5 best traditional breakfast places in Bangalore

Unlike many other Indian cities where breakfast is a grab and run affair, Bangalore has made it an art form. Meet up with friends, sit down together, order a crisp dosa and begin the important business of discussing the world. Wash it all down with piping hot filter kapi. That is what Bangalore breakfast is al about.

And here are my suggestions on the best places in Bangalore to do this:

MTR

This is most definitely the first among equals in Bangalore, more an institution than a restaurant, in business since 1924. There is a whisper in the air that most people go for a morning walk in Lalbagh gardens purely for the pleasure of being able to have breakfast later at the MTR opposite its main gates. MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms) is also credited with inventing the now famous rava idli during wartime, when rice was a scarce commodity. When in Bangalore, make it a point to visit the original or one of its many branches scattered across the city.

Must have: khara bhath, a unique Bangalore twist to the upma and masala dosa, crisp, soaked in ghee and folded into a neat triangle.

Vidyarthi Bhavan

Another old Bangalore favourite, Vidyarthi Bhavan is the king of masala dosa since 1943. Go there on a Saturday morning after an exploration of Gandhi Bazaar (where it is located), for slice of local life in Bangalore. It was initially meant as a mess for students and bachelors living in that old part of Bangalore, and even now radiates that laidback vibe. Waiters whizz around with plates of masala dosa (it is assumed this is what you are ordering, although other options like upma and idli are available) stacked up on their hand, like so many flying saucers. Dip into the coconut chutney (no sambhar here please) and tuck into this brown goodness. There are those who will argue that the masala dosa at CTR (Central Tiffin Room) in Malleswaram is better. And this battle is one that will never end in Bangalore.

Must have: Definitely the masala dosa

Airlines Hotel

Bangalore’s version of the adda, Airlines is a small open-air restaurant (for want of a better word) just off Lavelle Road, in the heart of town. And what other city is better suited for al fresco dining in India anyway? This place is busy at any time of the day, and especially so on weekends and weekday evenings. There is a ‘No Smoking’ notice hidden away in one corner, but locals insouciantly puff on its face. Like many Bangalore institutions, getting the attention of waiters here too is an art form. But, again like the others, who goes there only to eat?

Must have: upma (the original white rava upma, unlike the more famous tangy khara bhath)

New Krishna Bhavan

NKB, as it is known, is tucked away in a quiet street near Mantri Mall and is where the uncles of Malleswaram meet every morning for an unhurried gossip session. In existence since 1954, NKB is famous for its “Unusuals” listed on the blackboard daily, like the green masala idlis; ignore the startling green colour and tuck into these mildly spiced capsicum masala mini idlis. NKB also serves delectable Karnataka specials like neer dosa and ragi dosa – and it is one of the few Bangalore places that has got its sambhar right.

Must have: green masala idli, Udupi bun, ragi dosa

Koshy’s

Everyone in Bangalore has been to Koshy’s at least once, various assorted websites call it the ‘pride of Bangalore’, youtube videos sing its praises and Wikipedia claims that dignitaries like Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Nikita Khrushchev and Queen Elizabeth II have dined there. Koshy’s is a popular restaurant and hangout on St Mark’s Road, Bangalore, which has long been a meeting point for journalists, artists, theatre persons, students and foreigners. Founded in 1940, it retains an old-world charm with huge pillars and large fans. Koshy’s is where first time visitors are taken when they want to be shown the real Bangalore, it is also where locals head when they want to catch up over a cuppa and appams with stew on a Sunday morning.

Must have: bacon / mutton omelette, various types of toast

Friday photo: Israeli cuisine

I am just back from a week in Israel, having travelled through Haifa, Akko and Tiberias in the north, Jerusalem a its very heart and Tel Aviv on the West Coast and briefly floated on the Dead Sea. It is easily on the most fascinating countries I have ever encountered – the proverbial melting pot of cultures and religions…

And as a vegetarian, the food was to swoon over – hummus, falalfel, tahina, tabouleh, bourkea, shahshuka, baklava and halva… Of course, most of it has origins elsewhere in the region and has now been enfolded into Israeli cuisine, which is what makes the food so interesting and inclusive.

In fact, Israeli cuisine seems to be the flavour of the season, as these two stories in Mic and BBC seem to indicate – read them at your leisure…

It’s always soup o’clock in Myanmar

Soup for breakfast? Yes please!

It was a pleasant winter morning in Nyaung Shwe, the small town in the Shan region in eastern Myanmar. Even at that early hour, there were people milling around on the narrow lanes. Many of them were travellers, on their way to Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s most popular tourist destinations.

