My Australian friend Glenn chuckles. ‘It’s an Aboriginal tribe.’ He googles a list of indigenous Queenslanders. ‘See? I told you! Uutaalganu, Umbindhamu, Undhiyu.’
We amble down Chowpatty Beach in search of Go-Go snacks, the family-run deli that makes the implausible-sounding vegetable dish.
Undhiyu is traditionally cooked upside down in the ground, in sealed mud pots, I explain. ‘Upside down - translation – undhu…in Gujarati. Hence the name’.
He’s intrigued. He has worked in Surat but never heard of its winter speciality. ‘It’s on the Mumbaikars’ list of favourite things to do in December. ‘Cool temperatures, Christmas trees, NRI visits, strawberries, and undhiyu.’
It’s the blend of spices and uncommon vegetables, the earthen vessel it is simmered in that lends it an enchanting exoticism.
The vegetables: broad beans, tender green peas, eggplant, unripe banana, purple yam, fenugreek dumplings, potato. The spices: turmeric, red and green chilly, cumin, sesame seeds, coriander powder and leaves, sugar, lemon juice…..
‘Meat?’ he asks, with a glint of hope in his scowl
‘Strictly vegetarian. And gluten-free. And vegan. ’
‘That is beyond exotic. That’s frikkin’ insane.’
Friendly Uncle at Go-Go Snacks extols its virtues to the Foreigner from Melbourne with high-flaming zeal. He opens my takeaway container to dissect the piping-hot vegetable dish. He points, scrutinizes, breaks down and deconstructs the undhiyu with the proficiency of a lab-coated scientist.
He has saved the piece de resistance for the last: the muthiya dumplings. The finely chopped methi – fenugreek leaves are dipped in besan - gram flour and fried or steamed.
He lays out a muthiya on the stainless steel lid and prods it with a spoon, explains, enlightens and offers to give him the recipe.
Give him the recipe? Whatever happened to family trade secrets? Ok, so what are the chances of a steak addict from Down Under opening an undhiyu joint in his backyard?
I glance at him sidelong and grin. Glenn is nodding vigourously. He knows neither methi nor fenugreek, besan nor gram flour. But he’s a courteous listener and a good student. Perhaps he will open an undhiyu takeaway in Australia some day.
Meanwhile, he needs a lager. We carry the lukewarm box to the nearby New York bar and restaurant.