Friday, July 11, 2008

Commercial Eat

One of the happiest moments in my mother's life, she says, is when they built her a luxury ladies' toilet on Dispensary road in the late eighties. This facility essentially doubled her shopping time, which in turn meant that my brother and I got twice as much food to eat, to prevent us from grumbling. I therefore dedicate this post to that life-saving toilet, for introducing us to the gourmet delights of charming Commercial Street.

Most of the shops on Commercial street are atleast as old as I am, and many older than my grandmother. Which, I have been instructed by her to inform you, isn't that old, ok? But if you'd like to give the shopping a miss and concentrate like I do on the food, a good place to start is the slightly overpriced, but lovely Woody's.

Stop sniggering, I think the owners of Woody's wanted to do a hep take on Woodlands, a bigger restaurant chain, when they opened this joint. Do try their dee-licious kotte-kadabus from coastal Karnataka: fragrant rice idlies steamed in cylindrical baskets(called kottes) woven from thaaLe-yele leaves. Slurp. Don't hesitate to try all the other yummy stuff on their menu. As long as you can get over the staff who will ignore you even if you commit hara-kiri at the counter, and the mechanical lady who'll say "Towkenn Fifffty Ffffour" in an ominous voice every 5 minutes or so.

A couple of buildings to the left, is the famous Bhagatram Sweets. Legend has it that the stoves of Bhagatram have never stopped burning since the shop opened in 1948. I can say without hesitation, that they make the world's best Sindhi gulab jamoons. Also do try their gorgeous jalebis, their lovely dumroat (baked yellow pumpkin halwa) and their chandrakala (a gulab jamoon stuffed in a badshah dipped in kesar-flavoured syrup. Sob!). Their carrot halwa and their famous 4pm samosas are superlatively delicious too. They moved from their dungeon like shop (lovingly named the Tunnel of Love) into a rather ordinary place next door a couple of years ago. The charming couple (Mr and Mrs Bhagatram Jr.?) that manage the shop speak a singsong mish-mash of Tamil,Kannada, English and Sindhi to their staff and customers, that many people stop by just to listen to.

Diagonally across the street is Anand sweets, equally well known and just as delicious. Their chaat section has some rather unusual numbers that I'm a little hesitant to try. While they have an array of mouthwatering North Indian sweets, do try their badam milk - absolutely hits the spot after a hot and hassled shopping spree. If you're tired of sweet things to eat, step to the back lane of commercial street where you can eat some really yummy streetside dosa and those odd looking triangular samosas.

Midway down Commercial street is the lovely Shiv Sagar. This is a standard Udupi joint with a humungous vegetarian menu, often bordering on the bizarre. Their Mexican selection has enchiladas (more like enchina maarayas* actually) topped with kissan sauce, and their pizzas have about a km. of grated amul cheese on their heads. Eh, whom are we kidding, they're delicious. Eat your heart out, Naples. But if you're not in the mood for experimentation, their North Indian and Indian-chinese selection will definitely appeal to your palate. Not to mention their array of excellent idlis, dosas and other scrumptious South Indian specialities. Top it all off with a Gud-Bud (Udupi special sundae with a story), Merry Window Special, or one of the millions of other lovely sundaes on the menu. Sorry, but you definitely need to visit Shiv Sagar about 15 times before you can decide whether you like it or not.

At the end of commercial street (on Kamaraj Rd actually), is a little ice cream shop tucked away in the basement of a run down complex. If you havent eaten tamarind or jamoon ice cream before, you must go there. Seriously though, Natural Ice Creams has some delicious all-natural seasonal flavours that will suprise you. My favourites are tender coconut and sugarcane-ginger. Do cut them some slack though. They're usually poorly stocked and the staff is sometimes frosty, but they'll warm up to you once you make a few appreciative noises and solicious enquiries about the ice cream.

