I used to live in South Bangalore until a few years ago. The Gandhibazaar-Jayanagar-VV Puram area has always been a haven for lovers of South Indian snacks. It had been quite sometime since I visited this area and when I met an old friend, we struck upon this idea of rediscovering South Bangalore food. Not the hotels, but the eat-as-you-go type – the Indian version of the street cafes of Europe.
Small Cafes and Darshinis
The best way to start the day would be with the soft and fluffy idlis soaked in the watery chutney at Brahmins’ Coffee Bar. This shop on Ranga Rao Road in Basavanagudi, hardly 10 X 6 in size, serves only four dishes – soft idlis, crisp vada, spicy kharabath and the sweet kesaribath. The dishes are served with only chutney. The price is also economical at not more than Rs.25 per person for a double idli, vada and coffee. Brahmins’ has been doing thriving business on this street for more than 50 years. I stared with disbelief at the number of vehicles parked in the vicinity; obviously all belonged to hungry customers of the store. We had to park our car two blocks away and walk to this small store for the tasty food.
Brahmins’ has strictly regulated timings (open all days except Sundays, from 7AM -12 noon and 5-8 PM). I guess when you are so popular, you can afford to open and close the store as per your wishes. Don’t despair if you land up in the area and find this closed – another very good eatery for idlis and dosas is the SLV Corner (known to all as SLV) at Gandhibazaar circle, facing Ramakrishna Ashram. The interestingly named Halli Tindi (meaning village food) opposite the Ganesha temple on Bull Temple Road is a relatively recent entrant. The place serves some very good akki rottis (rice roti) and ragi rottis (ragi roti).
Papdiwala, a relatively fancy chat shop in Ramakrishna Ashram circle serving pav bhajis, tandoori paneer and other ‘North Indian’ snacks closed down recently. It could be because of the rentals, the higher prices, and also because of the offerings, which were not the traditional South Indian fare.
Davanagere Benne Dosa joints have cropped up all round the city, making the simple butter dosa a popular brand. My favourite is the small hole-in-the-wall shop in NR Colony, near Netakallappa Circle. While the benne dosa sells like, well, hot dosas, they also serve the traditional mandakki, an authentic North Karnataka variant of dry bhel, with the spicy menasinakai bhajji (chilly bhajji). We washed down the mandakki and bhajji with some tea. I just love the tea here. It has a distinct flavour that one doesn’t get in the innumerable city darshinis and restaurants.
Just around the corner from Netakallappa Circle on DVG Road is the famous Upahara Darshini – UD for short. It is probably the first darshini in Bangalore, and easily one of the best. Though their dosas are very popular, I would recommend the Kadubu (idli in the shape of a cup) here. Roti Ghar in Gandhibazaar belongs to the same management as UD.
Jayanagar 4th Block Shopping Complex has always been a popular hangout for the area’s young and happening. I never thought bread could taste so great, until I was introduced to the sandwiches in Cool Joint. I wistfully remembered those cool evenings, where I had to wedge my way through scores of college-goers to place the order and grab my sandwich and milk shakes. But if you were a dosa lover who happened to be in Jayanagar, there could be no other place to go to but the Jayanagar Dosa Camp. This joint was featured in TV programmes for its unique dosas (paneer dosas, green gram dosas, and rajdhani dosas). The eatery was so popular and attracted such a large crowd that people spilled over from the pavement to the busy street. Under pressure from authorities, the hotel has remodeled itself as a darshini and a request has been put up by the owners asking patrons to not stand on the pavement. Somehow the charm of waiting in the queue and watching the crisp dosas being made by the roadside, with the aroma wafting through the mild breeze, is lost. But to their credit, the dosa taste is intact and economically priced at Rs12.
Gaadis or Mobile Carts
If you thought South Bangalore was all about dosas and idlis, think again. The area is dotted with countless gaadiwalas – mobile food vendors, selling everything from bhel puri and pani puri to gobi manchurian. My brother vouches for the gaadis near National College in Jayanagar. These gaadis sell that very uniquely Indian Chinese delicacy – gobi manchurian, chaat and the capsicum bhajjis. Most street corners in the area have these gaadis.
