Saturday, May 31, 2014

Avnaas Aambe Saasam(Pineapple Mango Salad)

The name 'Avnaas Aambe Saasam' in Konkani means Pineapple and Mango with Mustard. This is a traditional Mangalorean cold dish prepared with fresh fruits in the summer months when both pineapple and mango are available in abundance. Black, red or green grapes are added for better taste. I grew up in a traditional GSB Konkani family and GSBs make this dish perfectly. GSB wedding and other feast menus mostly have this dish as one of the attractions.
Any pulpy mango, preferably Totapuri(Ginimoothi) is suited for this. The mango should be just ripe and firm while chopping. Pineapple should be sweet with a slight hint of tang. Other fruits like apple, pears, strawberries and dates are also added by some people. Whatever maybe the combo of fruits, the masala should be made correctly with right amount of chillies and mustard seeds.

Some may add a seasoning of Mustard seeds and red chillies for added flavour but I prefer it without seasoning. Modern day caterers ad ice cream or whole cream also to make this more attractive for kids. This can be best relished chilled and after the feast as dessert. Here's the traditional recipe for making this dish.

Ripe Mango - 500Gms
Pineapple - 500Gms
Grapes(Preferably seedless) - 200Gms
Grated Coconut - 1 and 1/2 cup
Tamarind - A pinch
Red Chillies - 2-3 roasted with little oil
Mustard seeds - 1 Tsp
Salt - To taste

Chop the fruits into bite size pieces.
If the grapes are small, leave them intact. Otherwise halve them lengthwise.
Grind grated coconut, roasted chillies and tamarind to a coarse chutney.
Just before removing the chutney from the mixer, add mustard seeds and grind further for 30 secs.
Add the ground chutney to the fruit chinks, add salt to taste and mix well.
Chill and serve with rice, rasam and other veg accompaniments.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Balepet USKB - The Ultimate Masala Dosa Connection

My culinary journey would be incomplete, if I don't tell a story about one of the best restaurants I've seen in my life, where I tasted 'The Ultimate Masala Dosa' they serve. I'm talking about the legendary Balepet Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan or USKB where I have had countless number of breakfasts and afternoon snacks skipping lunch mostly, during my 5 years of stay in Bangalore from 1980-1985.
Front elevation - This looks the same since I first saw the building in 1980
How I got to know about USKB:
It was August 1980. After completing 20 months of my Bank job, I was returning from Chamarajanagar to Mysore by the passenger train in the evening. As usual, the daily trainmates kept me amused with their talk and as the train reached Kavalande, a small town between Chamarajanagar and Nanjangud, Sudheendra and Kemparaju of Indian Overseas Bank got into our compartment. The train started moving and I coolly announced,

"I've been transferred to Chickpet Bangalore and my relieving order has arrived already".

All looked puzzled and sad. Sudheendra in his imitable jolly mood continued to smile and talk but he had two important announcements to make.

1. I was invited to his home that weekend for breakfast and he will treat me with their Bisi Bele Bhaat that his wife prepares well.
2. After joining my new branch at Chickpet Bangalore, I must try Balepet Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan(USKB) where they make 'First Class Bisi Bele Bhaat'(BBB).

First class Bisi Bele Bhaat!

That impressed me very much, because I was already a fan of Bisi Bele Bhaat that I had tried in many restaurants. Sudheendra, in spite of getting authentic home made BBB praised Balepet Krishna Bhavan and gave the 'First Class' rating to it!

He was not wrong. Few days after I joined for duty at Chickpet, I asked my colleague Nagabhooshana Hande about Balepet Krishna Bhavan and he said there's no doubt about the quality of snacks they serve. Mr Hande also said that he's a regular there in the afternoons when they serve limited snack items like Idli, Khara Bhaat and Rava Bisi Bele Bhaat.

Rava Bisi Bele Bhaat!

