Two months to know a city. That is all I can think of. Two Months. Can it ever be enough to know or see something of a city that is home to zillions of people coding-decoding the mysteries of life, or uhm, the daily grind at least?
I am moving to the capital soon. Delhi – with its wide roads and scorching summers. Delhi – of history in each stone and politics in each message. And Delhi with, hopefully, yummy street food. Street Food in itself is a funny concept, is it not? You eat something on the streets of a certain city. And the same thing is sold in restaurants in a different one. Pav Bhaji in Kolkata. Dhokla in Bangalore. Idli-wada in Delhi, chicken rolls in Hyderabad. But the only way to eat the food of any region and to understand what makes them tick, is to eat it in that city itself. Imagine being served a steaming plate of Missal Pao in Kolkata. Looks like daal with chanachur/ mixture on it. I would probably slot it in the evening snacks genre. And yet in Maharashtra, that is a staple breakfast. Similarly Poha Jalebi would never be breakfast for someone in Mumbai, but for people from Indore, it would be a way of life.
So to understand the nuances of lip-smacking ‘south indian’ food above and beyond the Idli-Wada-Dosa that I have eaten since childhood, I agreed (very readily, if I may add) to my friend’s invite of visiting Bangalore’s Food Street.
Known as Thindi Beedi, this stretch in VV Puram, Bangalore, is a foodie’s delight. But of course, you have to be open to experimenting. Thanks to my fabulous guide to everything food in this city, we knew exactly where to start.
On one end of the stretch, standing proud and tall is VB Bakery. This place is easily 40 years old, or maybe more. But the smell of freshly baked puffs and sweet honey cake wafts through as soon as you enter. We tried our hand at the honey cake and the incredibly named, Congress Bun. The Congress Bun is actually a Khara Bun lathered on the inside with a paste of peanuts with Turmeric and Chilli. Spicy and yummy till the last bite, these get their name from the colour – which resemble the political party’s flag colours.
This is probably just me, but I notice the bakery culture being more pronounced in Bangalore than any other city I have lived in. Bombay did have bakeries, but those were for chicken and mutton cutlets, rolls, chips, sometimes kebabs etc. The best one for – from where I have often got breakfast and party food alike – has been A1 bakery in Bandra, though I am sure there are many strewn around town. However, in Bangalore, bakeries are mostly vegetarian, serving home baked breads, biscuits, cakes etc. There is probably one Iyengar bakery every few hundred metres. Just as there are hot chips stores. (I wonder if everyone who grew up here, grew up on tapioca/ banana chips and honey cakes. Sigh!)
Going ahead from the bakery, we strolled till we found one big stall with a crowd thronging around the counters. Some strategizing later, we decided to go ahead and order almost everything we could see – which included Akki Roti (made with rice flour) with curry, Paddu (Smaller, lightly fried idlis), Kodbale (rings which taste like murukku on the outside but are softer inside). We stood on the street, ate up with our hands, looked at people coming in from all sides, and kept wondering if each country has such a huge variety of food, and if all foodies across the universe feel the same rush of excitement when they see something new. The end of the journey came with the spicy taste of Masala Puri. However, the best, the very best, end to the non-extravagant but extremely satisfying dinner would have to be Shivanna’s Butter Gulkand ice-cream. As I stood there and watched with no-idea-what-I-was-getting-myself-into, a man with practiced ease put a spoonful of butter into a leaf-bowl of gulkand, whisked it and topped it with some ice cream and chopped fruits. Delicious.
So, in one day, I ate more than I had in the last 6 months in this city, and fell in love with the cuisine. All for less than Rs 150! Since then, I have tried many more authentic-Bangalore stuff. From the Dosa and Mangalore Buns at MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms) to the Chicken Biriyani, Kaleji fry, Ragi Mudde served on banana leaf plates at a tiny Military hotel (the old and very basic hotels where the old Bangaloreans would get their non-veg fix). And each have, thanks to friends who know the city and servers who talk with pride of their food, shown me one more aspect of a city I was not so sure about.
My two months are almost up. And here I am loving this city a bit more. Om Nom N—I meant, love.