Be patient at Manora, go hungry to Ujala

Two months ago, the fading canteen signboard at the Mumbai Police Headquarters in Crawford Market was replaced by a gleaming new one. Flavours, the new canteen is fully air-conditioned and has two flat screens to entertain our men in khakhi. Sunday MiD DAY dropped in for a dekko before embarking on a trail across some of the city's most iconic canteens, where you still get a plate of two samosas for Rs 5

The Manora canteen is a leveller; it's a place that feeds Members of the Legislative Assembly, IAS and IPS officials, their drivers, suited professionals working in MNCs and local businessmen. We walked through the entrance and a line of expensive BMWs, Skodas and government cars with shining red beacons parked in the building compound greeted us. Once past the door, what we noticed was the enormity of the air-conditioned canteen -- it can easily seat 250 people at a time.

The service was excellent, but if you are looking to stop by for a quick
bite, don't. The food -- compared to other busy canteens and restaurants
in the city -- takes a while to arrive.

The second mindboggling figure is the number of serving staff and cashiers. Waiters dressed in yellow uniforms walked briskly up and down the aisles, dodging each other, making way for customers walking to their tables or the wash basin.

We sat on a table at the end of the canteen, besides one of the many French windows. Heaps of thalis, piles of chapatis and mounds of biryani were being demolished on tables around us. After waiting patiently for a bit, we summoned a waiter to inquire about the best dish on the menu. He slapped a menu card on our table, saying, "Everything is good"

Choosing from a range of Indian and Chinese dishes wasn't easy, but we finally settled for the Prawns Koliwada (Rs 70), Chicken Nawabi (Rs 145), Alu Dum Kashmiri (Rs 60), Dal Fry Kolhapuri (Rs 30), Chicken Biryani (Rs 65) and Special Chapati (Rs 6).

The service is excellent. But if you are looking to stop by for a quick bite, don't. The food -- compared to other busy canteens and restaurants in the city -- took a while to arrive. The Prawns Koliwada came first, and while it didn't look appealing, we were pleasantly surprised after the first bite. The tiny prawns were coated in a dark red, spicy batter, and deep fried. We popped a few in one bite and found that the outside was hot and crispy, and the inside, juicy.

The Chicken Nawabi, Dum Alu and Special Chapati arrived shortly. The chicken was unexpectedly garnished with strips of processed cheese and coriander. The gravy was a little sweet and left a spicy aftertaste. The Dum Alu was melt-in-the-mouth, and stuffed with plain, mashed paneer. It's a good bet for someone who cannot handle spicy fare.

The Special Chapati was flaky, well-greased with ghee and pretty perfect, actually, but the Biryani was disappointing -- it was more like mill masala rice sprinkled with three pieces of boiled and mildly-spiced chicken pieces. The Dal Fry was thick and bland. A dash of garlic and chilly tadka would have helped.

The canteen has been around for more than 20 years and continues to serve more than 600 people every day, including officials and policy makers. The portions are large, the service brisk and the ambience refreshing.  Manora is value for money.

At: New MLA Hostel, opposite Dalamal Towers, Nariman Point
Open: Monday to Saturday, 7 am to 11 pm
Call: 22835691

Quick take
Cheapest item: Sheera and Upma, Rs 15
Costliest item: Chicken Nawabi and Chicken Maharaja, Rs 145
Established:  25 years back
Who eats here: MLAs, their staff, people from nearby offices

Taste: ***
Cleanliness: ****1/2
Cost: ***1/2

Mumbai Police HQ canteen: Flavours
Fiona Fernandez

'Please do not sit for longer time', read the writing on table tent cards placed across the air-conditioned, spacious interiors of Flavours, the revamped canteen at Mumbai Police Headquarters in Crawford Market.

Ashwin Shetty, along with partner Krishna Murthy, owns Sai Krupa
Caterers that runs Flavours, the new canteen inside Mumbai's Police
Headquarters at Crawford Market. Their most popular dish is Pineapple
Sheera (Rs 12). "We get up to 300 orders a day, and it's always sold
out," says Shetty. Pic/ Bipin Kokate

"Countless Commissioners have walked past these gates. Yet, it was present chief Arup Patnaik who pushed for it. It's his brainchild. He wanted his colleagues to eat healthy, affordable food with dignity in a hygienic, comfortable space," says Ashwin Shetty, who along with partner Krishna Murthy, owns Sai Krupa Caterers that runs Flavours.

The canteen has to be a refreshing sight for any constable after slugging it out on bandobast or spending the night out on a bar raid. Housed in an Anglo-Gothic building that dates back to 1896, at Flavours, you are spoilt for choice. The menu includes vegetarian and non-vegetarian options across South Indian, Chinese and Punjabi cuisine.

"One of my chefs worked at the JW Marriott," says a proud Shetty, before tucking into a Veg Thali (Rs 30). Meanwhile, a second helping of their most popular dish -- Pineapple Sheera (Rs 12) -- is on the cards.
"We get up to 300 orders a day, and it's always sold out," he smiles. That's to be expected in a place that sees close to 1,500 customers walk in every day. 

