An Assault On The Senses
- Anjuly Mathai
Story Dated: Monday, April 23, 2012 11:33 hrs IST
The shop is anonymous and instead of a name, it has a Coca Cola banner with the words ‘Bottle Kholo, London Bholo,’ splashed across the front. It reminds one of the small tea stalls in Malayalam movies, inevitably the site for a crucial plot twist.
There are clusters of banana hanging from the aluminium roof. Lining the shelves are bottles of milk bikis and dairy milk éclairs above which swarm a cloud of enterprising flies.
The shop signals the beginning of the thindi beedi or the food street of Bangalore. It is a narrow stretch of road flanked by small eateries and food shacks, squeezed between dilapidated buildings with peeling walls.
The breeze carries the aroma of a motley crew of spices. Most of the stalls are ramshackle with no space for sitting. I see a man juggling, rather unsuccessfully, plates of aloo bonda, masala paper roast (the chutney tipping onto his shirt pocket), and a glass of badam milk.
Street food of every kind is available here, from Karnataka specialties like akki roti and holige to North Indian chaats and Bombay’s vada pav and pav bhaji.
I decide to start with simla mirchi (green peppers) bajjis. The entire pepper is battered and fried just right – the man cuts it into quarters, garnishes it with onions, carrots and some lime. The next is a stall that sells holige, a sweet made with jaggery. The cook fills the dough with jaggery and pats it flat with dexterous fingers. He lets it simmer in the stove, occasionally turning it with a tawa. He then serves it to the customers, after adding a generous dollop of ghee on top.
Opposite is a host of South Indian shops serving everything from rava idlis to podi roasts and bath masala dosa (a recurring occurrence in several menus although I’m yet to figure what exactly ‘bath’ encompasses). The specialty of the street however, I’m told, is the badam milk served hot or cold – a contention I was not disposed to disagree with. The badam milk I tried at one of the stalls was delicious, enhanced by the flavour of pistachios and cardamom powder.
There are also a number of Chinese stalls serving Indian Chinese (of the Gobi Manchurian variety) and menu cards riddled with spelling mistakes (coconets, fride rice).
By now, the evening sky has turned an opaque blue and the crowd burgeons. The street becomes lit with neon bulbs and there are small children clamouring by balloon sellers and plastic toy vendors and others slurping ice-creams and masala pepsis – something I dared to try and wouldn’t recommend. It tastes like a Chemistry experiment gone wrong. The whole place has the feel of a small fair.
Every January, food street literally becomes the site of an annual fair called the Avarekai Mela or the festival of the fried flat beans. Organised by Shree Vasavi Condiments, the mela sees farmers from Magadi taluk putting up stalls and using the footpaths. Dosa-hithkabele Saru, Hithkabele Holige, Avarebele Chikki, Hithkabele Masala and Pepper Hithkabele are some of the special products available during this fair.
There was a time when every residential street of the city would see women sitting in groups outside the house, peeling the avarekai in the morning sun. Now however, those traditions are relegated to a page of the city’s history.