renovatio: Perhaps. I’m not too sure where Magnet is.

    @ Monsoon: Thank you! And welcome to The Idea-smithy!

  13. Kartik says:

    If you’re looking for ‘fusion’ udipi food like idli burger and pav bhaji dosa, I’d recommend Shree Sunders’ just outside Matunga central stn … Appetizing, eh? :smile:

  14. puja says:

    this isnt matunga.. its matunga road… matunga central is heavn n paradise:(

  15. phantomlover says:

    A nice title (not many would know about the Australian bush song: Waltzing Matilda nowadays), followed by an incredibly boring write-up. I think that you are a male? And if so, the interjection: YIIIKKKKES is very strange. What was so bad about the bar, if it was clean, empty and had a menu? If price was the issue, then no problems. And why should they spike your water with anything? Even beer costs money!! What makes you think the reader will be interested in the rot gut food you ate in that godforsaken Udipi joint? I am really and truly surprised as to why you chose to write about it all!!

    Post-script: I have been to Udupi (the original), Karnataka, several times, from where this hoopla about Udupi food started. You might be surprised to know that Udupites are not quite aware of Udupi food, and even if they are, they do not appreciate the trash being dished out all over India in the name of Udupi food.

    • IdeaSmith says:

      @phantomlover: Since we’re being rabid, how about we talk about your flawed assumption of my gender? I’m a woman. Now go back and read the post in that context. Maybe the weirdness of being in a dingy, unoccupied, out-of-the-way bar, especially when one is looking for a crowded, brightly-lit gender-secular lunch house might come to you.

      And what’s with the venom about ‘rot gut food you ate in that godforsaken Udipi joint’? Have you even been to the restaurant in question? It’s one of the best known eating places in the area. Perhaps you’re not appreciative of the cuisine but that doesn’t mean other people aren’t.

      Post-script: I refer you to such things as Chopsuey Dosa & Shezwan sauce which have never been heard of in the places associated with them but are heartily enjoyed by people elsewhere.

      Post-post-script: I suggest you look at your own baseless assumptions and rabid comment before passing judgement on a blogpost.

  16. phantomlover says:

    Sorry for mistaking your gender, Ms Idea-Smithy. My mistake and I apologize for it. But anywaz, you should feel privileged that someone has gone through your musings, and taken the time to comment on it, twice, in this sea of millions of similar boring blogs floating around. Now my take:

    1. If you were looking for a brightly-lit lunch home, you should have walked out the minute you saw this relatively isolated place. You never mentioned the word, ‘dingy’, you just said it was deserted.
    2. I assume you to be a Mumbaikar lady, relatively emancipated.. so walking inside a bar, in broad daylight, is no big deal surely, especially, when there were no gun-toting goons, dancers or shady filmy characters around.
    3. You first described how you eliminated the food item katoris one by one, how a waiter was ready to fight because you felt that the payasam was watery etc.. In my dictionary, such food is rotgut, and however famous the eating joint, you started the criticism, not me.
    4. If you term honest criticism as ‘rabid’, I can but pity you. Honest criticism will help you improve your writing and observational skills, while desultory praise will merely make you wallow in your mistaken notions of success.

    Since you find my responses as rabid, I do hope you are upto date with your anti-rabies shots.. :-)

    Ciao

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