It is surprisingly easy to draw similarities between my introduction to Mumbai and my introduction to Malvani food.
For one, they both took place 6 years ago.
And more importantly they both stand out for their ability to seem oddly familiar yet noticeably different from the city (and Keralite cuisine) I grew up with.
To further expound, many of the nuances in coastal Keralite cooking are present in the coconut heavy curries and generous portions of fried seafood a quintessential Malvani thali here is known for. However, it is only through my Malvani food-ventures that I’ve come to appreciate a good glass of solkadi or a plate of fresh fried vade- dishes I was a complete stranger to before my first lunch at one of these spots.
Last Saturday found us in a mood for some Malvani seafood-laden gluttony, and so a careful Zomato search and some help from trusty Google maps later, we found ourselves in front of Chaitanya’s non descript entrance, nestled in a breezy lane at Dadar West.
The constant crowd that flits through this joint is testament to the quality of no nonsense fare dished out through the day. The menu bears pages of fish fry options and seafood thali combos- and everything sounds so good, that you do find yourself taking longer than anticipated to come to a decision.
The crab lollipops are steaming hot, filled with what seemed like a spiced crab and vermicelli mixture. The crab is delicate but shines regardless- a little hint of the sea in every mouthful.
The chicken sagoti/sukka is well prepared but lost us a few bites in because of all the bone shards in our portion among the small bits of chicken. Definitely go for their boneless version, if you intend giving it a try.
The unassuming plate of ghavane ordered on the side was freshly made, and an absolute pleasure to savour. There isn’t a single Malvani curry this rice pancake won’t make better- I promise you.
But our most awaited (and heaviest) order was without a doubt the special prawn thali. This monstrosity is almost impossible to finish alone.
What our thali had:
Served piping hot, the prawn fry was everything you’d expect from a good fry- perfectly done prawn tossed in a seasoned crispy semolina batter.
The masala prawns were hearty, filled to the brim with flavours that had me fondly remembering my South Indian roots. A base of minced garlic, fried onions and pulpy tomatoes is further spiced with cumin and coriander before hunks of prawn are tossed in for a slow simmer. Simple but utterly satisfying, I find these work best with steamed rice or the thin chappatis served alongside.
The curry to me espouses all the influences I primarily associate with Malvani food- a generous, coconutty base, accentuated with a touch of spice and an agreeable tang from the kokum. The flavours are mild and work best soaked into their ghavane that you could (and should) order separately.
The little prawn koshimbir served on the side is an interesting mix of dried prawn and fresh cut red onion. Seafood-y crunch in every spoonful.
The prawn biryani is again, tasty and not overbearing as is generally the case. And what really made me go in for more was the liberal garnish of coriander leaves that lent an almost refreshing cut to the palate from all the flavourful curries on our plate.
The rassa and solkadi despite their simple, prawn-bereft appearance were major winners in my book. The cheery orange rassa is a punch of sour and fruity raw mango gusto that complements the coconut base incredibly well. And their solkadi is well above par- a lovely marriage of coconut milk, kokum and a garlic; it is no wonder they offer unlimited refills. Noone would willingly settle for one measly bowl of this beauty.
Despite being stuffed beyond compare, we had to get an order of their unique Ginger-Chilli-Lemon icecream; and what a beautiful confluence of flavours it was! The latent spice of the chilli and sourness of the lemon work wonderfully with the earthy ginger. A must try!
Chaitanya’s food needs no fancy gimmicks or over-the-top-presentation because every dish forced a smile out of me- the results clearly, of a menu that stands the test of time and a set of skilful hands in the kitchen.
Be sure to give them a try if you ever find yourself in the area with a craving for honest, homely food that warms the soul and fills the tummy without as much destruction to the wallet. You’re unlikely to leave disappointed 🙂