Eating ethnic

Despite the plethora of fancy eating places and the deep pockets that enable us to eat at these restaurants; for some of us it is traditional food that provides a satisfying experience. Witness the throngs at eateries like MTR and Halli Mane and at the few restaurants that offer Jolada Roti meals.

Ironically, or maybe because this segment is smaller, most restaurateurs hesitate to go down the ethnic path. Walk on the well travelled road and one can’t go wrong, this appears to be the vein of thought in the restaurant industry. So even as you scour eateries for some soul satisfying food that brings back memories of home, time and again you keep coming up against that ubiquitous phrase ‘multi cuisine’.

The man behind the idea, Raghav Kamat. Pic: Theresa Verghese.

In this scenario, kudos must be given to somebody like Raghav Kamat who took his family’s Kamat Ahar restaurant, which served north Karnataka food, and transformed it an eatery specialising in Arya Vysya cuisine.

"The cuisine is a mix of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka’s. This community, known as Setty, migrated from Andhra about 200 years ago," says Kamat.

"It (Arya Vysya) is a community of merchants, dealing largely in jewellery and textiles. Having interacted with them, I have seen that they are very much a food loving people and I knew that I would be able to provide a variety of options on the menu."

Kamat who likes taking risks, as he puts it, was looking to change the existing menu when a friend suggested Arya Vysya food that his mother was well versed in. "These days, with people being so busy, there is often no time to cook traditionally," points out Kamat.

"Besides, even though the younger generation may want to eat certain kinds of food, they have no knowledge of how to cook these. This is one way of ensuring that old recipes do not die, " says Kamat. With this philosophy and Nagmani Gupta, his friend’s mother, training the cooks, Kamat launched Annabrahma six months ago. The name is apt. "In the Vedas Lord Krishna is referred as Anna Brahma. And according to the Upanishads, food is the first form of god. So Annabrahma means food is god," says Kamat.

starters sweet

Two starters and a sweet called Five Cup Burfi. Pic: Theresa Verghese.

Butter chicken and palak paneer juxtaposed by gobi manchurian, masala dosa and momo is what you’ll find on most menus.

With that kind of reverence, it is not surprising that Arya Vysya cuisine is doing well. That too with no formal advertising, purely word of mouth publicity. A consistency in the quality is bringing in repeat clientele and Kamat has been able to achieve what he partly set out to do – revive an interest in the food of a particular community.

Though most of Annabrahma’s patrons have not grown up on this cuisine the food is such that, whichever region you may belong to, it brings back memories of one’s childhood. Wholesome and nutritious, just like mother makes. Words like tasty and homely crop up regularly in the comments in the guest book. One customer has even written ‘rewinds me 30 years back to my grandma’s time’.

The format for the meals – buttermilk, appetiser, salad, roti, two vegetables, chutney, pickle, flavoured rice, plain rice with sambar, rasam and curd, and dessert, is the usual one. But since the menu changes every day, you could visit Annabrahma all seven days of the week and get a different meal each time.

Soft lacy ragi roti with vegetables and tomato chutney. Pic: Theresa Varghese.

The salads are interestingly varied: diced radish and onions mixed with hung curd, sprouts with coconut chutney, raw mango with chilli powder, fried lady fingers in curd. The vegetable dishes are beautifully balanced in taste and the rotis – made from millets, cereals or lentils and served plain or stuffed with onions, coriander or spinach – are nutritious.

The sweet dishes are particularly delightful since this is an area that that most eateries, even those serving ethnic cuisines, tend to overlook. At Annabrahma you could be wolfing down chirotti with flavoured milk, dal or coconut filled obattu, sugunta, kajjaya, shavige with sweet coconut milk, halwa made of banana, pumpkin, wheat flour or almond, or five cup burfi – so called because it is made out of five different flours.

Sanskrit verse about food at the entrance to the restaurant. Pic: Theresa Varghese.

On Sundays there is a special breakfast menu where apart from the usual idli/ vada with sambar and chutney, upma, poori with sagu, and keasri baath, you can also get unusual fare such as dosas with avarekallu gravy, pesarkadyalu with hesarubele payasa and tiny fried appams known as gunthapanganallu.

One would think that vernacular tongue twisters like this and the tangy pungency of traditional Indian food would not attract youngsters weaned on a Western diet. But the evidence belies this.

Arya Vysya,
63, 18th Cross, 3rd Block,
Jayanagar (Below Chung Wah and near Cradle Hospital)
Ph: 9880567602, 9739154496

Among the patrons you can see eager teenagers accompanying their parents, and young couples relishing a hearty home style meal that they have not had to slave over.

Enthused by the success of his experiment, Kamat has plans to launch a branch in the central part of the city by the end of the year. Till then, you will have to make a trip to Jayanagar. But do take directions. Locating the place can be a bit difficult for those unused to the area. 

About Theresa Varghese 20 Articles
Theresa Varghese is a independent writer and ardent baker who loves all things to do with food.

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