Eating around the Wankhede

Deepti Unni
A guide to navigating the food hotspots around the South Mumbai stadium

Don't be taken in by the bright colours and cheerful ambience at Cafe Mondegar; it's quite the tourist trap © Getty Images

The Wankhede Stadium does a lot of things well; unfortunately, food isn't one of them. Sure, you could subsist for the length of the match on chips and tepid water out of plastic pouches, but regulars will tell you to treat the match as a break between meals, for the roads around the stadium hide some of the city best-kept food secrets.

If you find yourself near the stadium early in the day and at a loose end, just follow the crowds streaming out from Churchgate station to find your way to the cheapest morning eats. Vendors set up makeshift stalls near the station starting 6 am, dishing out everything from steaming, fluffy idlis to the quintessential Bombay sandwich - tomato, cucumber, boiled potato and cheese between two or three slices of white bread, slathered with green chutney and butter, topped with pumpkin ketchup and crispy fried sev (gram flour noodles) - all your food groups in one neat package.

For a sit-down brekkie that's still comfortable on your wallet, head to Stadium Restaurant. This Irani café is an institution, and though not all their food has stood the test of time, you can't fault their breakfast. Call for a hot chai and brun maska - a crusty, French-roll-style bun served with lashings of butter - ask to borrow the newspaper from a neighbour (who will inevitably have one), and spend an hour alternately sipping chai and dunking brun in it, while the waiters passive-aggressively try to kick you out. If your taste buds need waking up, get the kheema pao, where minced, spiced mutton finds a perfect foil in the buttery, slightly sweet bread of the pao. Damages? Less than Rs 200.

If you're feeling posh and like you're going to need a breakfast that will see you through till match time in the evening, find your way to the lanes of Kala Ghoda. Gentrification is creeping into what was once a maze of dilapidated buildings hosting tiny offices and ancient rent-controlled apartments, and today scrap dealers share space with hipster cafés. One of these is The Nutcracker, a relentlessly cheery space where flowers hang out of window boxes and vegetarians hang out on chairs outside, waiting for a table. There's no meat here, but you won't miss it when you order their emmenthal and truffle oil scrambled eggs, to be washed down with a salted caramel and banana smoothie. They also do a version of the Eggs Kejriwal, a Willingdon Club dish invented ostensibly by a Mr Devi Prasad Kejriwal who wanted to disguise the fact that he was eating eggs from his devoutly vegetarian wife. This version has crispy toast topped with chillies, cheese, mushrooms and a fried egg.

Brun, bun-maska and mawa cake with steaming cups of chai: the staples of the Irani café breakfast experience © Getty Images

Lunch time in South Mumbai can get very, very busy. Being predominantly a commercial area, restaurants are thronged between 1 and 3 pm by office workers and getting a table can be difficult. Beat the crowds - and it's alarming how large these can get - and get to Phirozshah Mehta Road. Look for a colourful south Indian temple and you'll have found your way to Pitha Street, where two of Mumbai's best Kerala restaurants compete. Taste of Kerala and Deluxe offer a massive Kerala sadhya for lunch - a 20-dish feast on a banana leaf, served with a mountain of fat-grained red rice. By the time the payasam (milk-based pudding) rolls around, you will need to earmark a place to nap after. If your appetite is more human-sized, plump for the tarli fish curry rice at Deluxe, or the kappa (tapioca) biryani with Kerala chicken, or at Taste of Kerala ask for the off-the-menu beef fry - water-buffalo meat, not cow - or duck roast with flaky, layered Malabar parota.

Ask about seafood in South Mumbai and most people will inevitably point you to Trishna near Kala Ghoda, who have built an empire out of their butter-garlic crab. The crab is still fantastic - waiters will bring you live ones to pick from, so they are undoubtedly fresh - but the prices are unjustifiable. Head instead to Pratap Lunch Home in Fort for Mangalorean seafood specialities that won't break the bank. If you like your food eye-wateringly spicy, ask for the prawns pulimunchi, a hot and sour curry, or the slightly more tempered prawns gassi, a coconut milk-based curry. Either can be mopped up with silky neer dosas (rice crepes). They also have the best value-for-money crab in the area. Also great for Mangalorean food is Apoorva nearby, whose mutton sukka, fish gassi and appam (fluffy but crisp rice crepe) are legendary, accompanied by a cold glass of sol-kadi (a tart coconut-milk-based drink).