While the takeaway counter does brisk business, the night patrol is the happiest. Imagine biting into Chutney Sandwiches and sipping on hot chai at 3 am. Behind the scenes, 20 staff members work with clockwork precision in squeaky-clean environs, never mind the limited elbow room. But what is perhaps the most interesting feature is its good samaritan side.

"The previous canteen was run by the Police Welfare Board, and was manned by head constables, while the kitchen employed widows of policemen. It served basic, limited fare at fixed timings," recalls Vijaysingh Jadhav, SP Kolhapur. The revamped canteen retains the women staff. Jadhav, former DCP, Mumbai Headquarters, was instrumental in guiding the facelift till he was transferred in June 2011. Heaping praise on the current Commissioner's interest, the new avatar gets his thumbs up. "The canteen has served its purpose," he declares.

Peals of laughter emerge from a group of women constables as they dig into their lunch thalis. "Women constables, who would earlier avoid the canteen, are happy here," says Shetty.

At another table, a senior inspector and his daughter are sipping on chilled milkshakes. Others cheer lustily, as Tendulkar walks in to take guard at the Kotla. Two flat screens provide respite from their daily rigour. But not for too long -- duty beckons, with or without the table tent cards.

At: Lokmanya Tilak Marg, opposite Roopam
Call: 9702838666
Open: 24 hours, on all days

Quick take
Cheapest item:
Fresh Lime Juice (Rs 3), Samosa  (Rs 5 for 2 pieces)
Costliest item: Chicken Tandoori-half, Mutton Thali (Rs 60) re-Opened August 23, 2011
Who eats here: Policemen, public who visit the Police Headquarters

Taste: ****
Cleanliness: ****
Cost: ****1/2

Ujala Lunch Home
yoshita Sengupta
Ujala Canteen is a hole-in-the-wall. It's a 300 sq feet mess located on an obscure road near Mumbai University, Kalina, and dishes out home-cooked Bengali meals for 200 guests daily. When we walked in on an afternoon this week, we were greeted with a blast of heat emanating from the two handis of Egg Curry that were bubbling on stoves. Our first dish, it appeared, was decided.

From the looks of it, we were the first customers of the day and perhaps, unlike guests mess owner Alo Chatterji is used to. She greeted us with a hesitant smile, which broadened when she heard us speak Bengali. The narrow doorway opens into a tiny room with a table on the right, where Chatterji sits, when she is not busy in the kitchen. To the left were three tables that could seat 12 people.

Chatterji started the mess six years ago to support her son, who is now
an engineer. After her cook ran away with all the money, she began to
serve Bengali fare

We decided to forgo the thalis (Vegetarian Rs 35, Mutton Rs 80, Chicken Rs 60, Egg curry Rs 40, Fish Rs 60). Since mutton wasn't available that afternoon, we settled for the essential of every Bengali meal -- Fish Curry (Rs 50). As accompaniment, we asked for Fried Fish (Rs 25), Egg Curry (Rs 30), Dal (Rs 10), Mixed Vegetable (Rs 15) and Rice (Rs 10).

 Chatterji started the mess six years ago to support her son, who is now an engineer. It began as an Indian-Chinese corner, but within two years, the cook fled, taking the cash counter treasure with him, says Chatterji. Left with no choice, she had to rely on the one thing she knew best -- making traditional Bengali food.   

The runny Maccher Jhol (Fish Curry) came with two large pieces of beautifully cooked Rohu (fresh water fish). One lick of the curry spiced with coriander powder, turmeric, green chillies and trademark onion seeds, and we were sure that Chatterji, despite being a Mumbaikar for 30 years, hadn't forgotten her Hooghly roots.

By the time the rest of our order arrived, which didn't take more than five minutes, the tables around us began to fill up -- workers, auto drivers and white collar professionals -- all of whom had their fingers deep in rice and curry within minutes.

The Dal made simply with turmeric, chilly, onion and garlic was delicious. The Fried Fish, however, was disappointing -- a tad overcooked and dry. The Mixed Vegetable -- potatoes, capsicum, pumpkin, brinjal, black eyed beans (chawli), kidney beans, chickpeas and the very Bengali fried bodis (sun-dried vadis made of dal) -- was as good as they make in Kolkata.

But the clear hero was the Egg Curry. The consistency was perfect. It was unpretentious and did the job better than its fancy counterparts available in other city restaurants. The egg was fried after being boiled, and later simmered, giving it three different textures; a Bengali trademark.

Don't expect fancy starters, indulgent desserts and the famous Bengali rolls and chops. The place serves only one-course meals just like you would have at home.

at Changur Chawl, near Bijlee Housing Society, opposite Windsor Tower Access Road, Kalina, Santacruz (E)
Open Monday to Saturday for lunch between 12.30 pm and 4 pm and dinner between 8 pm and 10 pm; open on Sunday between 12 noon and 4 pm

Quick take
Cheapest item: Single Omelette, Rs 10
Costliest item:  Mutton Thali, Rs 80
Established: 2004
Who eats here: Workers from nearby petrol pumps, garages, shops and Mumbai University students looking for cheap home cooked meal

Taste: ****
Cleanliness: ****
Cost: ****1/2

Mantralay Canteen
Aviva Dharmaraj
There are three government-run canteens housed inside the administrative headquarters of the state government and they serve up to 3,000 meals a day. But the canteen that is open to the public is the one located at a corner of the mezzanine floor of the six-storeyed building. This one can squeeze in a maximum of 200 people.

