If Keats had been in Karnataka, he would have said "A Dosa of beauty is a joy forever"! No place on earth can match the savoury pancakes that this state produces. Alabaster batter is smoothly layered and circumferentially spread on the skillet, and by an alchemy of fire and oil it transforms into a disc of crisp brown and soft white. A range of chutneys,sambhar and bhaajis admirably stand by ,ready to tip the taste on to the peaks of pleasure. The French may have their Crepes in which are ensconced all kinds of delightful delicacies, but these are only scented candles compared to the flaming torches of sensorial brilliance that a Dosa can become.
You may have tasted mediocre versions which left you unenthused about a Dosa’s true potential,but this article will hopefully throw some shafts of preliminary light on the real McSwami of Snacks. In Mysore, the left side of the road which descends from Nazarbad police station (the right-side pavement holds an imposter of the same name) is the location of Mylari hotel- a tiny eatery that serves exquisitely buttery dosa of the "plain" variety, so silken that it’s like a delicious cloud wafting past your palate. 150 kms away, on Bangalore’s K.R . Road near Yediyur lake there’s S.L.V hotel (this joint has variable quality location-wise among its various franchisees) which offers Khaali Dosa that’s almost coarse by sight- but when I ate it six years ago, its passage across my stunned tongue was so smooth and evanescent that I forgot to moan in pleasure... The same city’s Upahara Darshini in GandhiBazaar is buffeted by customers for its Masal Dosa- the stellar crunch and full body of this MD,complete with solidly good side-’licks’ and a lota of wicked coffee, will amply satiate the pangs of desire. My uncle takes me on a tour of these haloed places for which I’m profoundly grateful.
Saunter along the busy sidewalks of the same canopied market named after the man who abjured all sensory delights,and you will arrive at an august haunt named Vidyarthi Bhavan- for a student of the art of Masala Dosa,this may well prove to be a master-class in his/her Nalanda or Harvard. Banks bakeries bullock-carts pineapples pears pharmacies pumpkins shoe shops marigolds roses and fabric emporiums all jostle along the street that holds the location of this establishment that has operated since 1943 . Slate and yellow painted walls, a floor of stone tiles of gray-green and black (an anhedonic colour pattern from the past that is thankfully rare today) and a ceiling of patterned asbestos panels from which long-stemmed ceiling fans are suspended, form the humdrum ambience.Table tops are of amorphously veined white stone mimicking marble.But make no mistake, this place consciously doesn’t care about aesthetics or pretences. Customers still throng this joint; during peak-hours they often stand by your table waiting for you to clear off. Try not to be offended if you are obliged to share a table with strangers.
Chief ministers, luminaries of art, and assorted celebs grace the liberally appointed picture frames on the walls- these also showcase photographs of various big-shots consuming tiffin in this joint. There are numerous portraits of Kailash Parbat- staff here certainly have oblique ways of suggesting that their feature presentation will make you mount Himalayan heights of mouth-feel!
Waiters are blue shirted with white lungis folded up. There is a stupendous photo of one such waiter carrying a tilting cascade of 19 dosa-laden plates balanced in front of him enroute to serving. One can find it on an interesting blog I came across, maintained by "ankkkit". It is an apt photo for Incredible India or Bombaat Bengaluru!
Rawa vada ,which was the first order, was unremarkable- neither kick-ass in texture nor jhakaas in taste. A kadak "Maddur Vada" would any day be better than this cousin of it.Next, Khara bath- translated as spicy rice,is nothing but Upma/Uppit - ’twas a smooth rendition that can be absent-mindedly polished off- it thus comfortably steers away from being the dry grainy version which makes people dislike Upma.
The Real MD - amidst dark tidings from relatives of its plummeting quality here, i finally reached that moment of space-time when the busy waiter drew up and was instantly requisitioned to bring the star product. When it arrives, it does not strike much of a pose, but didn’t your grandmother and umpteen books movies & fables tell you not to go by looks alone?! This thing reveals its "item value" in the eating. The dark surface is roasted crisp, but the body beneath is soft and fluffy -it synthesizes a one-two punch that briefly states its expert case before disappearing after just a few rounds of chewing. I detected only a small hint of dryness in the aftertaste- it is not perfectly moist and slick on the finish .But it belongs to that very rare breed of masala dosa that melts in the mouth and can be consumed on its own without any accompaniments. In sum, this offering still reigns as an exclusive reason to visit this restaurant. It may not trump the competition, but it is still a mean rival.
The supplementary potato masala is frugally endowed both in quality and quantity - but the paddy coat that wraps it, adequately compensates. Chutney,liquid rather than paste-like, is concocted from chana dal with coconut only having a nominal role .It eschews being fiery, has a quasi-piquant wholly pleasant bite to it and serves as a honourable accompaniment to dunk pieces of MD.
I dislike writing a review of a restaurant while only describing a couple its dishes. Velvety soft idlis and gloriously crunchy Vadas can make even an ominously rainy Bangalore day light up. And a spunky Poori-bhaaji can become a finger-licking salute to the North. Having never tasted these here ,I requested these three items and was already calculating how much time they might take to arrive, when the waiter briskly sent my hopes tumbling by stating that these were not avaliable that evening. Huh?! Anyway,Coffee here ,the standard strong Bangalore filter coffee version laced with chicory, was satisfactory. The second visit planned never came to pass during that two week April ’12 window of my hometown visit which slid by so inexorably that I was soon thousands of kilometres and one year away from a return visit.
In sum, this place did not swallow my hopes. It is an establishment worn by time but one which survives and flourishes by its continued endeavour to blend grind roast and distribute its original offering. And for this top-class product,patrons still dutifully turn up in droves. Preserved in its venerated sepia-age, it perseveres in mass-presenting its delicious ghee-laced credentials amidst the modern degeneration of Bengaluru. The city is a ghost of the pleasant place it once was, its aesthetics now blasted to pieces by the goverment’s apocalyptic lack of planning. One searches in nostagia for elements of its redolent past- a quiet leafy suburb, a sane road ,a gentle park - for any quantum of solace... And when one settles into a place like Vidyarthi Bhavan and tastes its marquee product,one slowly learns to understand and appreciate what this space is...a "hotel" auspiciously born in the Bangalore of the previous century wherein the glories of tiffin were simple in the best possible sense.
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