A story I had written a few months ago about some of the more interesting early morning eateries was featured recently in Mumbai Mirror’s Sunday edition. It includes a restaurant from which we got kicked out for having affiliations with the press. I ain’t naming names, but you should be able to figure it out.
Near Saint Michael Church, L.J. Road,Mahim, Mumbai
5:30 am to 12 am
Madina’s current brick and mortar confines have only been around for the past two decades, which by the owner, the affable Mr. Krishnan PK’s admission, accounts for merely one half of the restaurant’s tenure. Before that, it functioned as a traditional Kerala thattukada, a makeshift wooden stall serving meals off the roadside. During that era, a lack of direct flights from Kerala to Mecca and Madina, had the Malyali pilgrims travelling in hordes to Mumbai. In Mahim, a surfeit of guest houses catering to them, created a ready made pool of customers for Madina. Over the years, the trickle of travellers has stymied, the guest houses are but a distant memory and Madina Hotel’s visitors have metamorphosed into the urban immigrant subsection of the city. But the food has remained the same – South Indian fare served with the pungent zing, characteristic of Kerala cuisine.
The shutters of Madina rattle open to the clink of glasses, serving milk tea (Rs. 10) or the Sulaimani (Rs. 20), its gelf styled, black variant. Appams (Rs. 10), resembling clouds served on a plate, can be teamed with fiery egg roast (Rs. 30) or the more subtly flavored Ishtu (Rs. 30), the Kerala-styled vegetable stew. Another typically malayalee breakfast dish are crumbly cylinders of finely ground rice, laced with grated coconut known as puttu (Rs. 10). Club this with spicy kadala (chana) curry (Rs. 25) to sprout fresh strands of curling chest hair.
Bhandarkar Road, Matunga East, Mumbai
5 am – 9:30pm
When the Late Jayaram Shetty’s udupi style restaurant began operations, Matunga was home to the south Indian proletariat that worked in the mills that Mumbai now, in some cases literally, stands on. The now defunct electric tram had become the poor man’s mode of transportation with King’s Circle its final stop. Since those days, with impeccable punctuality, Ramashray has opened its doors at five am serving a variety of dishes, of which their scrumptious idlis served with ghee and podi (Rs. 35), Mysore dosa (Rs. 51) embedded with caramelized strips of onions, the light as water Neer dosa(Rs. 41) and the unique sweet bread concoction, Bun Puri (Rs. 31), are the pick of the lot. Their signature dish, the sheera (Rs. 35) is a rich halwa made of sooji, ghee and sugar packed with nuts and raisins. And it comes in all sorts of flavors.
The restaurant is also a great stop for some early morning celebrity spotting, with Ashish Vidyarthi, Jackie Shroff, Rahul Roy, and several members of the ever growing Indian cricket team alumni, making visitations for a rejuvenating shot of Udupi hospitality. Hotel Ramashray doesn’t feature in too many tourist pilgrimages to the south Indian restaurant hub that is Matunga. But the old timers know that this is the one that has seen it all. That eighty years ago, this is where it all began.
Hotel Noor Mohammadi
181-183, Abdul Hakim Noor Mohammadi Chowk, Bhendi Bazar,
6 am – 1 am
The local populace misconstrued the convoluted British pronunciation of ‘Behind the Bazaar’ as Bhendi Bazaar and that ancient misplaced moniker has persisted. Misplaced because in this meat lover’s paradise you will be hard pressed to to find an errant leaf let alone an okra. A paradise, where Noor Mohammadi assumes pride of place like no other. Started in 1923 by the Late Abdul Karim as a bakhtiyar khana or a meat-off-the-grill vending stall, for the early morning namazi, it has evolved into a sit-down eatery of much renown. But its greatest draw remains the original dish served by Abdul Karim – Buffalo thigh, cooked through the night with the marrow and bones in large vessels, sealed with wheat dough and with a heavy weight placed over the lid for pressure – The result is a boneless strip of meat, as succulent as it is soft, packed with an explosion of flavors, swimming in a broth of wheat, marrow and ghee. Ladies and gentlemen, the Nalli Nahari (Rs. 115). There is no rival to its flavor, not even its own mutton counterpart. A dawn speciality, this one empties criminally fast, so make sure you get there early.
The kheema (Rs. 35) and dal ghee (Rs. 45) are also great additions to the breakfast checklist if you are travelling in a large enough pack. The paya is smooth and delicious and packs just the right amount of heat to fire up the senses.
