Being anywhere remotely close to Matunga East for me has always meant eating at one of the South Indian joints. A lot of our working saturdays (my office is in Matunga West) are planned around going for a Keralan meal at Mani’s Lunch Home or wolfing down hot rasam-vadas and paniyarams at Arya Bhawan. Two weeks ago when I planned a trip to Shanmukhanand in Sion to attend a concert, my brain was already hatching ideas to eat at either Arya Bhawan or the legendary Mysore Cafe.
On Sunday afternoon we drove to Sion and I suddenly realized that I was a hop, skip and jump away from Sion Koliwada. Which meant that Chawla’s chole-kulche joint mentioned by Gaurav on his blog (Eating Out In Bombay) was somewhere here. I asked around and we paced towards the area which was soon to become a mini Punjabi food paradise for me in Mumbai.
The tandoors (clay ovens) outside every shop took me back to my childhood when every summer holiday was spent eating rotis straight out of these tandoors. My nana-nani’s (maternal grandparents) village in district Udhamsingh Nagar was inhabited by Punjabis and there wasn’t a single house without a large tandoor in its courtyard. After the last game of eye-spy or langdi-kabaddi when we walked back home in the evening, calls of “rotti kha le” (come have food) from every home would entice us; their doors always stood ajar to welcome whoever was passing by.
Back in Sion Koliwada I was walking past counters lined with imartis and mathris and shops filled with jars full of pickles. But the partially downed shutters and cold tandoors made my heart sink. The Gods of food were definitely smiling on us cause we spotted Chawla’s at a corner, tandoor still fired up and people still sitting and eating.
Few rickety tables and wooden benches made the road-side eatery’s sitting area. An old, Punjabi uncle took our order – 1 plate kulche-chole, 1 plate chole-bhature, 2 chaas, 1 plate dahi all for just Rs 90.
Practiced hands of the cook stuffed dough with spicy potato mix, rolled it into a round disk and slapped the disk against the inner wall of tandoor to let it roast. As the kulcha cooked slowly my mind wandered to a similar road-side dhaba in Amritsar where I had eaten the best kulchas of my life almost 10 years ago. The potato stuffed flat-bread with crispy layers, laden with butter and served with spicy chole has been one of my best food memories. Mouth salivating and tummy rumbling in anticipation, we sat down to eat. The mashed, dark brown chole were the exact replica of my Amritsar memories and baloon like puffed bhature were stretchy, like a bhatura should be. The kulcha didn’t have so many layeres and wasn’t so crisp but every inch of it was stuffed with delighful potato masala. We washed this down with thick, cold chaas flavoured with cumin powder and coriander.
Our hearts completely satisfied, our tummies slightly heavier, as we walked back it was the sweet shop distracting us again. The good fortune was still shining on me and I found chhena murki – sweet made of cottage cheese and dipped in sugar syrup, something I was craving for two days ago. Mouth stuffed with chhena murkis and stomach full with kulche-chole, we walked out of the mini Punjab in the heart of Mumbai.