Mumbai is full of ghasphoos, especially the kind espoused by our northern neighbour. Even in this sea of veggie wonders, however, some dishes stand out and one of them is the near–mythical undhiyu.
I say near-mythical with reason; there are so many stories around its origins, ingredients and preparation, starting with the name itself – upside down. Apparently the authentic version is prepared on the farms of Surat by burying pots of exotic winter vegetables underground, and then lighting fires above it. Moonlight and morning dew are also rumoured to be involved. Here’s a short list of the ingredients that really go into the dish:
- Surti papdi (a kind of flat winter bean)
- Ariya kakdi (a kind of zucchini)
- Old potatoes
- Ravaya (small purple brinjal)
- Kand (purple yam)
- Sakhariya (sweet potatoes)
- Unpeeled ripe Rajagiri bananas
- Methi muthia (fenugreek leaf and besan dumplings)
- Lilva (green tuvar dal)
- Green garlic (garlic chives)
- Lots of oil
Undhiyu is not hard to get in Mumbai (every wedding seems to have it); most of it isn’t very good. The very characteristic taste of undhiyu comes from three things – the green spice mixture , the vegetables in the dish and the slow, slow method of braising in oil. The green spice mixture is easily replicated but the ingredients are much harder to acquire – most grow only in winter and only around Surat. Finally, there’s no way an average restaurant is burying anything underground for hours. What comes to the plate is usually undhiyu-flavoured mix-veg.
Consensus put an obscure 75-yr old shop in CP Tank as the top undhiyu in the city, and for a long time I was unable to get my hands on a sample and decide for myself. This place does not make very much undhiyu daily so it runs out fast; my last four visits had ended in disappointment. This Sunday’s cycle ride, I had already loaded up on a small plate of disappointing undhiyu in the much more prominently advertised Surti Restaurant (where Chinese, Punjabi and Tandoori are also on the menu). Right around the corner was Hiralal Kashidas, and Mr. Shah at the counter finally said yes to my entreaties this time. And so I walked into the dimly lit interior and questionably hygenic interior (this place is no Oberoi) full of mythical expectations.
I’m not going to fill this with verbiage – the undhiyu is outstanding. Having never been to Surat, I have no idea about any authenticity claims but this is easily the most droolworthy undhiyu I have ever had, and one of the best dishes of any kind anywhere. There’s a reason why the dish is famous, and why those exact ingredients matter – they combine to provide a taste and texture sensation that is – well – sensational. Squishy brinjals, chewy muthias, yielding bites of kand, starchy old potatoes, the grainy feel of the beans and lilva, its a wonderful explosion of tastes and textures when perfectly done.
As it turns out, there’s more where the undhiyu came from. Hiralal Kashidas is also makes some fantastic snack foods – including an unusual batatawada (tiny, soft-centred potato balls), some very nice patti samosas, methi bhajiya, kand bhajiya and lots of other stuff. Then there was something I’d never seen before - the very tasty lilva ghugda. Ghugda’s are usually sweet, but this one’s stuffed to great effect with a spicy-sweet lilva (green tuvar dal) filling.
Hiralal Kashidas is a real find. It helps that it is also hard to find (you could follow the map) but the final test isn’t about 1936 pedigree or a lack of hygiene that always seems to accompany the best street food. What really matters is - the stuff that Hiralal feeds you (in conveniently microwaveable containers) is great food – some of the best in the city.