In Pursuit of Good Food

How far have you traveled in pursuit of the food that you crave for? Based on your answer to this question, I would judge whether you are a real foodie or not. The more you crave, the more effort you are likely to put. If it is difficult to get to the food, you will be less inclined to put effort. At the cost of sounding vain, let me tell you that I consider myself a passionate foodie. I know I do not look like one (at least I don’t fit the conservative description of a foodie). But if you listen to some of the things that I have done to just indulge in the food that I love, you will know what a strong competitor you have in me. Would you travel 45 km in public transport just to pick up that special mysurpa which is only sold in that specific store? No, you do not have any other agenda in that part of the town. Yet, would you? Would you consider cycling 20 km just to have a crispy ghee roast? Well, I did today morning.

I do not need to introduce you to Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR). For the benefit of people who are not from Bangalore, MTR is a restaurant that was set up way back in 1924 and has been serving traditional South Indian food. It is one the best and oldest place that you can visit for a traditional meal. Although there are other competitors, the original MTR branch (located very close to the main gate of Lalbagh Botanical Gardens) has an old world charm and uniqueness that you cannot get even in other MTR branches. In recent years, MTR has captured the global market. Although they started out as a restaurant, they expanded to snacks and Ready-to-Eat items and now they are a very popular household name across India and even abroad. Read their story here.

I live roughly 8 km away from MTR and have visited them only once before, but have been wanting to visit again for a long time now. I also wanted to catch a glimpse of the last flowers of the season at Lalbagh. Flowers weren’t motivation enough, but ghee roast at MTR definitely was. Many of you may not agree with me, but indulging in rich food definitely makes me feel guilty at least for a few days. So I ruminate over the craving, try to resist the thought. Mostly, I just give in. At times, I set goals for myself and try to do something that makes me deserve that sinful indulgence. After cycling 10 kilometers, I have really earned that ghee roast for myself.

So, I made up my mind to get out of my bed on a Saturday morning and cycle all the way to Lalbagh. Admired the cool green shades, walked around soaking in the intoxicating smell of the wild champa flowers in bloom, and then headed to MTR. I did bump into quite a few people I saw at the Lalbagh garden. Though, I really doubt how many of them truly worked out to deserve the rich breakfast that they were eating 😉

Breakfast options are many (although not as much as your neighborhood Udupi restaurant). But if the available options are top class, who wants many options? What I have observed is that, people feel good about seeing a long list of options in the menu card, but mostly stick to ordering the usual 3-4 items they like. MTR has Rice Idly, Rava Idly, Dosa, Upma, Khara Bath, and two varieties of sweet. (They didn’t have Kesari bath yesterday 😦 so next trip is in search of Kesari Bath 😉 already decided!). So ghee roast it was for me. At MTR all dosas are drizzled with ghee and a light spread of a green masala paste, served with potato masala filling inside, extra ghee by the side and coconut mint chutney.

The texture of the dosas here is a class apart. It is very crispy on one side, yet soft and spongy on the other. I would love to learn how they manage this. I have eaten such dosas only in very few places. You have to eat this dosa to even understand what I am talking about. You go to a normal Udupi restaurant (or any other that serves dosa), and you get paper thin roasts that you can break off and scoop chutney with. You stuff it into your mouth, and if you aren’t careful enough, you end up hurting your upper palate or tongue! No, that’s not how dosas are supposed to be. I am telling you guys, you really need to explore and find the best dosas. In Mumbai, I loved the dosas at Amba bhavan, the best. Here, it has to be Yem-Tee-Aar.

As mentioned earlier, the oldest MTR branch is located near the Lalbagh main gate. A quaint, two-storey building with unpretentious interiors. No fancy chairs or crockery, simple seating arrangements.

When you enter, to your left is the stairs that lead you upstairs. The cashier is seated beside the stairs, and there is a small waiting area as well. To your right is a “Coffee Room” which is unique and something that I have not seen anywhere, not even at the “Tea Centre” in Mumbai. South Indians love their coffee. And it is only fair that an entire room and a few wooden benches are dedicated just for the coffee lovers to sip their coffee in peace without having to hustle with the eating crowd. At any time of the day, you can find a reasonably big crowd in this room. In the ground floor, if you give the cashier and coffee room a pass and enter the next room, there is seating arrangement for around 15-20 people. The rest of the space is dedicated to kitchen.

