Fiona Fernandez: Regional groove
Mumbai's foodies must continue to support restaurants and eateries - big and small - that celebrate local and region-specific cuisine if it wishes to carry the tag of a culinary city
The town of Udupi was perhaps the first location that I had learnt about not from a Geography textbook, but thanks to a handful of restaurants that flourished in my resident suburb, Mulund. As a kid, I recall being 'treated' all the time at one of these eateries by visiting relatives, or the weekly ritual of heading there for a yummy breakfast after Sunday mass. The memories are pretty vivid: buzzing kitchens functioning on autopilot, waiters who moved like lightning [I was sure they wore invisible roller skates!], pillowy soft idlis, slightly sweetish sambar and the crispy medu wadas. It was also the only type of fare that got the nod of the mother, as she came to admit; after all, it was sans preservatives or any other unhealthy additive.
As decades rolled by and Mulund's socio-economic strata transformed from a quiet suburb that was dominated by Gujaratis, Maharashtrians and South Indians, their numbers decreased. Rising rents, disinterest from the next generation to take over the mantle, and changing food patterns might have been the collective cause of this drop, we suspected. Slowly, the humble wooden-and-laminated signboards of our favourite Udupis made way for flashier, 'express'-style fast food outlets with service counters and burger breads. The watershed moment, we recall, was around this one familiar eatery, a landmark near the railway station that had to make way for the golden arch with an American clown as its mascot. We were gutted as we watched the arch being gradually hauled to a vantage position as part of the new signage. The end of an era, we told ourselves as we hurried to another favourite Udupi that was a few blocks away, finding temporary comfort in a crunchy onion uttapam.
And then, more recently, as we attempted to hail a kaali-peeli outside Sion railway station, the memory came flashing back. A similar Udupi restaurant that was a popular halt as we flitted in between the Sion-Matunga belt during our college days, had met with the same fate, literally. The golden arch was there, and the heady aromas that would greet us as we made our way past the eatery in its earlier avatar were missing. It was sanitised, clinical and certainly not inviting to this culinary buff.
These were instances of just two locations, two restaurants, and two changing suburban landscapes. But we feel, it does reflect a larger challenge - of retaining and sustaining regional Indian flavours, of supporting local enterprise, because at the end of the day, they all add up to defining a city that is known to be a melting pot, across its people, food and beliefs.
And before you, dear reader, decide to flip over to a happier-sounding news article, we've got some heartwarming news to share. We, the in-house jury of food writers for mid-day's The Guide Restaurant Awards 2018, were pleasantly surprised with a healthy list of nominees with local and regional origins that had opened in 2016-17. Needless to say, competition was tough, and our in-house debates for the deserving winners went on for hours.
This, we must admit, has reconfirmed our faith that Mumbai's soul still beats for hyper-local food and desi flavours. Ah, and if you're keen to know who rocked the regional awards, wait till tomorrow night when all will be revealed.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to email@example.com
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