The Ultimate Mumbai Canteen Crawl
Mumbai may lag in high-end dining options, but its canteens, or dining halls, are rich in flavor while low in price tag.
Despite a small smattering of good high-end dining options, the dining scene in Mumbai, India’s financial capital and largest city, lags far behind the capital of Delhi in terms of sophistication—and even behind cities like Bangalore and Chennai in terms of diversity. Yet the city’s cosmopolitan history and democratic culture have also imparted a long tradition of simple ‘canteens’—basic dining halls where food is plentiful, cheap, and delicious. Often served on durable tin plates or simple banana leaves, expect a healthy, hearty mix for the amount you'd pay for a coffee elsewhere. Our picks around town represent the cross-section of regional cuisines that goes well beyond what you might think of simply as ‘Indian Food.’
Keralite food, from India’s palm-fringed southwestern edge, has something for everyone. Coconut-laced vegetable curries, rich mutton and chicken stews, and delicately fried fish. In the heart of the city’s historic Fort district, Deluxe is a great spot for an extravagantly flavorful, and shockingly inexpensive, banana leaf vegetarian thali, supplemented with orders of flaky, buttery Malabar paratha, squid fry, and mutton fry. Pitha Street, Fort, near Citibank on DN Road. +91-22-2204-2351.
A bit out of the way in the working-class neighborhood of Parel (not to be confused with the burgeoning business district of Lower Parel to the west), Ladoo Samrat serves some of the best renditions of Maharashtrian snacks available in the city. Try the sabudana vada—fried balls of tapioca and peanut—and dahi misal—a fiery stew of lentils and beans served with yogurt and bread. Shop No.1-2, Habib Terrace, Dr. Ambedkar Road, Lalbaug, Parel, near ITC Grand Central. +91-22-2471-0127.
Whether or not New Martin still serves “authentic” Goan cuisine (an ongoing debate) is beside the point. If you’re wandering around Colaba (most tourists will be) and fancy spicy Goan sausage or pork vindaloo, this is some of the tastiest you’ll find anywhere, and in a setting that seems unchanged in decades. Glamour House, 11 Strand Road, Apollo Bunder, Colaba. +91-22-2202-9606.
Rama Nayak’s Udipi Shri Krishna Boarding
Udipi food originates from India’s southwestern coast, below Goa and above Kerala, where the cooking is heavy on coconut and mild on spice. The unlimited vegetarian thali (a daily changing mixture of vegetable dishes served with fresh roti and rice) costs only $3, comes on a banana leaf, and is one of the lightest, most healthful meals you can find in town. 1st Floor, Lal Bahadur Shastri Market, opp. Matunga Station (Central Line), King’s Circle, Matunga East. +91-22-2414-2422.
The Konkan Coast is the region running south from Mumbai through Goa, and up to the city of Mangalore in the state of Karnataka. Food from Sachin is heavy on spice and seafood, with fantastic coconut-based preparations of mutton and chicken liver for good measure. This no-frills seafood joint is one of the best in town for cornmeal-crusted fried fish and searing coconut curries. Gokhale Road, Shivaji Park, Dadar West, near Shiv Sena Bhavan. +91-22-2446-6625.
Michael Snyder is based in Mumbai, and covers the India beat for Travel + Leisure.