Lately, I have been traveling frequently to Bangalore for work. While it is quite a pretty city (with a lot of greens), work days there are absolute chaos – firstly because of the crazy traffic on the roads and secondly, because my schedules there keep me running from one place to another without even any lunch breaks.
To deal with that kind of stress and to keep my sanity, I decided to keep “food” as my indulgence that can help me recover from it all. I keep local food as an incentive for managing all the work quickly and heading out to these places.
Thus, began my quest to explore food in Bangalore and more specifically, local, authentic food from the Karnataka region. I have explored “Brahmins Cafe” and “Nagarjuna”- a restaurant that serves Andhra style meals and have posted about them earlier too.
This time round, my trip was around two other places, one of which was “Vidhyarthi Bhavan” and the other was the famed coastal food restaurant “Karavalli”.
This post will revolve around my dining story at Vidhyarthi Bhavan. Karavalli will follow soon after in another post, so keep your eyes peeled.
Vidyarthi Bhavan, a rather unassuming dining place located in the locale of Basavanagudi in Bangalore can be missed out if you aren’t paying attention. It is almost covered up and hidden owing to its location between two buildings and by colourful flower shops outside its gates.
We reached there at about 1.30 in the afternoon but apparently, it was closed for a break. This place operates from 8.00AM to 12.30PM and then from 200.PM to 8.00PM. The gates opened at 2.00PM sharp – not a minute early, not a minute late. There isn’t any token system or such for entering the place. Its a first come, first served basis and also, don’t be fussy about table sharing. It is more important that you find a seating place rather than worry about sharing your table space. Believe me, this place gets packed the minute it opens its doors.
In that half hour standing outside its gates, I found a mixed crowd of people willing to wait for the entry. There were working professionals, families, friends and even people who just ventured out on their own for a meal. There were moneyed people and there were people who would have probably kept a strong tab on their expenses. Point being, this place was open to all and everyone, once inside was treated as equal. There was no display of partial behaviour or any special treatments to anyone.
The place, as on its outside, is just as simple on the inside. A rectangular room has tables lined up one behind the other. The rustic tiled ceiling buzzes with fans that seem just out of the ages when the hotel came up. Hand sketched multiple portraits adorn the walls in simple frames. The marble topped tables are clean, simple and functional and are lined by benches on either side’s in place of single chairs. More practical as this system can accommodate people better.
There are no menu cards. There are just two boards hanging on the walls in each end of the place where about 6-7 dishes are written – both in Kannada (The local language) and in English. That’s all there is on the menu. There are Dosas (fermented lentil pancakes), Idli (Fermented rice cakes), Medu vadas (fermented lentil batter that is fried) and something called a Khara bhaath (A semolina based dish) along with coffee or tea. The people who visit this place swear by their dosa’s and that is the dish most famed on their menu.
It was a simple process…You go in, you seat yourself wherever you find space and then you wait for the server to come and take your order. We seated ourselves on a table on one bench and three ladies sat on the bench opposite us. There was the initial hesitation in talking to strangers and we sat quieting trying to understand and absorb the culture of the place.
The server took our orders and we drifted back into the awkward silence. Out of curiosity, I tried talking to one of the servers and asked him about the many portraits on the walls. He was clueless about them and excused himself (Language was a barrier too) but then, the ladies sitting opposite us volunteered the information I needed. The hand-sketched portraits were of various personalities such as Army majors, poets, actors and more.
Words started flowing and in the span of 20 minutes that we were seated at the hotel, we got to learn about other local eateries in Bangalore that we simply had to visit to learn more about the local food. In fact, one of the kind ladies even invited us over to her house for an authentic Karnataki Plantain leaf meal. All of them had been visiting this place for years and some, ever since this place’s inception almost 60 years ago. And yet, their love for this place continued.
Topping the suggestion list by them was Baithu cafe for the dosa and coffee, followed by CTR in Malleshwaram. Then there was Pulliogarai point for their Pulliogarai rice and also Karnataka Bhel for its chaat dishes. Now I know chaat is traditionally found in North India and even Maharashtra but apparently, Karnataka bhel seems to add some additional spices in their dishes that make them famous.
All of the recommendations have made it to my list for my next visit to Bangalore. The things you learn when you just let go of your inhibitions and converse a bit with strangers.
Our food arrived and not surprisingly, all on our table had ordered Masala dosas. Stacks of dosa plates were carefully balanced by the server on one hand and were promtly served by the other. It was a sight to behold.
The dosa was served as a half moon on a steel plate with green liquid chutney on a side. Crisp and brown on the outside and a bit think on the inside, the dosa was stuffed with a dry potato vegetable sauted in onions, curry leaves and subtle spices. The chutney was a preparation made from coconut, coriander, green chillies and tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves. Spoons or forks aren’t the norm here. You are supposed to eat directly with your hands and don’t worry about how messy things get. No one bothers looking or judging you.
Everyone’s equal here.
Next on our tables was the coffee that was served in the traditional Dabba-Vati, as they call it. The piping, forthy hot decoction was as what would be served in any authentic South-Indian eatery.
And how does this place fare on the economics. Well, a satisfying meal for two people can successfully be covered in about 3-4USD. Healthy, hygienic and fresh. No wonder this place features high on the list of places to eat in Bangalore.
Try it if you get a chance. There isn’t any chance for regret if eating here.