It is in the Matunga market in Mumbai that chef Ashwini Pai learnt how to identify a fresh and tender jeev kadgi. She writes on the seasonal produce essential to Mangalorean cooking, and how the market connects her to the town her grandparents left behind.
It’s been a few years since Nalini, my only surviving grandparent, last ventured out to the Matunga market. But Bappama, as we call her fondly, still eagerly awaits to unpack our shopping bags after a market visit. Taking her own time, she sorts through packets filled with snacks, kaapi powder, and fresh vegetables.
At 84, Bapamma is no longer the prolific cook she once was. But she continues to find joy in making filter coffee and evening snacks for everyone. It usually involves soaking shevais —noodles made from rice, wheat, or red rice— in hot water, tempering it in coconut oil with mustard seeds and curry leaves, and finishing with a generous sprinkle of freshly grated coconut. While we occasionally receive shevai and other snacks when relatives visit from Karnataka, the Matunga market remains our most reliable source in Mumbai.
For several decades now, the Matunga market—nestled in the heart of the city—has primarily served the South Indian communities that migrated to Mumbai and settled in the neighbourhoods in and around Matunga. It is through this market that they have accessed several ingredients and food products that are native to the homes they have left behind.
Matunga market has been instrumental in connecting me to my Mangalorean heritage as well, especially when it comes to food. Many of the snacks, sweets, and vegetables integral to Konkani cuisine are readily available here. While they can also be found online or in ‘Mangalore stores’ in various Mumbai neighbourhoods, what sets this market apart is the convenience of having everything in one place.
As a chef, I take pleasure in browsing through fresh produce at the market, and choosing certain ingredients myself. It is in this market that I learned the art of selecting a fresh and tender jeev kadgi, or breadfruit. Recently, I introduced a friend to jeev kadgi phodi (breadfruit fritters) for the first time. She found the dish and its textures – crispy on the outside, and starchy, chewy on the inside – so delightful; I prepared it again twice upon their request. While it is relatively more expensive in Mumbai, the taste of jeev kadgi, sliced and then batter-fried in rice flour makes every rupee spent worth it.
In my family, my grandfather was the first to visit the Matunga market when he moved to Mumbai in the early 1950s. After finishing school in Mangalore, he was one of the last ones in the family to leave, following his brothers who had all already relocated for work. The market took care of his longing for comfort foods—shevai, vodi (sun dried rice fritters), phansa happolu (papad made with jackfruit), and the vegetables he had grown up eating.
Seasonal produce essential for Mangalorean cooking
My grandparents visited the market more regularly when Bapamma’s brother moved to a house close to it. Every Ganesh Chaturthi, it has become a ritual for us to visit him and for the whole family to take a leisurely walk through the market after a heavy lunch.
Usually, we end up spotting keerlu (tender bamboo) and ambade (hog plums), which are mainly available in the later part of the monsoon and otherwise hard to find in Mumbai. These ingredients are used to make Gajbaje, a mixed vegetable curry, and Alwati, a colocasia leaf-and-stems dish cooked with hog plums, peanuts, and coconut.
While the market sells all the usual staples—onions, tomatoes, and leafy vegetables—it is also studded with certain unique finds. Like the Matti gulla, a variety of green brinjal commonly used in Mangalorean cooking. Grown abundantly in a village named Matti near Mangalore, I wouldn’t have had a chance to taste this earthy variety of brinjal, if not for its availability in Matunga. It is usually battered and deep fried as phodis, crunchy on the outside, and soft within.
You will also find bamboo shoots and palm hearts, which are cherished ingredients in the Konkani community. Bamboo shoots are used fresh to prepare sukke—a dry stir-fry dish infused with generous amounts of coconut. They are also brined and stored in ceramic jars to be used throughout the year. Banana stems, known as gabbo in Konkani, stand out in their striking appearance—shiny and uniformly cylindrical. While their texture may require an acquired taste, they are delicious in dishes like upkari, a stir-fried preparation made with vegetables.
About a year ago, I had the good fortune of stumbling upon gud gud alambe, also known as thunder mushrooms. These mushrooms—exclusively found during the first few days of monsoon in Mangalore—must be savoured fresh. Pearly white in colour, they possess a distinct umami flavour, unlike the more common button mushrooms.
With the onset of winter now, you are certain to come across Kooka, or Chinese potatoes, in the market. Bappama awaits this time of the year. Even though this root vegetable is called the Chinese potato, it cannot be peeled and cleaned as easily as a potato. It is tedious to peel, and leaves one’s fingernails thoroughly blackened.
With every change in season, Bapamma insists that we fetch seasonal produce from the market—from bibbe (tender cashew) and jeev kadgi in the summer to kooka in the winter.
Every Diwali, my father asks me to meet him at the Matunga train station after work. We show up at A. Rama Nayak’s Udipi Stores with two big jute bags and buy large stocks of snacks and sweets for Diwali. A list that is constant every year.
Although today we buy most traditional Konkani snacks and sweets from this store, my family still remembers the specific tastes and textures of my great grandmother’s versions – of Mysore pak, churmundo (roasted wheat flour laddoos) mando (delicately folded triangles of sweet fried dough filled with sesame and coconut), tukdi (thin shakarparas), and karo (thick spicy sev). The snacks from the market are still stored in the same aluminium dabbas that my great grandmother once used.
As we stock our dabbas, my grandmother tells us about her mother’s skills in folding mando, and the speed at which she rolled churmundos. I have listened to these stories so often, and they feel so familiar by now that I almost feel like I have lived through them.As we stock our dabbas, my grandmother tells us about her mother’s skills in folding mando, and the speed at which she rolled churmundos. I have listened to these stories so often, and they feel so familiar by now that I almost feel like I have lived through them.
I recently overheard a conversation between a young woman and her lunch companion at Anand Bhavan, another one of Matunga’s famous restaurants. As they ate khotto (idli steamed in jackfruit leaves) and Mangalore buns (sweet, fluffy deep fried bread with banana), she shared that her father too used to eat here when he was younger.
Despite many ingredients used in Mangalore cuisine now available for sale online, the Matunga market remains close to us. For us, it’s more than just a market; it keeps us connected to the hometown we left behind.
Ashwini Pai, a chef now studying digital marketing, finds joy in long, quiet walks, sunsets, and the thrill of new experiences. Her true bliss lies in a plate of rice with rasam and fish fry.
Try this recipe for Kulith ani Kooka Koddel, a family recipe from the author that uses Kooka, a winter produce from the coastal regions of Karnataka.
Markets carry the pulse of the communities that they serve, and act as a window to diverse cultures. Market Archives aims to document as many markets from around India as possible—small, sprawling, vanishing, noisy, up a hill, tucked away in a corner of the city—every one of them. Join us as we speak to different sellers, see what’s in season across varied geographies, taste the familiar and unfamiliar, and soak in the sounds and scents that define each market.