If you want to really work up an appetite, go looking for Shree Thaker Bhojanalay, a two-odd kilometre walk from the Wankhede. Located in the treacherous and labyrinthine backstreets of Kalbadevi, this place has been serving up a legendary Gujarati thali since 1945. Budget about an hour to find the place, then a 15-minute wait for a table, then fork out Rs 500 for unlimited servings of rice, dal, dhoklis (steamed gram flour cakes), kadhi (yogurt curry), rotlas (wheat flatbread) bhajias (batter-fried vegetables) and more; eventually, you'll have to beg the waiters to stop serving you.

There's plenty of sophisticated dining close to the Wankhede too - good world cuisine at Indigo and Ellipsis in Colaba, and the Clearing House in Ballard Estate; great pan-Asian food at Umame near the stadium, and at Jia in Colaba.

Pani puri, Mumbai's staple street food, has strict rules of etiquette - you only get one at a time, wait for the vendor to serve everyone else, and ask for a dry puri with potato to kill the spice at the end of a six-puri serving © Getty Images

There's many a place to kill that 5pm hunger, be it pick-up-and-go snack or a proper chow-down. A hop away from the Wankhede, Pizza by the Bay's best dish is nostalgia, served with a side of spectacular views of Marine Drive, but their pizzas aren't half-bad either. Get the Bombay Masala, a plain cheese pizza sprinkled with familiar spices (is it garam masala? Pav bhaji masala?) and if you're really feeling indulgent, get it with a cheese-stuffed crust.

Another place that does really great pizzas, and fantastic finger food all round, is Woodside Inn, close to Regal Cinema in Colaba. If you're feeling peckish, get the truffle rosemary fries, and for a slightly bigger hunger, opt for the goan chorizo and pickled onion pizza. Woodside is also great for a pre-game drink, with their range of locally brewed craft beers and fantastic happy-hour deals. They now have stiff competition in Doolally, the Pune brewery that has a taproom in Colaba. Pick from IPAs, stouts, ales or the salty-sour gose that's quite an acquired taste. And while it's easy to be tempted by visions of chilled beer at the iconic Cafe Mondegar and Leopold Cafe, steer clear; they are little more than tourist traps now.

Budget eats crowd the famous khau galli (eat street) leading from SNDT College behind the Wankhede to Cross Maidan, and here you will find everything from Szechwan noodle dosas to chicken curry rotis. For a taste of the outré, shell out Rs 60 for a chocolate sandwich or Rs 75 for a chocolate and cheese at Raju Sandwich, right next to Churchgate station.

Locals will tell you no trip to the Wankhede is complete without a stop at K Rustom ice cream. Mumbai's oldest ice-cream parlour (since 1953), is also the first to serve an ice-cream sandwich, and you can still get them today, an old-school slab served between two thin wafer slices.

You're bound to leave the game famished if you haven't been snacking on soggy chips and warm drinks inside. Mumbai lays out a veritable spread for those inclined to spend a bit. Pa Pa Ya is the newest star on the block, serving innovative sushi and Asian food at innovatively high prices. The best khao suey in the city is at the aforementioned Umame, right across from Churchgate who also do a mean Korean bibimbap (rice bowl). Vegetarians will love Burma Burma for its authentic ohn no kauk swe (wheat noodle in a coconut-milk broth), the tea leaf salad and the unique smoked avocado and honey ice cream.

There's no lack of late-night eats in the neighbourhood either. To experience the best of Mumbai's dives, head to poky Gokul in Colaba, whose dingy interiors belie its very good food and cheap booze. It's not uncommon to see expats sharing beers with hardcore drinkers over chicken tikkas and cheese pakodas. Right across the lane from there is the much hyped Bademiya, once Mumbai's premier after-party pit stop, now a shadow of its former self, despite its expansion. Skip their skinny butter-chicken rolls and head to Ayub's in Kala Ghoda for crisp, greasy baida roti (mutton mince and egg layered in fried flatbread) and spicy kathi rolls. If a full, substantial meal is what you seek, head to Crawford Market, about 3km from the Wankhede, to Zaffran for some raan biryani (slow cooked lamb shanks in biryani) or chelo kebab (kebabs covered in buttered rice). This place stays open till 6 am, so there's never any worry about making it before the kitchen shuts for the night. If you don't fancy the slog, head north a bit from the stadium, close to Charni Road station, and get a paneer tikka sandwich from Bachelorr's, another Mumbai institution, and round it off with their famous green-chilli ice cream.

You're never going to have trouble finding food around the Wankhede. Picking just one place out of the many, though? That struggle is real.