Thursday, June 2, 2011

Old Bangalore Haunts

My favourite Bangalore haunts are all connected to food - Russell Market (for fresh fish and vegetables) remains high on the list and then All Saint's Bakery (for fresh yeast, fermented rice flour breads and other such stuff) and Bamburies (the Goan meat shop - which I haven't been to in ages).

I visited some of these places recently, after a gap of almost six months. Russell Market has been showing a steady decline- both in infrastructure and customers. When I went there was no electricity and each shop had its own candle or lamp. It looked pretty but you couldn't see any of the vegetables or what you were stepping on (the small paths have to be navigated with care or one ends up slipping on the stray tomato or cabbage leaf). But I had gone mainly to meet my old friends, the vegetable and meat sellers.

They were very pleased to see me and told me at length about everyone in their family - someone's wife had hurt her back, someone's brother was the deputy tax commissioner and had recently been transferred to Hyderabad, someone was looking for suitable schools for his child and so on. It is a world apart from mine and I always find it amazing and intriguing and extremely enjoyable, having a nice long chat with these middle aged or elderly men who are always trying to ignore customers that threaten to terminate our talks with their demands! I am not an intrinsic bargainer and I suppose that is why our conversations are not about the price or quality of foods, instead we talk about books and weather and the changing world and also our own lives. These people have a hard time - competing with the modern malls and supermarkets, having to rent stalls in this ancient, crumbling building, catering to changing needs and demands of customers and rising costs - but they are quite cheerful about it all.

They are courteous and ask if I would like some tea or perhaps, even better, some home-cooked biryani. They enquire about my health, tell me that I have lost weight or am looking unwell at times and instruct me on recipes and nutrition, admonish me for carrying heavy shopping bags and so on. And I get plenty of little gifts - this time it was a black pomfret, a red cabbage, red and yellow peppers and a pomelo. It's always an interesting and sensitizing experience when I visit.

All Saints - the traditional bakery run by a Kerala family is a place I am partial to because it's one of the few bakeries that sell fresh yeast, which is hard to find. It's a medium sized bakery and store - it doesn't contain everything under the sun (as the big malls do) but it has all the basic stuff that one needs to meet one's cooking and cleaning needs. It's frequented not by young people rushing around or large families elbowing one out, in search of bargain deals, but by steady and brisk looking middle aged women (and occasionally someone younger). It is evident that many are serious cooks and no nonsense kinds - the pile of unprocessed foods on the counters and their clear voices ringing out asking the cashiers (whom they address by name) the availability of an item, the price of another, discussing with me why some particular commodity is not available and so on is something I find familiar and comforting. I almost feel that if there was more time, we would begin to exchange recipes and irrelevant bits of information with each other.

I feel that I am one amongst many such women in the bakery but when I reach the counter, the lady asks me why I haven't visited for so long. I am surprised she even noticed. She seems highly concerned about my health and wants to know if I am all right. She has time to take out the eggs from their plastic bag and put them into the container I have brought. She knows that I always buy 100 grams of yeast at a time and she doesn't need to weigh it. Similarly, I suppose, she must be familiar with all the other regulars' tastes and shopping choices. It's a very different experience from the large shops, which leave one feeling exhausted after one has dealt with clueless attendants, uninterested staff, long lines and irate customers. I may not find the fancy stuff in these old Bangalore haunts, but I get plenty of healthy, wholesome food along with smiles and greetings that have their own nurturing effect.


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