Hunting for great food served with generous helpings of nostalgia in Bangalore
By Nawneet Ranjan
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 31, 2010, 00:08

It has no doubt transformed Bangalore -- quiet lanes, once considered charming, are now a sign of the city�s �poor infrastructure.� The dense foliage, which kept the sun at bay when other cities groaned under the summer heat, is slowly disappearing. The once leisurely Banglorean is working double shifts to meet his �deadlines.�

Where then does a romanticist find solace?

In the restaurants, it seems. Some eating joints dating back to the good ole� days have held their own in the face of the McDonalds and the Baristas. In a world where �Super Offers� pop out from every billboard, these restaurants quite subtly make an offer you cannot refuse -good food, old values.

The list below is in no way exhaustive, but it will satiate the foodie�s and the romanticist�s cravings . . .

Mavalli Tiffin Rooms

Everyone has heard of Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, right? Wrong. Everyone has only heard of MTR. And it was the �MTR� board I was looking for on Lalbagh Road without any luck. Some frantic calls later, I realized that Mavalli Tiffin Room was indeed the famous MTR I was seeking.

I entered. It was 1970. Green- marble top tables, switches and regulators that go �thunk� when you turned them ON, and walls painted green and maroon, looked dull in the light given out by filament bulbs, which looked like Edison makes.

If you think MTR cannot afford a renovation, you obviously haven�t noticed the crowd that throng the restaurant, nor do you know that MTR just sold its packaged food business for a whopping 350 crores.

MTR simply has chosen not to change; its old clientele, harried by the change in pace outside , find solace at MTR where time has stood still.

S. Gopal, an MTR loyal, gets a free cup of coffee on Tuesday when the restaurant is closed for public. �Every morning I take a walk in Lalbagh, and come to MTR for my breakfast. And I suffer from no stomach problems �, says Gopal, explaining his 30 year old relationship with MTR. And then there is Mallikarjun, who Gopal points outs jokingly, would rather not see his family than miss his daily cup of coffee at MTR.

Brahmin�s Caf�

�Soft,� �fluffy,� and �as delicate as Jasmine flower�-that�s how South Indians describe the humble idli. Idilis served in Brahmin�s Caf� are all that and more - they melt in your mouth. No wonder, Brahmin�s Caf� has been voted the best Idili & Coffee joint in Bangalore.

Brahmin�s Caf� attracts crowds both old and young. While the menu is not elaborate, the items you do get rank highest in the drool factor. Interestingly, Brahmin�s caf� triggered a revolution in Bangalore�s gastro-economic history.

While KV Nageshwar started the restaurant in 1965, skeptics dismissed the whole concept as foolhardy. The size of the restaurant was so small that the people had to collect their orders themselves, and stand outside and eat. But the �taste� won the people�s hearts. And it was this same taste that drew Dravid, Srinath, and even John Wright.

Nageshwar Rao�s five sons entered the restaurant biz, and in 1992, they started the Adigas chain of restaurants. Today, it�s hard to miss the self-service, stand-n-eat restaurant in Bangalore.

Though the Adiga restaurants yield more profits, the family runs the Brahmin�s Caf� partly in memory of their father and partly because they can�t break the over 40 years old relationship in the area. �I have been serving the same people for the past thirty years . I order their dish as soon as I see them approaching- I know them that well,� says Radhakrishna Adiga. Even his suppliers remain unchanged. �the coffee powder still comes from Vasantha Coffee Works, and even the milk supplier is the same,� he adds.

What he was trying to say was that maintaining relationships matter more than economic benefits in the long run. It�s that which they teach at Harvard.

Gundanna�s Restaurant

There was a time when children from middle-class families would look forward to their appas� �per day.� On their way back home the appas would buy choice goodies from Gundanna�s Restaurant; some of them walking or cycling several kilometers out of the way to get them.

Today, most appas have cars, but few will venture into the choked roads approaching Chikpete. However, business for Gundanna�s Restaurant remains unaffected- perhaps because of its proximity to the famous Dharmaraya temple, which draws a lot of people in Bangalore.

The eatery was started in 1932 by Gundanna. Though the name of the eatery is Ram Vilas Sweets, the name Gundanna�s restaurant is how most Bangloreans refer to this place. It serves one of the best Mysore Paks in Bangalore. The badam halwa, murrukku, and mixture too are not to be missed. But the hot item on the menu is Dumrote (a kind of halwa). It arrives at the shelves at 3.30 p.m. and is sold within half an hour.

But surely some things must have changed between then and now. �Well, the prices have definitely risen,� says G. Narasimhamurthy, son of Gundanna, curtly. Then, with a slight smile he added �And cars have replaced jatakas (horse-carts) on the roads.�

BB Bakery

The �Bangalore experience� isn�t complete till you visit one of the Iyengar bakeries. Khaara bread (spicy bread), , fruit bread, Om biscuit, coconut biscuit, palya bun (vegetable bun), dilkush (a sweet dish) are all Iyengar bakery specials. . . . something you just won�t find in other metros.

It�s difficult to single out the best Iyengar bakery in town, but the one bakery that stands out is VB Bakery in Visvesvarpuram. VB bakery, I discovered, is an off-shoot of BB Bakery, the first Iyengar bakery in Bangalore. It was established in 1898. Soon I was out in the lanes of Chikpete hunting for BB Bakery.

The faded board and dull interiors of BB Bakery inspired no confidence. On the shelves were the usual Iyengar bakery offerings-variations of bread, biscuit, and buns. I must confess, it was a tad disappointing by the looks of it. The food, however, did the talking. The Veg Roll was delightful-the bread as tasty as the filling. The coconut biscuits were light , and melt as soon as they hit the tongue (I am getting tired of this expression now!). The khaara cookie, a spicy- sweet combination, is a rage amongst BB Bakeries.

H.T. Srinivas, who currently runs the bakery, told me that his grandfather ran a sweet shop. A British patron introduced the art of baking to him. The bakery products were a huge hit not only amongst the British but also the locals. Enterprising boys trained by Thirumalachar spanned out to start their own bakeries in Bangalore; the most successful one of the lot is VB Bakery , which was started by Thirumalachar�s eldest son.

On the other hand, families in Chikpete, who formed BB Bakery�s main clientele, started moving out, making way for commercial establishments. Today , business is not as flourishing as it was before. The smaller scale of operation, however , does lend BB Bakery a homeliness you miss in retail outlets with their painfully mechanized �professional customer service.� At BB Bakery, you can indulge in harmless banter with the salesman for a few minutes. Business may not be brisk, but neither is the mood at BB Bakery - savour it while it lasts.


Mavalli Tiffin rooms- #14, Lalbagh Road, Bangalore-27

Brahmins� Caf�-Rangrao Road, Near Shankar Mutt, Shankarpuram

Gundanna�s Restaurant-14, OTC Road, Nagarthpet, Bangalore-2

BB Bakery- No. 22, BVK Iyengar Cross, Bangalore-53

Nawneet Ranjan is a filmmaker and writer based in San Francisco. He has written two feature film scripts, �The Joy Ride!� and �The Full Circle,� to be produced in India.

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