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Tagore at Mulund's oldest Udipi

Fifty years is a long time to continue serving the best Medu Vadas and filter kaapi along the eastern suburbs. Mulund's Shetty-owned Vishwabharati that has a strange connect with Rabindranath Tagore, has been doing just that -- in authentic Udipi fashion

Over 50 years ago, late Padmavathi J Shetty's husband, restaurateur and Mazgaon resident Jagannath Shetty was scouting for an address to open another eatery. His enterprise didn't stop him from trudging to faraway Mulund. "Those days (1957-58), the suburb wasn't a part of Bombay. It was plotted under Thane district. It was a village without proper roads. The developed areas extended only up to a hundred metres from Mulund's station. The rest was a jungle," recollects current owner and Shetty's son, Sudhakar.


Sudharakar Shetty of Mulund's Vishwabharati says they use jaggery
instead of sugar in their Sambar, and no garlic in their Coconut Chutney.
This master stroke, along with the all-vegetarian menu, has made the
eatery a hit with Gujaratis. Pics/ Rane Ashish
Self-service, fine dining and Continental cuisine are an inevitable reality.
Still, at the end of the day, don't we always come home to our rice and dal?


When the time arrived to name this new eatery, Sudhakar's mother, a keen follower of Rabindranath Tagore's writings and poetry, suggested Vishwabharati -- after Tagore's centre for the arts in West Bengal. 


At Vishwabharati, cooks begin work at 4.30 am to ensure patrons are
served fresh food when they pull up their shutters at 6 am. A senior cook
has been given the task of keeping a measure of the exact mix of
ingredients to ensure consistency.


South to North
Like numerous fellow restaurateurs to have emerged from the coastal town of Udipi in Karnataka, Shetty senior too was bitten by the bug when he was still an employee at Mumbai's Khatau Mills. In the 1940s, just before the Fort Stikine blast devastated the Bombay harbour, he decided to start a restaurant called Bombay Fancy at Carnac Bunder. "My dad's nephew still runs the place; it's now called Bombay Fancy Hindu Hotel," shares Sudhakar, sipping on a glass of sweetened chai. "Bombay Fancy began as an eatery that served Maharashtrian cuisine, and added Udipi dishes to its menu, later. In fact, dad used to prepare good Usal (a pulse gravy). It was part of morning breakfast at home, and so we decided to serve it to his customers too."

It's 11.30 am. Vishwabharati's kitchen door swings furiously, juggling a mix of bruncheon customers and the early lunch crowd. The sixty-one-year-old has to break away from our conversation to graciously acknowledge a handshake or a namaste each time an old-timer stops by our table, before returning to the timeline.

"Later, dad decided to start a restaurant in Tardeo, but we had had to shut it down after it ran into losses. Dayanand, near Lalbaug, was another venture we launched;  it's now been given on lease. By then (late 1950s), he wanted to expand northward. He scouted around Ghatkopar but realised Mulund was more suitable for his plan. We've been around since then, by God's grace and dad's farsightedness."

Today, Shetty and his brothers run four restaurants, including Vishwabharati, Vishwa Mahal, Vishwa Samrat (both Mulund) and Vishwa Jyot (Vashi).

The Udipi formula
The Shetty-Udipi connect remains one of Mumbai's most fascinating restaurant success stories. We prod Sudhakar about this culinary love affair. "Our kitchens are spotless, food is cooked on the spot, the ingredients are never carried forward to the next day. We bring this ethic to our restaurants and the formula continues to click with the classes and masses. Our food will never harm your system," explains Sudhakar.

At Vishwabharati, his cooks begin work at 4.30 am to ensure patrons are served fresh food when they pull up their shutters at 6 am. A senior cook has been given the task of keeping a measure of the exact mix and ingredients to ensure authenticity is maintained. Vishwabharati's famous fluffy idlis are cooked from a batter that is left to ferment overnight, and is the only food item that is prepared a day earlier.

Sweet as Sambhar
Like the Shetty-Udipi connect, Mulund has had a long association with the Gujaratis. Old-time residents of the suburb will vouch for the community's inherent entrepreneurship skills that helped establish Mulund as one of the most prosperous suburbs on the eastern line. Likewise, their love for dining out meant that Vishwabharati's menu had a sugar-induced leaning. "We use jaggery in our Sambhar. It's a good substitute for sugar," says Sudhakar. "Our Sambhar is made slightly sweeter; no garlic for our coconut chutney too." This masterstroke, along with the all-vegetarian menu has made Vishwabharati a hit with the Gujaratis.

Palate-sensitive gestures apart, competitive pricing has helped. A hearty breakfast based on Shetty's recommendation (Masala Dosa, Sheera and instant coffee) costs you around Rs 70. Nudge him about his favourite daily opener and the genial restaurateur reveals his sweet fixation: "It's Sheera; we don't use food colouring."

Does the veteran worry about fast-food chains invading his client base? "We have had to move with the times when we opened an extra mezzanine floor in the 1970s to serve Chinese and Punjabi vegetarian dishes. Self service, fine dining and continental cuisine are an inevitable reality. Still, at the end of the day, don't we always come home to our rice and dal?"
 
At: Jeevan Niwas, opposite Mulund Station, Mulund (W)
Call: 2561-0193/2568-3438. 6 am-11.30 pm (closed on Thursdays)

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