Matunga in Mumbai is just the place to visit when you’re missing south India. From the aroma of freshly-ground coffee to foaming steel tumblers of filter coffee, from crispy Mysore rava dosa to piping hot rasam vada, Matunga has everything that any south-Indian food fanatic would want. Among the most easily accessible parts of Mumbai (as all the three lines converge here), Matunga is where many of the resident south-Indians head when they want to stock up on specific ingredients or just eat comfort food. From tiffin places to thali-only restaurants, there’s fresh and hygienic south-Indian fare on offer throughout the day. Most eateries function all day long but a large part of their business gets done by breakfast. Usually crowded, except at odd-hours, there are some that encourage sharing tables with other diners during the busy hours. The service is real quick but often the crowds translate into a 10-15 min waiting period.
Ram Ashraya which opens at 5:30 am in the morning should be first on this list. And, though tough to imagine, there is actually a queue on weekends before opening hour! That says everything about its popularity. Ram Ashraya is famous for its upma and sheera. Mysore Rava dosa, which remains crisp and warm even if you take it away as a parcel and have it after an hour, is among its most well-known items. The food is reasonable and the service, quick and efficient. The outlet itself is slightly more spacious than many others in this part of town, which ensure that the waiting time is only a few minutes.
Madras Café, also located near King’s Circle, Matunga, is one of the most iconic eateries in Mumbai. It celebrated its 75th Anniversary in November, 2015. To celebrate the completion of 75 years, Cafe Madras took all of its customers by a pleasant surprise. In the morning hours, all items were sold at 1940 rates. Idlis and Dosas were sold under a rupee and coffee for a rupee. Madras Cafes most popular items include the ‘Idli Butter Pudi’ and the ‘Madras Missal.’
The Udipi Idli House is a unique joint in Matunga. It serves only idlis - all the way from Kanchipuram idlis to masala idlis, vegetable idlis to plain idlis. The service is super quick and the food usually takes less than 5 minutes to arrive after the order is placed. The idlis are served with a variety of chutneys. Do note that they actually charge you for wastage (we love this about them!). So don’t waste sambhar when you visit.
Started in 1937 by V.S. Mani Iyer, Mani’s Lunch Home serves a wide variety of rice during lunch, followed by crisp dosas of various types for evening tiffin. Kela bhajji, Rasam Vada and Adai dosas are their top sellers. Also, this is the only outlet in Matunga (apart from Idli House) that doesn’t charge patrons for extra chutney or sambar.
A decent selection of thalis can be found at Thambbi, which is an air-conditioned restaurant and also more expensive than the others outlets in Matunga. The Set Dosa is most popular, where they serve three kinds of dosas in one dish. However, if thalis are what one is craving, Rama Nayak is the place to visit. Established in 1942, this basic-looking, non air-conditioned eatery, tucked away on the first floor of a simple building, serves hygienic, fresh food every meal. The food is prepared twice a day so there are no leftovers. Instructions such as 'Please buy your tokens in advance', 'Unused coupons can be used next time', 'Try eating in leaf in Indian way, without spoon' and 'Udipi means good food' give away the spirit of the place. Customer-friendly, efficient service is characteristic as are the long queues. The outlet is divided into 2 sections - a plate (limited thali) section and a leaf (unlimited thali) section. Like Udipi Idli House, Rama Nayak also fines for wastage of food. (The two eateries have a common owner.)
The thali usually consists of three vegetable curries, sambar, and rasam. A couple of chapatis/phulkas or three puris, two cups of rice , crunchy papadum, curd, chhaas (buttermilk) and sweet dishes complete the hearty meal.
A couple of other places deserve to be part of this south-Indian food trail. Ayyappan, a road side stall near Matunga Central Station, serves a fine range of different vadas. Pick from dal vada, medu vada and different bhajjis. Café Mysore at King’s Circle is also popular for its tiffin items. Its tangy, spicy tomato rasam is perfect for rainy Mumbai evenings. Order a vada to dunk in the rasam and you're in for a delectable treat. The dosas and uttapams are good too and the coffee is among the best around Matunga.