That's something new, I thought. I'd never heard about that in my life before! Of course I was just 24 years old then, and Kamath Hotels were the only good places to eat in Bangalore, where I'd tried some idli vada poori and dosa during my two pleasure trips in the Seventies as student.

My curiosity started to double up when I heard good reports about Balepet Krishna Bhavan. I decided to visit there for breakfast. Earlier, I used to eat at some restaurant near Chamarajpet, KR market or in Chickpet itself.

Then one morning I started a bit early and reached Balepet Udupi Krishna Bhavan at around 9:45am. I ordered Idli Sambar followed by Khaara Bhaat, as the waiter told Bisi Bele Bhaat got over!

Uddina Vade(Medu Vada) stacked
Idli Sambar

Rava Bisi Bele Bhaat
Khaara Bhaat
Idli Sambar
Dumrote Halwa just baked and ready
Dumrote Halwa
Rava Bisi Bele Bhaat
Hot Medu Vadas Ready
Fresh n Hot Gulab Jamuns
Poori Saagu
Strong 'Kaapi'
Steaming hot idlis were swimming in a lake of dark red hot and sweet sambar with a slight hint of garam masala, typical Mysore style sambar but that one was deadly spicy and I could also feel the tickling taste of pepper in it. I'd never tasted such a succulent sambar before!

Khaara Bhaat was served next with little chutney. That was tangy, sweet and spicy too and the flavour perfectly complimented the texture and each spoonful travelled slowly over the tongue into my stomach as it released different feelings on my taste buds!

A cup of hot and strong 'Kaapi' washed down the remains of the flavour of both the snacks and left a new invigorating experience, making the bill of 1 Rupee 90 paise worth every bit of it. That was the Eighties on a plate for you at USKB!

Then of course, I could taste their Bisi Bele Bhaat within a couple of days and I could not stop at one! I ordered one more and relished it with the thick fresh hot potato chips topped over them. The smell of pure ghee, the perfectly blended spices , rice and lentils and of course the subtle mix of vegetables made it indeed the best BBB on this earth.

Sudheendra was right. He had not exaggerated about the First Class Bisi bele Bhaat at Balepet Krishna Bhavan!

Thus, my breakfast was mostly had at Balepet Krishna Bhavan then on. My usual order would be 3 idlis with sambar, a khaara bhaat or a bisi bele bhaat. I never tried vada, dosa or other stuff for quite some time, as I was happy with my preferred comfort snacks.

Couple of months later, I started to eat typical GSB lunch from a mess, that a lady sent from DVG Road. I was not very happy with it, as she poured daal or rasam over the rice and that became soggy and cold by the time I consumed it. So, I started eating hot lunch in the morning at her mess itself, on my way to office. Then I had to discontinue having my breakfast at Balepet USKB.

I joined my colleagues Mr Hande and others, who had their snacks in the afternoon at Balepet USKB. I'd order 3 idlis with sambar and a Khaara Bhaat or Rava Bisi Bele Bhaat which was available only on Wednesdays then. Rava Bisi bele Bhaat is a signature snack of USKB and it has added boiled Kabuli Chana along with traces of other veggies like carrot, cabbage, peas, beans and onions. It was more tangy and spicier than Khaara Bhaat and had an addictive taste. The afternoon sambar had yellowish red colour and its taste also was more like Madras sambar.

So, morning and afternoon sambar had two different recipes. I also explored their unique sweet dish 'Dumrote'(or Dum ka Rote) which Mr Hande said, is made with ash gourd and semolina with some flavouring added. That was also an addictive stuff and i started eating it daily there, with the two regular snacks.

A waiter whom we called 'Bhatre' used to watch us enter the restaurant as soon as the doors opened at 2:45pm in the afternoon, and he used to get exactly the snacks of choice for each one of us, by the time we occupied our seats. They mostly had servers from Kundapur Udupi side then, and each one of them had good memory and calculating abilities by which they wrote the exact bill amounts, without messing up! Purushotham who was a supervisor then, is still continuing to work here, and today he manages almost everything including cash counter.

