The first time I saw the menu, I was lost. Sure, I knew dosas and idlis, but that was as far as it went. The other items were utterly alien to me.
And so I did the only thing I could: I decided to eat them all.
It took longer than expected. Tasted better than expected. And added more pounds than I would have thought possible. But here they are…
This peppery rice and dal stew looks like jailyard slop and tastes a lot like heaven and home. It’s filled with mustard seeds, red chillies, curry leaves and peppercorns. Add a hint of lime, maybe some cashews, a heck of a lot of spice, and a splash of raita on the side, and you’re really cooking! Feeling beat down? A cold coming on? This is the place to go.
Khara Bath & Kesari Bath, “Chow Chow Bath”
Apart they are glorious. On the left is savory Khara Bath (maybe also known as Upma), a fistful of spiced semolina, coriander, ghee, chillies, awesomeness. On the right sits the sweet, sweet twin: Kesari Bath. My god is it sweet. One recipe I have calls for 1 cup ghee, 1 cup semolina, and 2 cups of sugar. Together, they’re served with coconut chutney, and called Chow Chow Bath. My lord is it good. “If you eat that every day,” Varun warned, “You’ll be so fat.” I’m on my way, pal, on my way!
You’ve probably had poori alongside a curry for dinner. Well, this tasty breakfast alternative ain’t too different at all. The deep fried paper-thin bread is served up with a tasty coconut-vegetable curry — the sagu — and if you’re lucky some coconut chutney as well. Because everything goes better with coconut.
What can you say about an idli? It’s steamed, it’s light, it’s spongey, it’s rice and semolina and dal, packed together in a fluffy patty. At Brahmin’s Coffee Bar, off Bull Temple Road, you can find something so light it literally melts in your mouth. Sometimes served with a thimble of ghee oil, which should be drizzled on top. Wow.
Here’s one great way to beat any hint of bland from the idly: add more dal and spices to the mix, drop the rice, and add a hell of a lot more semolina. Still steamed, still spongey, but twice as tasty.
If the Rava Idli isn’t flavorful enough, try your idlis doused in sambar, a spicy red stew of tomatoes, dal, onions, and whatever else the kitchen has lying around. You’ll need to brush your teeth after — it’s a wonderfully pungent broth — but don’t skip this version. Jeez is it good.
This small savory donut has no end of pronunciations and spellings, and includes more or less the same ingredients as everything else here. Some dal, maybe some flour, some peppercorns and spices, and a whole lot of love. Try the deep-fried-but-fluffy-inside ones at Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, which serves the Krispy Kreme of vadai, and smile.
The name says it all: yogurt (“dahi”) vada. After deep-frying, the doughey wada is tossed in a bucket of thick sweet yogurt, and then doused in crunch and spice. Sprinkle on some chili powder, a touch of cumin powder, a little coriander, and you’re set. It’s like a South Indian Rice Krispies, if you ask me.
Idli Vada Sambhar
You know, to me a good rice bath is just a solid pongal: a spicy mix of rice, vegetables, curry leaves and black peppercorns, something that can close in on perfection. It’s filling and tasty, and I’m always ending up with bits in my teeth. And that’s the way a good meal should be, yes?
Chickpea-battered, deep fried vegetable fritters may be a standard appetizer in Indian restaurants, but for breakfast? Even with the chilli powder, turmeric and coriander it’s a little strange. Now maybe if they’d start using bacon… then we could talk!
Apparently the true Mangalore treat, Bhubhus Rotti buns are now found everywhere in Bangalore. Slightly sweet, banana-hinted rolls. Perfectly crispy on the outside, and oh so fluffy inside. Rip off a tear of bread, scoop up the spiced sagu vegetable curry, and know happiness. Is there anything better than this? For breakfast, for dinner, alongside a double-order of Chow Chow Bath, the Mangalore Bun is the way to go.
But then I started on the dosas… and, oh, the dosas!
The dosa is everywhere in South India, rice batter and dal griddled into an Indian crepe. Thick or thin, greasy or dry, flat or folded or rolled into a cone, they’re all the same beast. And all completely awesome. “You must use your fingers,” says every old Bangalorian man. Yes, you must. You really must.
Benne Masala Dosa
A masala dosa is stuffed with fried onions, potatoes and spices, a fresh and filling concoction that starts the day right. But this is more — this is a benne masala dosa! The benne dosa is smaller, fried in heapings of butter, and drizzled with a light pour of butter or ghee. At Central Tiffin Room and Vidyarthi Bhavan the b.m.d. masterpieces can be found: something so crispy and fried on the outside, yet so fluffy and lush inside, they might just make you cry.
Paper Masala Dosa
If you’re sick of short dosas, try this manly beast. A foot, two feet, sometimes even four feet long, these delicate paper-thin dosas are the ultimate in showoff. They never fit on your plate, and sometimes they don’t even fit on your table.
Paneer Butter Masala Dosa
You can honestly get anything in a dosa. A food truck in Koramangala sells 99 different flavors. I asked if they had chocolate dosas, and they looked disgusted — and instead sold me on a Chinese-Indian hybrid called the Shezwan Paneer Dosa. A shop called Dose Mane, sick of the 99 dosa food truck in the news, now offers 110 varieties.
Unlike the avalakayi, pudeena, and sixer khara dosas, or even the shezwan variants, panner butter masala dosa is actually on my local breakfast joint’s menu. So I eat it a lot. And damn is it good.
And now, the quest continues.
Photos taken at Sandhya Sagar, Sri Krishna Sagar, Ganesh Fast Food, Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR), Vidyarthi Bhavan and Central Tiffin Rooms (CTR), all in Bangalore.