A Rs 10-lunch coupon entitles you to four chapatis, rice, and two
servings each of dal, one sabzi (vegetable) and koshimbir (salad), and
a glass of chhaas (buttermilk). It's self-service, so after you buy your
coupon, take your tray to the aluminum counter, where the staff will
pile food on your plate

A Rs 10-lunch coupon entitles you to four chapatis, rice, and two servings each of dal, one sabzi (vegetable) and koshimbir (salad), and a glass of chhaas (buttermilk). It's self-service, so after you buy your coupon from the counter outside, you need to get yourself a tray from the stacks placed on the wooden bench facing the food station. Next, tray in hand, slide it along the aluminum counter as servers quickly pile your plate with food. The lunch service is extremely busy, so be prepared to move fast, and eat faster.

General Manager Vasudev Devadiga, who has been associated with the canteen since its inception in 1966, recalls the canteen's humble beginnings of a few snack items on its initial menu. Incidentally, the 57 year-old started out as a waiter, and worked his way up the ranks.

"At the time, all the dishes were priced in paise. One Batata Vada cost around six or eight paise," he shares.
Forty-five years later, for Rs 4, the Batata Vada -- spicy yellow potato pillows inside a crispy case of chickpea flour -- is worth every paise. Another Maharashtrian snack favourite that is available here and worth sampling is the Kothimbir Vadi (Rs 4).

You don't need to buy yourself a coupon for the snack service. Just grab a tray and you will be billed according to the number of items you have picked. The corridors tend to get a little smelly, given the canteen's proximity to the lavatories. So it's best to try and get a seat on one of their powder-blue benches closest to the windows and away from the smell.

At: Mantralaya, Nariman Point Open To everyone from Monday to Saturday, 2 pm to 2.30 pm (lunch); 3 pm to 5 pm (snacks). Closed on Sundays and public holidays
Call: 22028178

Quick take
Cheapest item: Rs 2 for a cup of tea or coffee; Re 1 for a chapati (most snack items including the Kothimbir Wadi, Batata Vada and Medu Wada are priced at Rs 4)
Costliest item: Rs 16 for a plate of Chicken or Mutton Curry
Established: 1966
Who eats here: The canteen is meant for karmacharis, but anyone who manages to get past two security checks and has the patience to wait in a serpentine queue, is welcome

Taste: ***
Cleanliness: ***
Cost: *****

BMC Canteen
Surekha S

The large room inside the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation building is filled with as many tables and chairs as it can accommodate, and there's hardly ever a moment of quiet. The manager Karunakar Shetty, tells us our hunch is right -- during peak hours (12 noon and 3 pm), the canteen sees close to 2,000 customers. The 30-odd staff members are almost always busy taking orders and serving without a moment to spare.

The BMC canteen located inside the heritage building sees close to 2,000
customers daily, and caters mostly to BMC staff, apart from MLAs,
MLCs and visitors. Pics/ Bipin Kokate

For a canteen, the variety of items on offer is mind-boggling. Take your pick from Thalis, Dosas, Idlis, Fruit bowls, Vadas, Chaat, varieties of rice, Chinese food and an array of sweets and juices. "The Batata Vadas and Bhajiyas are hot-sellers," says Shetty, who manages to excuse himself for 10 minutes to talk to us. "The Dahi Vada and Dahi Idli are also very popular, and the Pineapple Sheera is worth a try," he suggests.

Having worked here for 12 years, Shetty has been witness to a lot of changes. "Ten years ago, the canteen was not as clean as it is now, and we did not offer this large a variety. We did not get as many customers either. The food is better now."

To test his claim, we tried the Batata Vada (Rs 5), a plate of Bhajiyas (Rs 8) and the Jalebis (Rs 6) -- delicious. The Kokam Kadi (Rs 8), popularly known as Sol Kadi, was a refreshing drink. sk Shetty if he has met any of the municipal commissioners over a meal, and he says, "I have seen Jairaj Phatak, V Ranganathan and many MLAs here but I haven't had the courage to go up and talk to them."

Shetty is happy the canteen is only getting better. "Often, people from the Mantralaya and CID branch visit us for a meal since our canteen serves high quality and good quantity," he says with a grin.
At Gate 7, fourth floor, BMC building, opposite CST station
Open 9.30 am to 6.30 pm

Quick take
Cheapest item:
Tea Rs 3, Batata Vada Rs 5
Costliest item: Chicken Shezwan Rice Rs 35
Established: 2004
Who eats here: Caters mainly to the 3,000-strong staff of BMC, and visitors.

Taste: ****
Cleanliness: ***
Cost: *****



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