Billing Manager
Couple of friendly waiters from Kundapur
Workers always in jolly mood!
Ramakrishna Aithal
Purushotham with other workers at staff quarters
James Bond Movies and the Ultimate Masala Dosa Connection:
It may sound strange if I mention about James Bond here! Bond has nothing to do with masala dosa, but there's a story which may make sense if I connect the masala dosa at USKB with Bond movies running at a nearby cinema talkies.

My cousin Premakar Shenoy, a connoisseur of good movies, music, books and food was like my pal when I stayed in my uncle's out house in Tata Silk Farm. When I mentioned about USKB, he said, there was a time in the Sixties and the Seventies when he used to watch a Bond movie matinee show at Vijayalakshmi Talkies in Chickpet and then gobble up a masala dosa at USKB in the evening! He added that the dosa is too good and one has to taste it to experience it. I'd also read about that dosa in 'Sunday Mid Day' Bangalore edition those days.

I had tried for it in the mornings couple of times earlier but it was not available when I went there little after 10:00am. Call it a coincidence or whatever, that Sunday we both went to see the rerun of the Bond movie satire 'Casino Royale' at Vijayalakshmi Talkies and after the movie we went to Balepet, went upstairs to their family section and ordered masala dosa. It arrived fresh and hot, crispy, slightly oval, half moon folded, served with nothing else but the ordinary puffed chana(Hurikadle) coconut green chutney.

When I had the first dig into the dosa, I heard a light crackling sound and then when I dipped the piece along with the stuffing in chutney and placed it in my mouth, it literally crumbled in my mouth and started doing a waltz on my tongue! Controlled release of clarified butter(ghee) blended with the perfectly seasoned potato stuffing and the subtle spicy red chutney smeared on the inner were enough to make me drool and gobble up the dosa in a hurry!

"How about a second one?" asked my cousin. I didn't say anything but I kept smiling and nodded my head. After having the second one, I still had yearning for a third one, but resisted my temptation. As usual, I washed it down with a strong kaapi and then we paid the bill and left the place. That by all standards, is 'The Ultimate Masala Dosa' and they have maintained the same standard even today. No wonder, Big B liked the masala Dosa and Idli Vada of Udupi Krishna Bhavan.

Yes. Superstar of Bollywood Amitabh Bachchan used to get take away from Janardhan Hotel in Kumara Park East on Race Course Road, owned by USKB, when he was shooting for the movie Coolie in Bangalore in the Eighties. I had heard that story but was yet to be confirmed by the owners of USKB!

Since then, Balepet Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan was like another home for me in Bangalore where I tasted the dosa frequently, while making their idli sambar a staple for breakfast and during lunch time. Tuesday is their weekly holiday and that day I'd resort to some nearby hotel to find alternative food.

The Ultimate Masala Dosa
USKB Revisited:
Though I make it a point to visit USKB every time when I am in Bangalore, I had never tried to take pictures or write a story on this historic landmark when I was writing for a Mangalorean web portal from 2006 to 2012 in their 'Dine Out' section. In fact, I had never even bothered to watch the building closely and find out when they started business or who the founder was.

I rarely visited Bangalore after I'd settled down in my new profession. I hardly knew names of the staff there but Purushtham's name remained in my mind because he always used to talk about our hometown and other personal matters with me, and he even remembered my name as 'Shenoy' when I met him there personally after a gap of almost 20 years, in the year 2012!

