Sunday, February 28, 2010

Matunga mein mini-Madras!

To be politically correct, the title should have been ... Matunga mein mini-Chennai, but I don't think anyone in Matunga or Chennai would care too much. In fact I am pretty sure that the ones in Matunga may even take offence at the politically corrected title.

Matunga runs a sub-culture that has a piquant Tam-Bram flavour, laced with a undertone of an unlikely Gujarati seasoning. While the restaurants here are mainly run by South Indians, all other shops are dominated by Gujaratis (who, incidentally, speak pretty good Tamil). Though the dominant restaurant cuisine here is South Indian, the customers are mainly Gujarati. I've even been to a DVD shop run by a Gujarati, who knew all the latest Tamil movie hits. Such is the bipolarity of Matunga.

Originally the South Indians who settled here were Tamilians, but very few restaurants are run by them. Perhaps because Tamilian Brahmins are traditionally risk-averse job-seekers, most of the restaurants here are owned by the more entrepreneurial migrants from Udupi. There's perhaps a restaurant for every 500 residents of Matunga, but despite the high density, the search for the appropriate place to eat in Matunga can be quite a task.

The most famous place to eat in Matunga is arguably Rama Nayak's Udipi Shri Krishna Lodging situated adjacent to Matunga station. Tomes have been written about the place and its food (where you can ask to be served on a plantain leaf). The food here is very tasty, but has more Udipi overtones than Tamilian. There are two main food-types available here; limited and unlimited (which implies that one can have any amount of anything, barring the dessert) and takeaways are also welcome.

Judging from the crowd outside this place, Madras Cafe could be adjudged the second most famous place in Matunga . This is a small place in the road corner in King's Circle which you may even miss if you dont pay close attention. The variety, quality and consistency of the food here is delectable provided you manage a place to sit. Peserrettu (a coarse grain dosa) is my personal favourite and this place undisputedly has the best kaapi in all of Mumbai.

Rama Nayak (Air Conditioned), on the Kings Circle, is the third place I frequent to satiate my inherited tastes, especially for a late Sunday breakfast (because very strangely, this place only opens at 11:00 am). Their rice preparations are light and tasty and I quite often pack myself a few curd-rice (this is the place where I learnt the combination of fried cummin seeds in curd rice) and bisibelahuli anna (a rice dish mixed with vegetables and sambar like gravy) to last me a few meals at home. There are several others which also make grade like Sundar's, Mani's, Mysore Cafe and Idli House (a place which exclusively serves idlis).

I've had rasam, the ambrosia of South Indians, at all these restaurants and am quite amazed at the variety available, with each place having its own unique taste and flavour.  Change a few ingredients and type of rasam-powder, and your end product is unrecognizable. When I make rasam at home, I use a recipe given by Gouri, my younger sister. I had called her when I was going through rasam-pangs one day and she recited this to me. It  don't know where she got this recipe from, but it seems like a family hand-me-down, because I din't even find similar ones mentioned in  the bible of Tamilian cooking 'Cook and See' (Samayatha paar).

The traditional use of rasam is to mix with rice (like sambar), but it can also be a delightful drink with its hot and tangy flavour. This concoction is also a cure for a bad cold/cough, or even for a day which has gone below expectations. Of all the types of rasam I know, this one mentioned here is the easiest and fastest.

Mulaga-Jeera-Poond rasam (Pepper-Cummin-Garlic rasam)

Main ingredients

- 2 medium-sized tomatoes, cut into quarters
- 1 green chilli
- Extraced juice of one small lime sized tamarind ball
- 600 ml water
- Quarter teaspoon of asafoetida
- Half teaspoon of rasam powder (or sambar powder, though preferably the previous)
- 10-12 fresh curry leaves
- Salt to taste
- Quarter teaspoon turmeric powder
- 10-12 pods of black pepper, 1 tsp of cummin seeds, 6-8 medium garlic pods (crushed together)

Other ingredients

- Two handfuls of finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
- 300 ml water
- 1 tsp of ghee or groundnut oil
- 1 dried red chilli
- 1/2 tsp of cummin seeds


1. Take all the main ingredients and half the chopped coriander leaves and bring it to a boil in a open container. Let the water reduce to half.
2. Add the balance 300 ml of water, and keep at simmer for 10-12 minutes.
3. Just before talking off the fire, add the balance coriander leaves
4. Heat ghee/groundnut oil, add the red chilli for 10 seconds and then add the cummin seeds till brown. Drop  this into the container and cover.


  1. Hi,
    This Rasam usually is made with Karuveppilai (curry leaves)and not Coriander. But there is always the option. The Tadka is usually done with Ghee. Use this and se ethe difference. And U can fry the asafoetida powder too with the tadka.


    U know!!

  2. Very true, what Ramachandra Guha had once said in an interview. That while America is the world's melting pot, India is the world's salad bowl. So different communities and traditions and cultures can co-exist. So you have a mini-Madras in Matunga, and a mini-Calcutta in what's a predominantly Punjabi neighbourhood in Delhi.

    - Arindam

  3. So appropriate - I do prefer to be a carrot in a salad bowl. Keeps the distinct individual flavours intact...