Man is a creature of nostalgia. We all miss home. Sometimes when we live in a strange city, where no one speaks your language and no one celebrates your festivals and each passing moment yet another painful reminder that you are being slowly but inevitably deracinated from your origins.
As and when we find ourselves faced with such existential dilemmas, we turn to one thing that steadily anchors us to our native cultures. Food. Food remains the umbilical cord that eternally links you to the little town back on the east coast that you call home. We all identify ourselves by the amount of chillies you dump in our curries.
And that’s how I identified myself all these years in Bombay. As a Gult who never found the Matunga/Chembur South Indian fare “theeka” enough by his standards.
Gonguura is this new Telugu restaurant that has opened its doors to the Mumbaikars. Located at the Juhu Ekta CHS, (on your left as you approach Versova from Juhu Circle), this place claims to be the first authentic Telugu joint in the Suburbs. And as a man who has been hunting down Gult food in the city for the last four years, I agree.
The name itself announces the intent. Gonguura ( Sorrel or Ambadi in Marathi) is a green leafy vegetable that is the heart and soul of Telugu cuisine. Its slightly sour leaves are cooked into delicious dal or mashed into a tangy chutney or pickle and invariably find their way on every dinner table in Telugu households. It has been affectionately referred to as “Andhra Maata” , “Andhra Shakam” and “Shakambari Devi Mahaprasadam”. No wonder the restaurant has picked this name.
The décor makes a cute effort to remind you of Telugu lands. There are portraits by celebrated Telugu painter, Bapu adorning the walls, including a memorable depiction of the descent of Ganga into the matted locks of Lord Shiva. You will also find pictures of Budugu ( the naughty kid of comics similar to Dennis the menace) , and of a Sankranthi bull on the walls. You could also see a framed motif of the famed Gadwal Silk. The brightly coloured walls with images of sugarcane, kites and overflowing earthern pots remind you of Pongal back home.
While you wait for the staff to greet you, open the little ceramic jars that adorn your table. One of them contains Avakaya, green mango pickled with an array of spices in an ocean of groundnut oil and black mustard. The second contains gunpowder, the famous “podi” ground out of innumerable authentic native spices that is so named because of its ability to blast your taste buds open as soon as your tongue touches it, and the third contains Gongura, the namesake of the place.
The Menu is inviting, to say the least. The eyes quickly dart all over it to find the quintessential Andhra item.
The MLA Pesarattu:
This is the backbone of the Telugu breakfast scene. This is a dosa made purely out of Moong Dal (with no rice added to the batter), topped with finely chopped onion, ginger, green chillies and generous amounts of cumin. As you tear open the belly of this magnificent offering, you are accosted by the aroma of steaming cashew garnished Upma within it. This is the prize that awaits the gourmand. And it is almost a sin to partake a Pesarattu without the accompanying Upma.
Gonguura has perfected the art of the MLA Pesarattu ( people with tender palates may be cautious before chomping on the green chillies) serving it with Ginger chutney and Groundnut chutneys.
The Punugulu, dosa batter balls friend deeply in oil and served with chopped onions and ginger chutney is an amazing dish you must try. It would make the perfect second course at this place after you order the Pesarattu.
Then you need to try the Perugu Vada. This is the Telugu variant of the Dahi Vada, sans the sugar. Honestly, the sweet curd ruined it for me all these years until I rediscovered the joy of it here. Laced with a strong mustard tempering and chopped coriander, this is a good way to cool off your stomach if you have stepped into Gonguura for a light meal.
The second alternative would be the Thali Meals.
The Thali is exquisite. My companion could vouch for the glazed look that I had on my face as I tasted the Dal. If there ever was a Pappu (the Telugu word for Dal) rush, I was experiencing one. For a moment, it was like being transported back home.
The Thali comes in two varieties. The Normal and the Special. I suggest you try the Special thali, which serves a larger variety of dishes for you to enjoy. Forget stir fries, gently tossed dishes and splashes of olive oil. This is heartland now.
The bittergourd fried in ample chickpea flour (besan), the thick tomato dal with a generous helping of garlic in its tempering, the Okra royally stewed in tamarind, the cabbage curry cooked in chilly powder, the rasam steaming with the scent of asofoetida and the thick curd. Plus you had rava kesari (something similar to sheera) to finish off this wonderful meal. Then they had the red chilies marinated in curd and roasted fresh on high flame serving as the accompaniment to the curd rice. That was paradise.
The Sambar deserves special mention. Ask for an extra cup and drink it direct. It is nothing like the bland and syrupy liquids we find elsewhere in the city. It is strong with a powerful fenugreek taste, a thick base of lentils, and sliced radishes, carrots, cucumbers, drumsticks and quartered onions swimming merrily in this heavenly broth. Sambar lover I am.
I would not be exaggerating if I said that I did not even lift my head for more than 5 seconds before I worked my way through this amazing culinary experience. Amazing. Yes. That’s the word.
And then we had the Coffee. It was a refreshingly different from the filter coffee that defines South Indian cuisine here in Mumbai. More sweet than bitter, it certainly was a perfect way to end your gastronomical adventure here.
I found myself visiting the place thrice in a week. The food certainly draws you in. The staff is friendly and helpful and the manager of the place, a Telugu lady with a pleasant countenance is more than eager to answer all your queries.
Now waiting for Gonguura to add more items to its menu. Majjiga Pulusu, Dappalam, Pullattu, Tomato Pachchadi, Bobbattlu are among the ones on my mind.
Perhaps they could soon start a retail outlet for the different “podis”, sweets like Pootharekulu and RavvaLaddus, and other assorted Telugu snacks and knick-knacks as well.
So why are you still waiting? Go. Go. Go. Visit Gonguura.