MTR can boast of a very clean kitchen. As you can see in this picture, even at peak business hours, the kitchen is spotless. As gathered from their web site, the MTR owner’s trip to European countries would have made him implement strict hygiene standards back home.

You climb to the first floor, and there is a small waiting area with wooden benches. This leads to two reasonably large halls that can seat around 35-40 people each. Photos from the past of prestigious customers decorate the walls.

Lunch is a totally different affair. Breakfast closes at about 11 am and then you can enter the building only by 12:30 noon. Sit in the waiting area until the manager lets you in and then lunch is served to the entire crowd in batches. You cannot just walk in and take a place at any time you like. One batch of people are served with multiple servings of the different kinds of rice and other goodies and then the next batch can come in.

Next to the restaurant building is a shop that sells snacks, savories, and ready-to-eat items.

Being a foodie is not just about cooking and relishing good food, but also about staying fit and healthy. It is very easy to stay in the lazy comfort of our demanding sedentary jobs. It is only when a lab report or a health problem hits that we tend to take a step back and pay serious attention to our body. All of you would have different ways of staying healthy. My way is to ensure that I earn every kilocalorie that I indulge in, like they say about Bournville. Maybe cycling isn’t your sport. Maybe you want to run, walk, skip rope, dust the house or do some gardening. Whatever it may be, find your calling and then when you indulge in your ghee roast or that sinful brownie, you will feel good..really good. Doing it in the reverse order does not work. You cant indulge first and decide to do your sport later. That later never comes. Break the sweat first and then indulge. I can guarantee that you will feel good. Don’t wait for the Gatorade or the perfect cycling shorts. Just grab a bottle of water and get started.

What’s the next in my agenda? Kesari bath at MTR. Also, it is that time of the year when I need to stash away a whole year’s supply of jackfruit jam. Time to scan the street for the familiar smell. What are you waiting for? Go hit the street, with your running shoes or pedals or skipping rope or whatever is your sport and find your craving.

PostScript:

Thanks to my friend, this weekend I discovered an MTR branch closer to my house.

Located at the top floor of a 5-storey building, the interiors look very different in comparison to the original outlet near the Lalbagh entrance.

At the JP Nagar MTR branch, the quaint charm is replaced with tiled roofs interspersed with glass tiles to let ample natural light in. Almost everything else remains the same.

The restaurant has a pleasant and spacious decor.

The dishes taste the same although the silver glasses are missing. I must admit that it is a long wait to be served.

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8 Comments

  1. You have nicely detailed your experience with MTR and the food available there. It makes you want to go there and savor the food yourself, just like your post about Amba Cafe did.

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  2. Manju I loved every bit of this post! Many moons back back when I was little girl, our family visited my uncle in Bangalore. This very MTR was one of the must do items on our list of things to do on that trip. I distinctly remember eating the most perfect ghee dosa and as if the ghee wasn’t enough dipping it in more ghee. After 2 decades the memory of that so fresh in my mind. Even though I’m so far away from India MTR is still my go to brand for all things South Indian. Thank you for bringing back some amazing memories of dosa eating , silk shopping , strolling in gardens, gazing at temples……

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    1. Glad to hear that the post evoked some good memories, Bina 🙂 I agree with you that certain tastes, smells, and memories associated with them always stay with us. They are so vividly stored in our brains that a certain song or incident can drag us back to that exact moment within a fraction of a second 🙂

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  3. Though i don’t know much or rather anything about cooking etc really enjoyed this post and thanks for that…!….I think this exclusive “coffee zone” and “lunch in batches” are something innovative…at least i have not seen it anywhere…

    ….and let there be more such explorations of Bangalore’s culinary circuit…:-)

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  4. Well, your article is great and now I have the urge to visit Bangalore soon to have a breakfast at MTR. I am based out of Calicut and am a self-proclaimed foodie myself and couple of months went on a four-day trip to Mumbai just for food (no didn’t have any other agenda other than trying various cuisines). It’s nice to be around people who love their food and I am one of them.

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    1. Hanish, feels great to hear about people who share the same passion – food 😀
      Bangalore and MTR are just a night away from Calicut. So easy to plan and execute 🙂
      Do try out Maiyyas too when you come over. I heard that it is owned by MTR owner’s brother/cousin. They have a wide variety (including Akki/rice Roti, ragi roti, etc.) and the dosas taste the same like MTR. I highly recommend Maiyyas too. Happy eating!

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