Boasting a legacy of close to 80 years, the first outpost of Mani's opened in 1937 near Ramnarain Ruia College in Matunga. The modest eatery, that served piping hot idlis, medu wadas, kela bajji and other South Indian snacks, with unlimited chutney and sambar (a practice unique to Mani's) from 6.30 am, was the brainchild of VS Mani Iyer, a 1911-born Keralite Tam- Bram native of the state's green-carpeted Palakkad district.
KS Narayanaswamy owner of Mani's Lunch
Having lost his parents in early childhood, Iyer came to Mumbai, like many others to earn a livelihood, and began with a catering venture in 1920 — a self-taught cook, delivering South Indian delicacies to homes and offices, on a bicycle – before introducing them to the Mumbaikar's palate through Mani's.
Post his demise in 1978, the operations were taken over by his eldest son KS Narayanaswamy, who expanded the flagship outpost by opening Mani's in Model Co-Op Hostel Society, next to Sankar Mattam in Matunga in 2002. Meanwhile, its sister concern at Sion, opposite Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, is managed by the senior Iyer's nephew, KV Narayanan.
"The outlet near Ruia serves only snacks and breakfast, while the Sion one is only open for lunch. The one in Model Society offered breakfast, lunch and snacks. Unfortunately, owing to the lack of space at the other two outlets, I won't be able to serve all items made at the Matunga Mani's and even if I do, they will be in limited quantities," says the 61-year-old second generation owner. He said many South Indians in the neighbourhood depend on them for meals, and are troubled by the news.
Onam feast thali at Mani's Lunch Home, Matunga
"Well-wishers from far-off places have visited me in the last few days to ask if they can help in any way. We are the only ones in the city who offer pure vegetarian, South Indian Brahmin dishes. We work cost-to- cost and even our regular meals are priced only at Rs 65. In fact, during the Onam feast, people stand in a two- and three-hour-long queues to taste the food," says Narayanaswamy, about the ritual known as Thiruvona Sadya, that was originally started by his father, more than 50 years ago.
Served on a banana leaf, the elaborate feast, to be eaten by hand, had 22 authentic Keralite dishes, including vegetables like Pachadi, Kichadi, Erissery, Kalan, Thoran, Olan and Avial along with desserts such as Paladai Pradhaman (Kheer).
(With inputs from Suprita Mitter)