If Kolkata has its (fast receding) Chinatown in Tangra and Delhi has its Bengali para in C R Park, then Mumbai has its South Indian settlement in Matunga as a city within a city.
A walk down Matunga with its South Indian temples, vendors selling vegetables used in South Indian cooking, flower sellers selling ornate garlands for the temples, filter coffee shops from which waft in the aromas of coffee and women walking around in South Indian saris and men in folded lungis (veshti), seems to transport you to a different world while still in Mumbai.
Matunga has quite a few restaurants run by folks from Udipi in Karnataka which offer vegetarian South Indian food. The prices are very reasonable, the food is made and served fresh, the places are packed and you might have to share a table. The restaurants are patronised by local South Indians as well as Mumbaikars from across the city. Coming to Matunga on a weekend to have breakfast is quite the Mumbai ritual.
There is the two storied Arya Bhavan which is one of the very few places to have an air-conditioned section here. Matunga fan, Vipul Yadav, who took me on a Matunga food walk, recommends the idlis and bisi bele bhath and the small vada like paniyaram at Arya Bhavan.
Another place, especially popular for breakfast, is Ram Ashraya. It is a deep, cavernous place and yet you have to queue to get in in the morning. It is famous for its semolina-based sheera, rava dosa and filter coffee.
Talking of coffee, you should also try the filter coffee at the Amba Bhavan Coffee Club along with pesarattu dosas and kadi vadas. They have a sign here requesting patrons to eat in silence!
Udipi Sri Krishna near the Matunga central station is a Mumbai legend which is popular for its thalis. There is a cheaper thali with fixed portions served on a stainless steel plate and a relatively more expensive unlimited thali served on banana leaves. The queue to get in during meal hours is manic and yet orderly. They put a premium on cleanliness at Udipi Sri Krishna’s and encourage guests to check out their kitchen.
Closer to Matunga Circle on the main road is Cafe Madras which is also packed during meal hours with people happily munching into its dosas and vadas.
Idli House at King’s Circle is worth checking out. It is a tiny place set up by the new generation of the Rama Nayak family. It offers a variety of freshly made idlis which you can wash down with some robust filter coffee. The pepper idli is my favourite.
So now you know where to head to next time you crave for South Indian vegetarian food in Mumbai.
Fun fact – Matunga is so named as it was once a place where a king used to ‘park’ his elephants!
Kalyan Karmakar authors the popular award winning blog, Finely Chopped and is an authority on the food of Mumbai. His extensive knowledge of the city's food scene has been featured in publications such as Femina, Mumbai Mirror and BCC Good Food. He was one of the founding critics of EazyDiner's Mumbai team.