I’ve always cherished the opportunity to visit India. Every time I go, I uncover another beautiful or surprising slice of the country, and come away, as many do, changed in indescribable ways.
This time, I had the chance to visit Bangalore for work, and while the bulk of the week was spent shuttling back and forth from a wonderful hotel to the office, I took the one free day I had — Saturday — to explore Bangalore on my own. I started the morning early with a visit to the flower market at KR Market, though ironically while I was extremely close, I actually missed the main structure. But standing still, trying to be out of the way of everyone (it seems like in the busiest of towns you’re always in the way of someone), it felt like the whole market was one organism, breathing, flowing. Flower sellers pitched ornate strings of carnations; in another section, bags full of roses. Around the corner, pineapples and pomegranates.
I then wandered south towards Brahmins’ Coffee Bar in Shankarapura. I was told this was where the who’s who of Bangalore will gather for breakfast of idli and coffee. Watching others eat from tin plates I asked for the same — two idli and one vada, plus coffee, for a grand total of 72 rupees — and proceeded to devour it all. The idli and vada, soft and crunchy textures each, sits on a thin layer of coconut chutney, which one can refill at will. The coffee was just the right sweetness; a man who helped me order told me that the coffee “decoction” was brewed first, then sugary milk added later, which seemed perfectly ordinary. But by the same token that I had zero notion of what was completely ordinary to Bangalore, so too they must have wondered what I took for granted, looking like a lost Japanese tourist relishing every moment of the uncertainty.
Next, I headed to the southern Bangalore neighborhood of Sarakki Nagar to take a roti-making class at a home of an AirBnB host, Julian. I learned how to make standard rothi, tandoor rothi (without the tandoor), aloo paratha (stuffed with potatoes) and lachha paratha. Each of the four are unleavened, and go from least fancy to more fancy, with the idea being that one might consume the most basic standard rothi at home, but the tandoor one if outside, and any of the parathas (made with ghee) for more ornate meals. The rothi becomes puffy with the rapid heating of the water in the dough.
I was impressed how, unlike the process of making bread in the West, making rotis felt like just another side item to cook together with everything else, the accompaniments like curry and chutneys. Perfected in the hands of an expert like Julian it becomes fast and effortless. My clumsy hands, used to the relative freedom and relaxedness that comes with yeast fermentation, could not catch up.
After a sumptuous Indian lunch (made to accommodate “unfamiliar palates”) together with Bira 91 (my kind of beer, to be honest) with the breads that Julian made (he made it clear that the ones we had made earlier were to be abandoned; “none of these breads are good cold” he mentioned, somewhat offhandedly), I meandered further. I headed east towards Vega City mall, where I knew I could shop for a sev sancha, a sort of handheld noodle maker that I learned about from Julian. I was also on the hunt for gifts for my colleagues and a few more kurtas, which I knew I could find from within the mall.
In the evening, I took part in a food tour near the KR market, another experience I found on AirBnB, led by Priya, who co-owns a hostel in town. We started at Neel Kamal sweets and headed east, eating kadhi kachori, jalebi, fresh pomegranate juice, Bombay sandwiches, dosa at Lakshmi Natraja Refreshments, panipuri, a pineapple bun and ending with masala papad. It was surprising to me how one main road (which felt more like an alley) could hold so many hidden and delicious snacks. At one point, I even had to convince myself that they bread that I was devouring was indeed made in the ovens just behind the store, hidden from view.
Most importantly, it was clear that I would have missed every one of them without an expert local guide.
The man behind the bombay sandwhich, extremely proud of his trade and craft (see video). The sandwich was grilled to perfection.
I can’t wait to be back.
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