What do you do when you are awake at 5.30 am in Mumbai and craving for a hearty breakfast? At 5.30 am, your options are sorely limited. Thank heavens for Matunga. You can head there and have a very satisfying and healthy South Indian breakfast. Lest you think I am some sort of a health freak who gets up at this unearthly hour to jog, let me set the record straight. The only reason I will ever be awake at 5.30 am is when I am jet lagged after a trip to North America. And the only exercise any part of my body is craving then is my stomach which is still thinking lunch time.
You can zip from Bandra to Matunga at that time in 15 minutes flat, thanks to the lack of traffic. In saner hours this distance will take about an hour to cover, which itself is a deterrent for me to venture there. If you are familiar with Mumbai, you will know that the Matunga area has a large population of South Indians and the area has considerable South Indian look, feel and flavour. A quick search on the internet revealed that there were four restaurants which are famous for breakfast grub- Manis, Ram Ashraya, Madras Café and Arya Bhavan. But since only Ram Ashraya is open at 5.30 in the morning, we didn’t have to choose. The rest all open at 7.00 am.
When driving from Dadar to Matunga, you will see trucks full of green leafy vegetables unloading their wares- these are wholesalers from outside selling to retailers. It is quite crowded and busy even at this hour. Ditto at the restaurant. Don’t assume that you will find parking right away and right in front of the restaurant, though you will find it at this hour. Upon entering, you will find the restaurant as full as if it were lunch hour. You might even need to wait for a table. Many of the patrons are dressed in their exercise clothes (these are the health freaks of whom I am always terribly suspicious). The crowd is a mixture of upmarket and aam admi. The place is very basic, with no frills in the décor. There is no menu handed to you. You have to read the menu scribbled on the black board hung up in the centre, or ask the waiter.
The days specials were listed as following: masala toast, sabudana vada, pudina batata vada and bun puri. I was intrigued by the last, since I’d never had it. But if I wanted to get anything of bun, I would have gone to an Irani restaurant. When it opened for business, ofcourse. So I decided to skip these exotics and focus on what I had come for- idlis, dosa and filter coffee. We started with butter idlies which were drenched with butter. You need to order multiple plates because there is only one idli in a butter idle plate. However in the plain idli plate, there are two. Go figure.
There is something to be said about idlis made in good Udipi restaurants. The dough is fermented just right, which imparts the right amount of sourness to the idlis, while still leaving them fluffy and airy. You can gobble these babies up in seconds. The chutney and the sambar were very good too. All these places start serving dosa a bit later in the morning, so after 6.00 am. So we ordered more idlis and butter idlis, tea, coffee- both of these came in a glass placed in a small bowl/vati, so you can pour from the glass into the bowl and back to the glass to make your drink frothy and bubbly and bring it to the right temperature. Yummy, sweet and milky- just the way I like it. Again, order multiples- as the quantity is teeny tiny. We also ordered sabudana vada, which were average, nothing to write home about. By then they had started serving dosa and soon they brought our ghee sada dosas to our table. These were certainly the piece de resistance. Crisp, golden and savoury, we wolfed them down immediately and I was craving for seconds but there was just no space in my tummy. And all this divine food was for less than 10 US dollars!
For sure the US is a developed and clean country, but I was so happy to be back home to have this wonderful culinary experience.
So next time, you are jet lagged, head to Ram Ashraya. You wont regret it.