The others, locals all, were either sitting on wobbly plastic chairs clustered around plastic tables inside small shacks. Or they were walking purposefully towards one such shack.

These roadside cafés were not just makeshift breakfast joints but also served a serious purpose as social hubs for the local population. Here was where they caught up with news – either in the form of the printed word or in the form of gossip – over their morning soups.

I was also headed to one of those, following my guide Aye, who assured me that it was the most popular. I had eschewed the usual bland fare served at my resort, for a local breakfast of the Tohu Nuway soup that was special to the Shan region.

When I had first read the description for Shan Tohu Nuway, it was not the most promising, I assure you. A soup with tofu? Blah, even if it is Burmese tofu. But these blogs from seasoned travellers had said it was a must have, and who was I to protest?

And then, it was also a vegetarian dish, a blessing I would usually grab with both hands and warm words of thanks. Myanmar, I discovered, has a wide repertoire of vegetarian dishes, perhaps because it is culturally closer to South Asia (think Nepalese lentil curries and Sri Lankan coconut gravies) than South East.

The main meals had been easy thus far, with Myanmar’s incredible range of salads, from the very quirky and tasty fermented tea leaf salad to the more sedate ones like those with green tomato or avocado. But I was a bit unsure about this breakfast soup.

In any case, the Tohu Nuway soup turned out to be absolutely delicious, the tofu here made of mashed chickpea and served as a warm gloop as a topping. The texture of this tofu was creamy and silky, very unlike the crumbly soy tofu that I tended to steer clear of.

My first spoonful was tentative, suspicious; but after that, it was all over in a quick and undignified flash of slurps. It was a sublime marriage of tastes and textures.

The tohu paste, I discovered, is kept warm, and poured on to a liquidy soup of flash-boiled noodles. It is then further topped with all manners of delicious and crunchy things, including roasted garlic, pounded peanuts, toasted sesame, cabbage and parsley.

But it was that last addition, a crunchy chilli paste, that really made my blasé sub-continental palate sing. And go back for it the next morning.

A heart cooler for the heat

Some people have called it a ‘heart attack in a glass’. They are terribly unkind. I prefer to think of it as ‘heaven in a glass’. How else would you describe a concoction that has almond resin, Sarsaparilla syrup, cold milk, sugar, finely chopped dried fruit and nuts, and all of this topped with a generous scoop of ice cream.

One summer morning in the temple town of Madurai in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, I headed out with a friend. The plan was to have a street-side breakfast of idli (steamed rice and lentil cakes), accompanied by a piquant chutney of coconut and chilli. And chase it down with jigarthanda. After all, I couldn’t really visit Madurai and not have this “heart cooler” (literal meaning of jigarthanda). Nobody can.

While jigarthanda is today considered a local Madurai beverage, it has an interesting history. Thanks to its name, a combination of two Hindi words (the language of state is Tamil and not Hindi), it is believed to have been brought into India by the Mughal rulers several centuries ago, and slowly made its way down to Madurai.

In this swelteringly hot city, it is so strongly associated with cooling properties that it has come to be known as jil jil jigarthanda in the more popular outlets (jil being a local corruption of the word chill).

While jigarthanda is popular in these parts, it is relatively more under the radar than its famous north Indian cousin, falooda (which food historians claim started life at Mughal emperor Jehangir’s court).

My plate of idlis was delightful, fittingly known to be as soft as Madurai’s famous jasmine (flowers). And then the jigarthanda, the man behind the counter filling up glasses with practised ease. Somewhere between vanilla and light chocolatey in colour, thick and inviting, the jigarthanda beckoned to me.

I took a tentative sip. And my world immediately turned into a happier place.

In other words, this was an explosion of tastes and textures – the sweetness of the syrup and ice cream, the crunchiness of the nuts and the chewiness of the jelly-like almond resin. My friend and I drank this in almost one gulp. Then we looked at each other. Another one?

By the time I gestured to the shop assistant, he had already prepared two more glasses for us. A second round seemed to be par for the course at the shop. This time, I sipped slowly, savouring the flavours, and feeling much like a kid in a candy shop. I knew I was going to have to skip lunch that day, but who was complaining?

Tip: although several places in Madurai claim to have the best jigarthanda, foodies know that Famous Jigarthanda is the real McCoy.

Published in Roads & Kingdoms

Vegging it out in Myanmar

When the husband and I were getting ready to travel to Myanmar earlier this year, the only thing I was dreading was the food I would find there. Or, not find. As a vegetarian, I was expecting Myanmar to be a tough place to survive in, and I readied myself for bland salads and the odd pizza, where I could find it.