Not everything is hunky-dory for these unregulated gaadiwalas though. Kathriguppe Main Road had a couple of popular gaadis. Hesarubele (Green Gram, Moongdal) chaat in Kanth’s cart was a must when we went there. And then a Big Bazaar opened on the road, which led to a massive spurt in traffic and parking. The police had no choice but to drive the carts away from the main road. Sadly, this was yet another case of big business muscling away the small vendors.
Another chaat vendor who ran into trouble with the authorities was Mahadev, who used to operate in the Ramakrishna Ashram bus stop. Even though he was popular with the college-going crowd, he was driven out of the place – there were rumours, apparently spread by a rival vendor that Mahadev used to add chicken masala to his chaat concoction, a strict no-no among the mainly vegetarian clientele. The real reason was that his cart was located near a very crowded bus stop. Undeterred, Mahadev saved up enough to find a small shop Chowdeshwari Chaat Centre just a block away and still does good business. I went to his shop to eat some pani puri. There is something about the South Indian pani puri – hot masala, boiled peas – very different from the North Indian ‘puchkas’ and ‘gol gappas’ that have invaded the city recently.
Most gaadi food will never pass reasonable Health and Safety norms, but the taste is almost worth the risk! During this visit, I spotted Chatpat, a Maruti van which has been converted into a chaat stall. Proudly proclaiming that all items use only Bisleri, it’s the solution for all NRIs who love the chaat but are scared of picking up a stomach bug. The chaats are priced at Rs20 – better hygiene comes at higher rates. Relatively new, the staff in uniforms resembles the new-age wedding caterers. The van is currently stationed near Netakallappa Circle, near the Davanagere Benne Dosa shop, and they have plans to expand into other localities as well.
An article on street food and no mention of Food Street? Blasphemous! A visit to the legendary Food Street in V Vpuram is a must for all foodies. Called ‘Market road’, it comes alive in the evenings around 7pm and buzzes with activity until 11pm. As you enter the street, the famous VB Bakery is on the right. More than 50 years old, it still operates with the same briskness and is one of the few places that have a special queue for ladies. Try the rusk and oma biscuits here, and I’m sure you’ll never buy it at your local bakery again. For those who’d like to try new recipes, there are the peanut masala buns and Japanese cakes.
The entire street is full of small shops and roadside vendors who serve not only the standard chaat and idli-dosa dishes but also bisi bisi obbatu, holige and mouth-watering ‘peni’. Walking up the street, the wafting aroma of the capsicum bhajjis being freshly made on mobile carts makes you salivate. There is also the very unique bath masala (dosa with lemon rice filling!), American or Australian corns and a Bata Shoe corner selling vada paos! There are a few ‘noodals’ shops with their big woks tossing noodles in the air. I quite admired the ingenious use of small fans to fan the charcoal for roasting the corn. The corn vendor must have been inspired by Sir M Visvewarayya whose statue adorns the street entrance. Prices are relatively on the higher side. A corn masala costs Rs.25. Dosa is around the same price. Then again, they are selling a concept and maybe police kickbacks are also high.
After having all the great food, a PVR or INOX at Shivanna’s shop, at the far end of the street, is part of a routine for regulars. The foodies who visit this place often will enlighten you that it means ‘benne gulkand plain or ‘benne gulkand with fruits and ice-cream’. The other quirky items are the nellikai (amla) masala, which is surprisingly sweet and tangy to taste, molakekal (green sprouts) masala and the Pepsi masala – very different from the sweet Pepsi that one is used to. The entire street is a gastronomic experience and is as popular as MTR or Vidyarthi Bhavan. Food Street attracts all kinds of people. Many Marwari families relish the dishes with as much gusto as the young college going crowd. People drive up in the swankiest of cars and take parcels home. Go there on a Saturday evening to truly get the buzz of the place.
I returned home with the happy conclusion that the Subways and the McDonalds will never take over this unique Bangalore experience.
Disclaimer: The vendors mentioned in the article are just a few of my favourites. I would surely have missed out on many more, but the intention of this article was not to create a food guide directory. ⊕