Most people in Mumbai will unanimously agree that you do get the best filter coffee in Matunga. The patrons who frequent these Udupi cafes call it 'kaapi' and their story is as distinct as the drink they brew for eager customers every day.
The origin of most of the food you get in Matunga can be traced back to Udupi, a district in Karnataka. Udupi is 58 kms away from Mangalore. It’s also the birthplace of A Rama Nayak, the founder of the first Udupi Restaurant in Mumbai.
A Rama Nayak came to Bombay in 1930s. His aim was to serve meals to as many people as possible. The benchmark of affordability was what a blue-collar mill worker in Bombay could pay for that meal. Affordability for healthy and hearty food is the mantra on which these Udupi Cafes flourished. Amba Bhavan in 1933, Café Mysore in 1934, Mani’s Lunch Home in 1937 and Café Madras in 1940 followed suit. Office goers, mill workers, students and local residents embraced these Udupi cafes and over a period of time, they became a place to stop over for quick meals or a cup of coffee.
Café Madras is the most popular Udupi Cafe. Gopal Kamath started the café in 1940 along with the head chef who came from Madras and gave the café its name. When Café Madras completed 75 years in 2015, it served all dishes at the rates in which they were served in 1940. It was a unique gesture and most of the regular patrons retained the bill as a memento.
Ramashraya is another place that locals swear by. Just like the other Udupi cafés, they have a Pineapple Sheera that is served every day and is a signature dish. Along with that, they also have a new sheera on the menu on a daily basis. Chikoo, strawberry, mango, badam and butterscoth are some of the famous variants. Aside: The Mysore Rava Onion Sada served here is one of the best dosas in the city.
“Where do you get the best Filter Coffee in Matunga?” is the most frequently asked question to every Matunga resident. The most popular answer to this is invariably Amba Coffee Bhavan. The café is named after Goddess Amba who is worshipped in owner Shripati Rao’s native place in Udupi District.
Mani’s lunch home is another iconic place. While other cafés are run by owners whose origins can be traced to Udupi or Mangalore, the owners of Mani’s (as it is fondly called) are Brahmins from Kerala. Mani’s started in 1937 and was named after the founder of the cafe. Raman who was an accounts officer in a software company for 12 years is taking the family business ahead. He confirms that food cooked here is how it is cooked in Kerala Brahmin homes and that jaggery is not used in any of the café’s preparations that you will come across at other places in Matunga.
Arya Bhavan serves very good Brahmin Idli, Panniyaram and Bisebele Bhaat. The Dilkhush Dosa at Ayyapans is a must try. Café Mysore has its own version of Dilkhush Dosa and a very innovative Idli Gadbad.
It will only be fair to end this story by going back to restaurant of A Rama Nayak who bought Udupi food to Mumbai. Even after eight decades, the place is still popular for a healthy meal. The owners know most of the regular patrons personally. People who serve the food walk without any footwear. Patrons can walk into their kitchen to check how the food is being prepared.
Also, if you waste their sambar or rasam, you have to pay a fine of Rs 13. The logic behind this is that you’re lucky to have food. There are many who are not so lucky, so it’s important that you respect food. In so many years, I don’t remember any patron referred to people serving food to them as a “waiter”. Waiter might be a disrespectful term here.
Matunga with its Udupi food completes the South Indian vegetarian palate in Mumbai’s extremely diverse food scene. But one thing that is unique about Matunga that other places struggle with – you can walk into any Udupi Café & you can be assured of healthy food at great value for money. Each and every one of the 11 Udupi café’s here deliver on that promise. It’s safe to say that the legacy of A Rama Nayak Is well and truly hallmarked in the pantheon of food greats!
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