But being vegetarian in Myanmar turned out to be delightfully easy. The country has a wide repertoire of vegetarian dishes, perhaps because it is culturally closer to South Asia (think Nepalese lentil curries and Sri Lankan coconut gravies) than South East.

And given that it is wedged between countries with rich culinary traditions, like India, China and Thailand, something is certain to have rubbed off. What I discovered is that despite borrowing from these kitchens, Burmese cuisine has its unique flavours.

moon

yarpyi

The magic word

Although vegetable based dishes have always been part of their diet (and vegetarian dishes are served at almost all eateries), vegetarianism as a concept is not understood in Myanmar.

But the magic word “tha tha lo” (thatalo, literally meaning ‘lifeless’ – taught by a traveller friend) opened up the doors to meat-free cooking everywhere in the country. In fact, it made sure that there was never even a hint of the fish sauce that is the bane of vegetarian travellers in South East Asia.

The Burmese thali

A typical restaurant meal that popular among locals is a spread of side dishes, including raw salads, slightly sautéed veggies and soupy curries, served with plain white rice. This was our first introduction to Burmese food in Yangon, where our guide also ordered dal on the side for us, which came coarsely mashed and lightly spiced; Indian but not quite.

She also got us small plates of green tomato and tealeaf salad, the latter with the warning that the tart taste could take some getting used to. But no, for me, it was love at first bite.

In general, we found the salads and soups so enjoyable that most meals, we skipped the main course and stuck to these.

Through our ten days in Myanmar, we never had to go seeking a pizza place or an Indian restaurant (although some mainstream cafés in touristy towns like Bagan serve Indian food as part of their menu). And to my vegetarian soul, that made Myanmar pure heaven.

Soup time

Soups in Myanmar can range from the thin clear broth derived from Chinese kitchens (used as palate cleansers and often sipped through the meal), to thick and creamy stews.

The most distinctive one is the Shan Tohu Nuway, a specialty from the Shan region in the eastern side of the country, near Inle Lake. In this soup, the tofu (tohu) is made out of ground chickpea, instead of the more traditional soya.

This mash is kept warm in a semi-liquid form through the day, and poured over the basic noodle broth, finally topped up with coarsely ground peanuts, roasted garlic, finely sliced parsley and cabbage, and for those who can bear the heat, crunchy chilli paste (in my opinion, a must).

soup2

There is also the clear Shan noodle soup, served even at breakfast in most hotels and restaurants. Ask for the tha tha lo version, which comes with a topping of coarsely ground, thick red chilli sauce, spring onions and toasted sesame.

soup1

Salad days

The Burmese have a special skill for taking just about any ingredient and turning it into a delectable salad. Tealeaf, avocado, ginger, lemon, pennywort, eggplant, tomato – the list goes on.

The basic ingredients remain more or less the same – the key ingredient, with crushed peanuts, roasted sesame, finely chopped onion, garlic, coriander, tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon. But each salad somehow manages to taste distinctly different.

The undisputed star among these is the fermented tealeaf salad (lahpet thok) – slightly tart and tangy with a distinct crunch, the Burmese love this and eat it at all times, including with meals and as snacks, with the crunchy bits served up separately.

salads

The other must-trys are the pennywort salad (Myin Kwa Yuet Thote), the spicy ginger salad (Gyin Thote) and the Tohu Thote, which has the chickpea tohu in salad form.

Main course

This area is where the culinary influences of neighbouring countries are most strongly felt.

There are a variety of vegetable curries available, including usual suspects like basic green and red curries Thai-style, Indonesian masamman curry and the more unusual ones like tamarind leaf curry.

mains

While these are typically served with white rice, there is also the choice of vegetable fried rice with tofu or tossed noodles.

Street food

Typical street food in Myanmar is fried and spicy, very Indian in nature: from masala dosa to samosa and bhajiya, these are to be found everywhere, and are considered Burmese.

snacks

There are also street vendors who specialise in a particular form of dessert – definitely try the deep fried dough sweet (paleada / palata – a corruption of paratha), sprinkled with sugar, or topped with banana slices, the banana cake (napyo bao) and sticky rice ball with coconut (kauk nyinhtuh).

In general though, Burmese sweets are likely to feel too bland to Indian palates, used to the stinging sweetness of laddu and jalebi.

For those looking for a more wholesome al fresco meal, there is the Vegetable Hotpot (Myae Oh Myi Shae), available almost through the day, especially in Yangon.

Street food in the country is almost always hot and fresh, and therefore safe; follow your nose to the ones with the most locals crowding the plastic tables.

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This story was published in Conde Nast Traveller as A Vegetarian’s Guide to Myanmar – read it online for suggestions on where to eat in each major Burmese city.

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