Around the corner from Naturals, on Dispensary road, is the yummy Lalita's paratha point. Really good parathas of every shape and flavour and some surprisingly good biriyani. Do try when you're starving and want a great, satisfying punjabi meal. A little further up the road from Lallo's is Tiwari bros, a Calcutta based sweet shop with standard issue marwari sweets and some nice samosa-kachori sort of situations to go with them. They don't use onions or garlic, so this is a good place for fussy foodies or couples who, um, intend to have a long romantic evening in close proximity.

And now that you've eaten, it's time to check out commercial street's shopping wonders (preferably in a car at 40kmph). Check out the famous ladies' lane and the chappal gully where you can easily waste away and die unnoticed waiting for your female companions to finish. Go to the Green Shop, Brown Shop, Royal Mens Wear, Jean Junction or Your Shop(pe) for clothes, suitcases and sundries. Take a dekko at Eastern Stores, Bangalore's biggest woollens shop until the eighties. The owner of Eastern Stores will weasel his way into your heart (and wallet) by saying endearing things like "This is your shop ma, your shop. Take it and go ma, yours only". Also check out the series of ladies' tailors (all named Mr Rao) on Dispensary rd., and C Krishniah Chetty and sons, an expensive but exquisite jewellery store in an antique building in the middle of the street. Do walk around and check out the scores of other venerable old shopping institutions on the street when you have the time.

Frankly though, two venerable institutions down and I'm ready to tank up on some yummy Bhagatram gulab-jamoons again.

*Enchina maaraya = "Whaaaat I say?" in Tulu

Monday, July 7, 2008

And the winners are...

Yes my dearies, it's prize distribution time.

The winners of the most scandalous and/or entertaining stories about cheap places to eat at MG road (see comments section of previous post on the same subject) are:

1. The anonymous VAN: For wearing a tie to Koshy's. And for being from cwashtal AndhrPradeshandi.

2. The human bean: For posting 6 comments in 48 seconds.

3. Karen: For spoiling his chances by mentioning multinational food chains.

4. Scribbler: Ladies/Chinese quota.

Consolation prize: Bikerdude, for doing admirable clean up job of majestic loo like usage of comment space.

Honourable mentions:

Nigel Jeejeebhoy: For vivid descriptions of MG Road in the early jurassic period.

Anoushka: Because I already drew her.

Pri: In the hope that she'll get over that ghastly kheer kadam at some point

And the rangashankara crowd: Please do not kill me.

And finally, the prize:
Bonda soup for yevverybody, commaaan yenjaay I say.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

MG Road for under 50 bucks

"If y'all don't 'ave pots of money, there's not much you can do on MG road men", I heard a friend moan. Actually he said yuvarself instead of y'all and paatsu instead of pots (he was from Nellore dishtrict), but I couldn't print that. Suitably challenged, I wandered off to the end of MG road and decided to take a stroll down to see how many places I could still get a satisfying meal at, for under 50 bucks.

First stop- K C Das on Church St. Ok stop screaming, I know those sweets are ridiculously priced. But here's the trick. Step in, sit yourself down and order a plate of luchis or motor kachuri with alurdom and yellow dal. Or maybe a couple of singaras, a rasgulla or three and some deliciously divine mishti doi. Slllurrrrp. When the surly waiter flings the bill at your face, you'll be pleasantly surprised to see that you've only drummed up a bill of about 40 rupees or so! They also sell sweets per piece which work quite well with your budget. Those cashew/pista balls are dangerously priced at 17 bucks apiece though.

Tumble about 20m downhill from KC das and walk into Sheshamahal restaurant. This certainly has to be the pleasantest south indian restaurant for miles. Try their hearty bonda-soup in the evenings. Ok go crazy and throw in a maddur vade, some nippat-chakli and mangalore bajji and wash it all down with some filter coffee. Not more than 35 bucks, I assure you. Happiness joyness! Oh and do try their oota (lunch) section which is actually on the MG side, in a small lane beside Arya bhavan sweets.