Near Marol Pipeline, Andheri Kurla Road, Andheri East, Mumbai
11:00 am to 6:30 am
Multicuisine fare with a North Indian penchant and an extremely exhaustive menu with almost everything on it available, including the massive inventory of seafood items, during its late night/early morning slot, automatically earns Apna Dhaba a presence on this list. There is also something very endearingly clandestine about this place. The staff are a comical swing of the pendulum between overly helpful, frustratingly inept, suspicious or eagerly curious. Which bandwidth of their oscillation you find them in will define the quality of your visit. It will definitely boast of an anecdote, though. The restaurant opens at 11 am and shuts anytime between 3 – 7 am, if you go by the inconsistent replies of the jittery staff, who are very uncertain of what their legally congruent reply should be. But most residents of Andheri and its vicinity, with a predilection for nocturnality, say that whenever hunger has driven them to Apna Dhaba, they have never been turned away.
Apna Dhaba has a great selection of grilled meat, all of which is amply represented on their kebab platter (Rs. 600). They also serve Chinese with a dash of Indian funk, typified in their pineapple chicken lollypop (Rs. 275). But the pièce de babbar sher of the menu has to be the crisp convex disc of the kadak roomali roti masala (Rs.55), – a fire baked brittle version of the roomali roti, topped with a spicy melange of herbs and tomatoes the size of a Sakinaka pothole. Its texture is crunchy, and its flavour the right side of delicious. The Apna Dhaba chicken (Rs. 475) can be a hit or miss affair consistent with the whimsical personality of the restaurant.
Maddu Mess (featured in the snap)
Padmavati Devi Marg, Opposite IIT Market Gate, Powai, Mumbai
4:30 am to 9:00 am
If the average IQ of a restaurant’s patrons were an indicator of its quality, then the odds are heavily in favor of Maddu Mess receiving felicitations from some of the country’s finest. Located a hop, skip and a jump over a very foul smelling drain away from the gates of IIT Powai, it is the chosen brand of early morning nourishment for several generations of future builders. The innocuous admission of an apprehensive Tamilian couple into the city’s perennially in flux, immigrant, circulatory system might rarely have created a more lasting legacy. What makes the affable Pallthai and her husband Kanakraj, waiters, chefs, and proud owners of Maddu Mess that much more endearing, is that they don’t have the slightest clue about it.
There was a time when Maddu Mess was a breakfast, lunch and dinner haunt for IITians and techies from the Powai IT circuit. But ‘Aunty’ Pallathai can no longer withstand the duress of a day long operation, and hence the mess operates only between 4:30 and 9 in the morning. During this time, the orders for Anda Dosa (Rs. 25), medu vada (Rs. 10), paripu vada (Rs. 10) and fried idlis (Rs. 20) are a ceaseless affair. Each of these are how they would taste exactly in a Tamil household, right down to the sambhar, which is of the dal variety and not the spiced up gravy you might find at your local udupi. “Steer clear of the masala dosa” shouted one bespectacled boy at one of the tables to nobody in particular. You would do well to abide.
There was a time when Nagpada was a mixing pot of cultures. Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and Jews resided in veritable harmony sharing such proximities that even their buildings melded into each other. Into this atmosphere, nearly a century ago, Haji Ghulam Ali’s Sarvi breathed its first whiff of meat and spices. Times have changed. A fire had been set underneath the cultural cauldron and Nagpada is now a locality infamous for being the training ground of some of the most renowned luminaries of the Mumbai mafia. And Sarvi, with its door facing the Nagpada police station, has the best ringside seat. But inspite it lacking a proper signboard or any indication of its premises, that is hardly the reason for its inexplicable fame.
Run by the great grand descendants of Haji Ghulam Ali, Sarvi has maintained its signature flavor, an especially difficult task for its original Irani dishes, of which only the Masoor Pulao is standard early morning breakfast fare. Couple it with the subtly flavored beef kheema to experience happiness of a variety you never knew existed. Omelets and burjis and a selection of their chicken dishes are also available, but Sarvi’s speciality has always been its red meat. The bheja masala fry here is a preferred delicacy and for a beef aficionado, there is no salvation, if you haven’t sampled Sarvi’s spectacular beef seekh kebab. Both the Indian and Irani versions are available in the morning and are served with lime, onions, a few sprigs of mint and naan.