What are the first few things that come to mind when we talk about the street food in Delhi? Golgappe? Chole-Bhature? or Bread Pakode? What if we tell you there is a place hidden in Delhi’s streets that serves scrumptious dosas and parottas, idli and upma?
Mathew Café stands inconspicuously among other food shacks on a busy street in the capital. Most of these specialise in a variety of Delhi staples — aloo parathas, kadhi-rice, chole-kulche, paneer–naan... From a distance, the café seems like just any other. It is only when you get closer that the difference unfolds.
I arrive at the café early on a breezy Sunday morning. The place is abuzz, the air heavy with the aroma of sambhar and clouds of steam rising from the dosa griddle. The tables are already occupied by families and about a dozen men and women await their orders. Half a dozen more wait for refills. But none of the men behind the counters seem perturbed.
“To me, Mathew Café is synonymous with South Indian tiffin in Delhi. Whatever be the time of day, you will always get fresh food here. That it is also authentic South Indian fare is an added benefit,” says Simi Nair, a regular. The menu is extensive — dosas, idlis, vadas, pongal, utthapam, parrotta, upma, pulav, coffee, tea — and the pricing inviting. I want to sample everything, but make do with just masala dosa, idli, and kurma parotta.
The dosas come after a long wait. Wrapped around a generous filling of potatoes, they are crisp and golden. They also happen to be the hottest selling item. The sambhar is a perfect blend of spicy and tangy. The parotta, meanwhile, is fluffy, crisp and tender:Served in a portion of three with a coconut-based vegetable kurma, it stand apart in bread pakora-dominated Delhi.
“I first spotted Matthew Café in 1999, while walking home after work. I had just come from Chennai and was missing the food here, and suddenly the aroma of pongal wafted through the air. I was pulled to it like a bee to nectar. It has been almost 20 years since, and I still come here for breakfast,” says D Kar, who works in Gurugram. Looking at him gushing over his pongal, I cannot help but order one too. One mouthful of the ghee-laden dish, and I know why the cafe is a hit.