One meal at Surekha Walke's Shivaji Park eatery, and you'll figure that what you've been eating in the name of Malvani food is nothing but cheap imitation
It's two o' clock on a Monday afternoon, and restaurant owner Surekha Walke is scurrying about her 300-odd square-foot Dadar eatery, Chaitanya. Much like everybody's favourite aunt, she has a warm smile ready for patrons, some of whom she addresses by first name and seems to remember exactly how they like their meal.
The Bangada (mackeral) Tikhale is a specialty at Chaitanya/ Chaitanya
owner Surekha Walke has altered her recipes to balance out the taste.
Periodically, she excuses herself to monitor work back in the kitchen, ensuring that everything, including the garnishing on the koshimbir (salad), is just right. While instructing one of her helpers, she explains that the boys aren't familiar with Malvani-style cooking. This explains the line of recipes pinned up over the cooking space.
When Surekha moved from her hometown, Malvan, to Mumbai a few years ago, she noticed that restaurants were "offering anything in the name of Malvani food." Back in her hometown, Malvan, she had been running a hotel for 17 years. She thought it was fitting that she open a branch in Mumbai. "I wanted to tell people about typical Malvani food," she says about the one and a half year-old restaurant.
Since its launch, Chaitanya has grown into a favourite with Shivaji Park residents. "I haven't advertised much, so, I don't get too many office goers," Surekha admits. But for those who drop by, she suggests Javala Koshimbir (Rs 30) -- a mouth-watering dried-fish salad, Chicken Sagoti Suka (Rs 130) -- finely-diced chicken, cooked in a coconut base, and Bangda Tikhale (Rs 60) -- a Chaitanya specialty.
What sets Chaitanya apart from myriad competitors sprinkled across Dadar is that all the masalas are prepared by Surekha herself. The secret, however, lies in the source of the key ingredients. The coconut, a staple in most Malvani dishes, and the fish (mostly surmai and bangda) are brought in from Malvan. The live catch arrives on a daily basis.
So keen was Surekha to give patrons a taste of authentic Malvani cuisine that for the first few months, she even had water used in cooking transported from Malvan. "Fish and Kokum Kadi are two things that cook well, and taste better in hard water. Now I've altered my recipes a bit to balance out the taste; I use a little extra kala namak," she elaborates.
Customer feedback has been positive, and has helped her tweak recipes to cater to general preferences. Her only problem, she admits endearingly, is the average Mumbaikar's need for instant gratification. "Yahan sab ko emergency hai, sab kuch jaldi chahiye," she says, flailing her hands. Nothing that can't be worked out, though!
Regulars, who've understood that it takes time to put an appetising, freshly-cooked meal together, call in and place an order ahead of their visit. And if you end up arriving without a notice, we assure you a meal here will be worth the wait.
From: Friday to Wednesday, 11 am to 3 pm, and 7 pm to 11 pm
At: Chaitanya, Shop No 4, Shivaji Park House, LJ Road.