Sabudana Vada And Kokum Juice: Ranga Shankara’s Star Performers Any Day
Image Credit: Facbook/@anjuscafe

If it’s Bengaluru and about theatre, it has to be at Ranga Shankara (RS). A melting pot of regional, independent and global theatre, there’s never a dull moment at this iconic hub. The high point, however, before the 7.30 show every evening is a generous serving of sabudana vada, pudina chutney and kokum juice. You may or may not like the performance at the auditorium, but the odds of not loving the items from the day’s menu at Anju’s Café are very low. Be it akki roti, multigrain dosa, appam with veg stew, sabudana khichdi, banana custard pudding, shrikhand puri, walnut brownies, ragi buttermilk or chai, this little food hall plating healthy local delicacies with a twist of quirky experiments has been one of the best things about the city’s nostalgia-laden neighbourhood JP Nagar.

Call it the theatrics of food, Bengaluru’s local artists as well as those coming from different parts of the country find the energy of this place too infectious and the grub too delicious to say no to during their chai pe charcha and brainstorming addas. Born in Kerala and brought up in Mumbai, Anju Sudarshan - who runs the café - says her culinary inspirations are a mix of coastal cooking styles and Karnataka’s local produce. She started the café after a chance meeting with theatre personality and founder of RS, Arundhati Nag. Not very comfortable about being referred to as an entrepreneur, she prefers describing herself as a passionate foodie, who now also loves the theatre and feels at home among artists. 

“Kokum juice became an instant hit when I started off at Ranga Shankara 16 years ago, and its popularity hasn’t faded a bit to this day. The story behind sabudana vada is also similar. We usually serve it with pudina or meethi chutney. The condiments, like other items on the menu, are prepared from scratch,” she explains, adding, “We pick seasonal items from the local markets - be it spices or vegetables. This helps in keeping the flavours indigenous, homely and nutritious. The sevs, papris and the whole wheat breads among other items are all freshly made, sans any artificial colours or preservatives.”          

For Karthik Hebbar, a Bengaluru-based classical musician and theatre practitioner, Anju’s Café is a friend’s kitchen he loves going back to every now and then. “Akki roti, muffins and the variety of hot and cold drinks she makes from kokum are among my personal favourites. Prepared in traditional methods, the food here is simple yet exuberant. It’s an inclusive place where creative minds meet and the food is served for thought, quite literally. People engage with food at this café, so much so that it becomes an art practised with passion. Most ingredients are organic and procured from local vendors. The hot chocolate or tea served here becomes a means of communication - like a warm hug on a nippy evening,” he says.

The annual mango party at RS is another fruity fare you can’t miss if you are in town. Baskets of indigenous mango varieties are brought in and savoured by lovers of theatre and food alike. “During the pandemic when the festival went online, it was punctuated by an array of special dishes, recipes, poems and a storytelling competition dedicated to the ‘king of fruits’. Mango chitranna, mango gojju, mango chaat and mango sasive were in high demand, apart from the regulars including mango puri, mango kulfi and mango custard,” says Anju. 

And the community affair doesn’t end there. Onam is also celebrated splendidly at the café, with the elaborate sadya served on a banana leaf - comprising rice; boiled lentil; poppadom; sambhar; pumpkin and red beans in coconut gravy; yoghurt spiced with ginger; yam and jaggery-coated banana chips; mango and lime pickle; tamarind and ginger chutney; gourd in mildly-spiced yoghurt; and pineapple in yoghurt among other items - being the star attraction.  

 “I am a Malayali at heart and what better way to celebrate Onam than enjoying a hearty meal with the food-loving performing artists,” says Anju. Summing up, Karthik says, “The footfall to tuck into sadya is nothing less than the audiences flocking to the venue to watch a popular play. It’s a housefull at the café during Onam every year.”