Which brings me to Arya Bhavan sweets. Lovely, surly staff, and a variety of low-priced sweets and chaats to choose from. Try their speciality: Baby chaat kachori. A sort of edible flour basket filled with all manner of yummy things. Might burn a hole in your stomach, but not in your wallet. Ha ha. Manchi joku kaadhandi? Also try their excruciatingly sweet malai lassi. Lovely for a brilliant 23 minute sugarbuzz.

For some really great filter coffee, try India coffee depot, a small hole in the wall opposite Premier bookstore on Museum Road. The kindly gentleman there has a strange system. He'll take 5 rupees from you and hand you a doubled paper cup full of piping hot filter coffee. He'll then walk in, tear a coupon ceremoniously out of a book, rip it up into shreds and fling it out of the window, all the time smiling and making small talk as you finish your coffee.

Pani puri my loves? Try the chaat walla right around the corner from India coffee depot. Deeeelicious pani puri (sooji ke hain sir, ek dum mulaayam) for ten bucks, with a sookha poori (with channa, lemon and a magic chaat masala) thrown in for free. The best gabuk-gabuk-ten-rufis-thank-you place ever.

For round-the-clock cheap food, there's no place like Empire. A vast menu, immaculately dressed staff and many, many inebriated clubbers on a Saturday night. Try their shawarma rolls and dosa-chicken combos. Also their yum ghee rice, dal fry, kerala/ceylon parathas, chikken gebaabuh (kabab in Malabari-speak), lychee melba and much much more. Their Arabic restaurant upstairs is a little disappointing, but the food's not bad at all for the price.

For more inexpensive South Indian, try Kaycees down the road. Their lunch thalis, especially the Naarth Indian mini-meals, where you get to choose the gravy that accompanies your fluffy white kulchas, are really quite delicious.

Midway down MG road, it's been business as usual at the India Coffee House. For the past 4000 years. The grouchy waiters, also around the same age, have for some reason become uber polite these days. Gone are the days when they'd bite your head off if you dared to ask for a pepper shaker. They now stand around in an avuncular fashion, and even half salute when you tip them. While their cutlets, sandwiches, coffee and masala dosas are not bad at all, do not miss their slurpily yumptious scrambled eggs. They are arguably the best in Bangalore, and served on toast in VERY chipped china. Super value for money.

Walk down Brigade road and up rest house crescent (or Pecos lane as it is more popularly known) and the first thing you hear is some super cool music from a green spiral staircase. That, my dear friends, is the infamous Pecos - Brigade road's best kept... err non-secret. Step in, and well, step out, if you don't get it. But if you do, welcome to what was once my world. Beautiful (sob sob) music, cheap beer that on a good day tastes like Rosy chechi's dishwater, natural airconditioning (I'm not kidding. Sit by the window that overlooks Pick 'n' Move), a sav crowd and surprisingly affordable food. Try their tacos and sausage steamed rice with your dishwater. Slurp.

A little past Pecos on the left, is the infamous Dubai Plaza that houses the lovely 'Taste of Tibet'. A smash hit with the college crowd, here's where you can gorge on momos, phingsha, tingmo, thupka and all manner of unpronounceable Tibetan things for very little money. You'll soon learn to love the slow motion movements of the staff, the lovely tomato relish and the tinkly Tibetan music that comes free with every meal!

How can I end any food story without a mention of my favourite eatery (mostly for non food related reasons) - Nilgiri's. Walk into the newly refurbished cakeshop and help yourself to puffs, pastries and all manner of yummy things for well under 20 bucks. They now even have pre-packaged dosa-chutney, poori-and-potato sort of deals that you have to zap in the microwave before you eat, which quite frankly look rather yucky. What you might want to check out is their 10-paise-per-gram lunch buffet, where an endearingly grouchy attendant spoons out as much rice, gravy and curry as you want into a plate and charges you by weight. Fascinating, and quite flattering when you notice she's written your weight down as 188 grams.

And that, I think, (besides Ullas refreshments, Brindavan Wotel and the noodle person on Dickenson Rd), brings my cheap and best MG road eateries story to a close. Other places, stories of unimaginable illnesses from eating at said places, anecdotes and observations most welcome!