My mother’s theory about kesari-bhaath, the sweet dish that defines Karnataka cuisine is that it ought to have enough ghee to slide down your throat with nary a chew or swallow. I thought about this as I stood outside Chandra Chat Centre in Vishveshwara Puram or V.V. Puram, a bustling neighbourhood in Basavanagudi, South Bangalore.
I once wanted to live here, because Basavanagudi along with Malleshwaram is the portmanteau (combining two words to make up a new word) that gave R.K. Narayan’s fictional town of Malgudi.
I am in Thindi Bheedhi (literally tiffin street), V.V. Puram’s “khao galli,” which is to Bangalore what Chandni Chowk’s food streets are to Delhi. It is around 6 PM, just when the area is opening up for the evening’s business. I am here because I am suffering from Post-Diwali food-withdrawal symptoms. I have decided that instead of fasting or going on diets and detox like my sensible friends, I will simply eat some more.
Where to begin, that is the question. S. Ravindra, a friend of mine who lives in Basavanagudi says that you cannot get a bad vada in Bangalore. What does this mean for a visitor? If someone takes you to a darshini (similar to dhaba), opt for a vada in some form, either dunked in sambar or rasam or just by itself with chutney. You won’t go wrong.
In V.V. Puram, one of the vadas on offer is made with the hyacinth bean or avarekai. It is seasonal and local, two words that chefs all over the world love. Avarekai along with kadlekai (peanuts) are beloved to Bangaloreans. In fact, VV Puram hosts the annual avarekai mela in winter (December-January). A variety of dishes are made from both the peeled and the unpeeled bean. By some estimates, some some 1000 kgs of this bean gets traded during the season.
I am with Kunal Bysani whose Instagram handle, Ghatotkatcha, explains his love of food. A fifth-generation Bangalorean, Kunal is here to give me a tour of the places he likes in Thindi Bheedhi.
We begin with V.B. Bakery (or Vishveshwarapuram Brahmins Bakery) known for its khara biscuits, rusk, and dumrot– a sweet made with ashgourd. It comes individually packed and resembles a pockmarked creme brulee, except it has shredded ashgourd (petha or kumblekai) mixed with dense amounts of ghee. Since I am a savoury person, I opt for the KBC or Khara Bun Congress. Congress peanuts is what Bangalore calls masala peanuts. Reason: these peanuts are cleaved in half, much like the Congress Party did in 1969. The KBC is a bun cut in half, generously smeared with butter and filled with Congress peanuts. Or maybe this snack was popular in Congress party meetings. Whatever the reason, Congress peanuts are available all over Bangalore.
A weird change has happened to me after I moved to Bangalore. I have come to prefer idlis to dosas. Bangalore does idli well. There are rava idlis– invented in MTR, Bidadi thatte idli which is about the size of a small plate, and of course the normal idlis. I had both the thatte idlis and the normal ones in Thindi Bheedi and they were outstanding. Where do you eat this? Sai idlis, Gurudev Eating House, it doesn’t matter. They are all excellent. Go where the crowds are and you won’t go wrong.
If North Indian is your preference, go to Dev Sagar, which serves excellent dabelis– although I hesitate to say this, given that I am not a North Indian and have no notion of what constitutes an excellent dabeli. I guess you Mumbaikars or Delhiwallas have to come try these out to make sure.
At the end of thindi bheedi are the vendors on push-carts. One man called “Ashok Uncle,” purveys corn in a variety of ways. You can get baby corn masala chat, which is basically sliced baby corn with mango and spices. The “butta” or roasted corn is terrific here. Kunal says that Ashok churns out “sustainable food before sustainability became a watchword.” The baby-corn chat, for instance is given to me in the corn peels. Leftovers are parcelled in reusable mixture covers. There is no trash around the shop.
Next door is Shivanna gulkand centre. Here, fresh gulkand becomes the base for ice-cream and fruits that become more and more elaborate. Mine had chocolate covered almonds strewn on top. What I would do the next time is just try plain gulkand which tasted fresh without being cloying.
After a night of eating, try the masala soda at Sri Ganesh fruit juice centre. The owner will pour you a masala soda and the deal is that you have to continuously keep sipping as he pours till the bottle is empty. This is a “bottoms up” tango between pourer and drinker. At the end, those who succeed get rewarded with a “good boy” or “good girl.”