Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Day Of Discoveries

Bangalore is changing so rapidly that one even forgets to lament for the loss of old Bangalore ways, so caught up are we in trying to keep track of which roads have suddenly become one-ways, which shops have shut down and what real estate is changing hands.  This week was filled with particularly nice discoveries - exploring some different, new places and finding nooks and crannies where old Bangalore still survives.

Some days ago, I had a lot of miscellaneous shopping to do, so I left home early that morning.  I was headed to an old part of  Bangalore that was once on the outskirts but has now become premium commercial property.  This is the area called Malleshwaram; it has several old shops selling food, utensils, clothes and knick-knacks.  I had to buy some traditional sweets and this time I visited not an old, well known shop but a relatively new place (Maiya's), founded by the younger generation of a famous family of restaurant owners.  This is a modern set-up - glass walled and air-conditioned.  Fortunately, all else remains old-style (including the quality of recipes and service).  This means that when you ask for some sweets to be packed, you are invariably handed a few pieces 'to taste'.  The person serving you rattles off a list of the entire store's contents, hoping to tempt you into buying some more.  He then carries your packets to the billing counter and 'hands you over' to the cashier.  Outside, a smell of freshly brewed 'filter coffee' permeates; customers always have time to stand on the pavement and sip coffee from steel tumblers before they leave.

Also on Malleshwaram's busy and noisy roads, stand some old houses where people still live.  Many of the houses are now rented to commercial establishments or converted into apartment complexes.  But the houses which still exist invariably have some old occupants and on early mornings one can spot them wandering around their gardens, exchanging news with other neighbours or vendors.  This is a sight one rarely sees as the day wears on - perhaps it is too noisy outside or perhaps people get involved in other work.  This morning, I saw several elderly people lingering around, happily immersed in conversation.  I especially enjoyed watching a feisty old woman peering over her garden wall, animatedly talking to an elderly gentleman on the street, who was nodding at periodic intervals, unable to get a word in!

My next stop was a new organic food shop (Buffalo Back) which has a small and eclectic selection of organic foods.  (Apparently Bangalore has the largest number of organic food stores in the country.  Fortunately, these are not chains but individually-owned stores, with a diverse selection of food.)  This particular shop keeps whole organic milk (which has only recently become available in the city), good organic spices and a particularly tasty popcorn.  The popcorn is made with a tiny, local variety of corn and is served without any seasoning.  It makes a good snack for those in between moments.  This morning they also had a basket of small custard apples which looked like they had just been picked.  Very different from the large variety one sees in the shops.  I bought a bagful of these as well.

The next destination was to an American grill store (Weber) - something very new for us and not unwelcome.  We have a long tradition of cooking with wood, charcoal and dried cow dung cakes, but this is no longer viable - environmentally or physically (given the small, enclosed houses of the cities).  While a lot of work has been done in changing the designs of wood fired stoves, these cooking units are mostly developed for industrial or rural markets.  Therefore, having one's own kit of things for home use (something Americans are very good at generating) is very welcome.

I meandered quite a bit while trying to find the store, as the Google map was not very accurate.  In this process, I discovered a tiny lane that led nowhere, with a pretty looking sign in cursive writing, 'Wedding Planners.'  Next to it was an obviously flourishing florist.  I turned back and walked along the parallel street (Haudin Road), which eventually reached the main road opposite Ulsoor lake.  At the corner was a pleasant old house converted into a restaurant (Naachiyaar's).  I stopped to ask for directions and was greeted in the typical Bangalore style of easy, polite familiarity.  I know an old Bangalorean when I see one, and the man in charge of the counter was one such soul.  He gave me clear directions ("Just here, Madam", which is the correct and unfailing answer).  I, in turn, asked what kind of food they made and how long it took to get a take out parcel.  On learning that most things took only ten to fifteen minutes, I promptly launched into a discussion about what I could order (there doesn't seem to be much point in pondering over menus in this kind of a place).  This is a Chettinad restaurant (serving food of the Chettiars - the traders of Tamil Nadu.  Their cuisine is rich in spices and influenced by places the traders would visit, especially eastern Asia).  The cook, who seemed to be hovering somewhere at the back, ambled up and explained what exactly they meant by 'thick curry' as opposed to 'thin curry' and 'dry fry' and I selected some prawns.  I ordered, settled the bill (a very small amount) and headed out.

The grill store was interesting with helpful staff, but all those imported American things were only on display!  However, they reassured me that whenever I needed something, they would make them available at a suitably located dealer or deliver them to my house.  It was interesting to see some of the designs and the accessories and I handed them a small list of requirements.  Though I haven't tried the system yet, everything looks well made, so I hope to be able to grill and smoke and roast food outdoors, on my terrace soon.

I returned to the restaurant and, sure enough, a plastic bag lay waiting for me.  There was no one to check the receipt or ask who had come to collect the food.  The cook had presumably returned to the kitchen.  I took the packet home and opened it out.  There, lined with fresh banana leaves, was my lunch - soft parottas, still warm, and a large number of prawns in a ginger-black pepper ("medium hot", which was the mildest of their preparations!) masala with a bag of thin, ubiquitous gravy on the side.  The prawns were fiery and delicious and went down rather fast!  It was a relief to eat reasonably-priced food that was well cooked and not loaded with red chilly powder.

While I enjoyed these discoveries, I found later, after talking to people, that everyone has a different view.  As with most experiences, these are highly subjective and depend on who one meets, what one does and sometimes, even - the time of day!  But I had a wonderful time, and I will probably re-visit these places in the near future.

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