Straight Oota, Bengaluru: Idlis & Idiosyncrasies In Basavanagudi
Image Credit: Illustration by Preetam Casimir (Instagram/@preetam_casimir) for Slurrp

IT WOULD BE REASONABLE to say that Chinese food brought my parents to Bangalore. When he was transferred here, my father fell in love with egg fried rice at Chung Wah on MG Road and went to eat there at least once every fortnight. We followed him to Bangalore in the late 1990s, and on some days, after hours of snaking through Majestic's big shops, Chickpet’s small ones, and the occasional appearance at Kemp Fort, he’d take us to Chung Wah. The grandeur of Kemp Fort’s red felt audibly incomplete without the muted red of Chung Wah’s table cloths. Smells of vinegar, MSG, chicken fried wontons, and peppery rice passed in and out of our nostrils. It was here that we learnt that not everything Chinese needs to be eaten with ketchup, and that soups can have personality. From chicken noodle, to manchow to tom yums — if Chung Wah taught us that there were soups that could be eaten, Majestic’s Fishland taught us that meen curry could be drunk.

When we settled down in Basavanagudi, it was far away from the other Bangalore we were cuisine-familiar with. But Bgudi had its moments, however rarely and grudgingly it gave. Growing up in a family where both parents had known and survived hunger meant that the mission to eat the softest idlis wasn’t just personal anymore. Together, my father and mother made it their collective quest to eat everything that Bgudi offered. And it offered so little but whatever it gave was taken in with hungry delight.

DVG Road’s famous Upahara Darshini became my parents’ regular place to eat. They’d eat idlis at home and head to UD to eat idlis again. When we turned up our noses in boredom at idlis, father always said, “Idli tinakke punya maadirbeku”. They took everyone to UD as if they’d discovered it. The fever caught on. Cousins from Bombay and Mangalore, when they came to see us, would get down from the bus stop at Netkallappa circle, drag suitcases to UD, eat idli-vadas and then come home. Father had become notorious on both sides of the family after having desperately eaten idli-sambar somewhere near Shirdi long ago, and screaming, “Abbey yey sambar main bella daala hai kya?”

Walking to Gandhi Bazaar every evening, my parents found multiple opportunities to get over Vidyarthi Bhavan quicker than any millennial break up. For a brief while, the fantasy of eating excellent idli-dosas was replaced by a short-lived fascination with Ice Thunder and Roti Ghar’s eclectic menu. We had our first pizzas at Ice Thunder followed by a short walk to Roti Ghar for their Rs 5 coffee. The Rs 20 cheese pizzas at Ice Thunder were pretty much soft breads slathered with tomato sauce and slivers of Amul cheese gratings. Also for Rs 20 were veg pizzas which had the same base, same sauce and same cheese, with the addition of a few strips of capsicum and onion. It was called veg pizza, yes, but there was obviously no non-veg pizza. This affair was soon declared over once they stopped putting onions on pizzas. 

This was just one of the many problems with Bgudi we were uncovering. In Jain College, VV Puram, canteens didn’t serve potato chips or samosas. My non-Jain friends and I had to go all the way out to eat what became known as the best samosa burgers. An old man stood right in front of Jain College with just a table and made what was the ultimate revenge set: potato and onion samosa, sweet sauce, khara sauce all mixing in between two blobs of buns. We ate this for breakfast and lunch.

While my parents continued their unceasing expedition for idlis, I had moved on to small eateries in NR Colony that had begun making and serving Chinese food like it was chaat. They made 45 kinds of fried rice — all vegetables and some fruits included (my heart still bleeds for paapa pomegranate). I look back fondly at Bgudi’s attempts at adventure. For all the cowardice it showed in ensuring no meat, they went berserk over what they did to Indian-Chinese food and fruits. This affair I said bye to after they started putting raisins in baby corn fried rice.

After a decade of living here, I am beginning to see my parents as pranksters. What they’ve really been doing here apart from stuffing their faces with food is getting other people to stop coming out to eat. In UD, standing and eating is sometimes a hurdle and especially so, if you don’t like people. My mother and aunt have managed to piss many a brahmin off. Once, my mother ordered two plates of idlis each for my aunt and herself. Standing around and sharing the table with two old men, they were all decently eating. At some point while half-listening to my mother, and half-desiring vadas, my aunt mistakenly grabbed a piece of vada from the old man’s plate and stuffed her face. 

The man pushed his plate away in horror and proceeded to leave. My aunt, still not having realised what she’d done, continued to talk to my mother who had begun apologising and requesting the man to stay so she could buy him a new plate of vada. He cursed our lineage, washed his hands and face, muttering, “Yenta yenta janru bartarappa”, patted his chest and walked away. Mother and aunt didn’t know what to do so they ordered a plate of vada and ate it in the middle of their own stifled guffaws.

My mother seems to have toppled the chai-sutta combo with her idli-coffee combo. She needs them both piping hot and at the same time. Tired of her demands, my father once requested the waiter at SLV in NR Colony to bring idli and coffee together. He also added that she was going to die soon and that it was her wish to eat idlis; if not fulfilled, she’d die there only. The waiter didn’t understand why my mother was staring at my giggling father but stood a good mile away before serving and running away. In Bgudi, my father finds humour in the oddest of things. He once came home laughing from his morning walk to report that he couldn’t buy coffee powder at the market because the man selling coffee powder had gone to drink coffee. He wouldn’t stop laughing for hours.

Living in Basavanagudi has been a beautiful irony and full-on comedy. I applaud my parents for going to Brahmin’s Coffee Bar only to teach them how to make, and drink, coffee.

Vijeta Kumar teaches English and Journalism at St. Joseph's College, Bangalore. She writes at


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