One of the most enjoyable aspects of adult life has been the mobility. With a driving license and a wonderful little Suzuki A-star at my disposal, one of the most enjoyable luxuries in recent years has been the lonely drives across cities. My love for the city of Mysore is well known to my readers. But, the highway within itself, is a marvelous experience.
India has a large concentration of entrepreneurs. To us city slickers, entrepreneurs are the guys with fancy corporate offices. But capitalism succeeds not on account of the large multi national corporations, but on account of the small neighbourhood establishments that source products locally and have an unbeatable understanding of their market needs. One such example is the umpteen number of roadside eateries that one finds in India and in the highways that connect its various parts. Mysore highway is no different.
As I began driving from Bangalore to Mysore yesterday evening at around 7, the usual question I was asking myself was, “Where do I eat?”. Not too long ago, the answer to that question was simple, Maddur Tiffanies. With its delicious dosas and famous Maddur vadas, this establishment had monopolised the highway food business for ages. Then, slowly, Kamat Lokruchi entered into the picture and with its Karavali Meals, it became a popular lunch destination for travellers like myself. But even as my childhood journeys were spent frequenting these joints, I had ended up being deprived of the true food experience.
True food experience on the Bangalore Mysore highway begins at the Bidadi Thatte idli. Unlike conventional idlis which are smaller in circumference and slightly puffed, the thatte (plate) idli is flat and has a large circumference and Bidadi is famous for its thatte idli. My favourite establishment happens to be this place right next to the Bidadi police station and behind the bus stand. Its a red colour matchbox like place called Renuka thatte idli. I don’t know how they manage, but the thatte idlis are among the softest and most delicious idlies I have eaten. The red chilli based chutney that is provided as an accompaniment can make one drool and the butter that comes with the idlis, just makes the gastronomical experience that much more complete. The vadas are crisp, but don’t feel oily at all and the coffee is to die for. Over all, with about 60 ruppees, one can enjoy an out of the world south indian breakfast experience.
For the non vegetarians, the jai bhuvaneshwari military hotel near Srirangapatna is the go to place. Famous for its Ragi mudde and mutton curry, the place is a favourite for all those who wish to get a feel for the local Karnataka food. In fact, a visit to this place reminds us of just how much we have abandoned the staple food that was once our predominant diet. The day we replaced millets like Ragi with rice, our health problems began surfacing. If you ask me what the perfect diet is, the answer is simple, eat what the locals traditionally eat.
I suspect that despite my knowledge of these establishments, I am yet to fully explore the food scene on the Highway. However, it is saddening to see the likes of KFC’s and McDonalds overwhelm the highway scene. Other establishments like Pizza corner and Empire hotels are now increasingly finding greater presence and visibility. We can’t stop them, nor should we try, because they are good for the economy. All I can do is appeal to folks like me: Don’t go by how big or how fancy a restaurant is. The true soul of highway cuisine lies in the small little unassuming place which is barely seen. There lies a love affair with food that is unparalleled and truly exemplary. This is the Indian restauranteur who understands our palate better than anyone else. Give him a chance and I promise you, you will not be disappointed. Because to me, the hot vadas with onion chutney beats McDonald’s peri peri fries any day of the week and twice on Sunday 🙂