That morning, I entered the restaurant with my baggage after vacating my room. Purushotham greeted me with a broad smile and he asked me to keep the luggage behind the billing counter and have 'tiffin'. I ordered idli sambar, dumrote, masala dosa and took a few pics but the restaurant was so crowded, I didn't have the heart to disturb Purushotham or other staff to cover the entire restaurant! Before I left the restaurant that day, I also observed that Sagu Masala Dosa and afternoon lunch have been added in the menu, which I didn't find in the Eighties. They said Sagu masala Dosa was there always but I had not tried it, since I was blindly in love with the regular masala dosa! I told Purushotham that I'll be back again within a few months to cover the restaurant for our web portal.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, I left the web team and started my blogspot later in September 2012. I also didn't get a chance to visit Bangalore in the near future. It was in March this year, that I made a trip to Bangalore and revisited USKB. This time I was firm and determined. As soon as I stepped into the hotel, I found Purushotham at the counter and I told him, I'll have 'tiffin' first, then take a few pictures and write the story. To my bad luck, it was already 11:30am and they ran out of Masala dosa just when I tried to order it! I had to postpone my schedule to next morning. They said it's better if I come there little earlier as crowd also will be less and dosa will be abundantly available.

S Subramanya Holla, Managing Partner
Subramanya Holla with his relative
I went there the next morning, little earlier. This time, I didn't bother to have 'tiffin' first and I was directed to the Managing Partner Subramanya Holla's office upstairs, behind the restaurant.

Mr Holla in his late Forties looked dynamic, handsome and friendly. He was delighted to know about my 34 years emotional bondage with their restaurant. He talked to me at length, explaining how they maintained standards in spite of labour problems, non availability of skilled workers from homeland Kundapur. He was so knowledgeable, he explained me how the relationship between the owner of an enterprise and its workmen can run smoothly and successfully.

"If we can provide basic amenities like food, shelter, clothing and health benefits and pay a decent salary to our workers by which they can also feel satisfied, there won't be any need for communism and all will co-exist and flourish", said Mr Holla confidently.

When asked about the connection between Big B and USKB, he confirmed about Mr Bachchan being fond of their Idli Vada and Masala Dosa catered during the shooting of Coolie film in various locations in and around Bangalore those days!

He also said they have a branch in Gandhi Bazaar but USKB has its own identity without seeking publicity, no competition from anyone in the last 88 years! Most of the regulars in Balepet come from middle income group but there are also merchant classes from the surrounding areas of Majestic, Chickpet, Nagarthapet, Cottonpet and Akkipet.

Mr Holla asked me to have my breakfast in his cabin, but I politely refused and said, "I want to eat it there, down in the hall with the regular customers to get the usual thrill!"

Later, Mr Holla called the manager Ramakrishna Aithal and asked him to show me around the kitchen, especially how the ultimate masala dosa is crafted by expert cooks. Mr Aithal said, his father Nagappa Aithal had worked as Dosa master there for 35 years and he had the fame of spreading 80 dosas at a time during his heydays! Now they have two smaller tawas with two dosa masters who make 18 dosas each at a time, summing upto 36 in total, at one go.

How they make The Ultimate Masala Dosa:
Water is splashed over the hot tawa and is swept with a broom to dampen the tawa and maintain ideal temperature. Then the dosa batter is poured with a steel tumbler and spread in an oval shape to achieve the right thickness and texture.

Masala Dosa making
Dosa batter being spread
Dosas getting roasted
As the dosas start to get roasted and the upper surface starts to dry up, generous amount of pure ghee is drizzled over them and the dosas are flipped to lightly roast on the other side. This is new for me, for almost all restaurants leave the inner portion as it is, while here they roast it. I logically deduced that this process makes the dosas remain stiff and non soggy for a long time, after stuffing them with the potato curry.
Pure ghee drizzled over dosas
Further roasting with ghee
Dosas flipped over
Red chutney smeared and potato stuffing dropped
After they are lightly roasted on the other side, they are again flipped over and the red chutney is applied over them with bare hands and a handful of the potato stuffing is placed on the dosas. For Sagu Dosas, a ladleful of sagu is poured over them and immediately the dosas are folded to half moon shape and tranferred to plates and handed over to the waiters waiting patiently in line.
Masala Dosas folded into half moon shape
Masala Dosas ready for serving
Idli Sambar and Masala Dosa
Then the waiters go to the pantry counter and place chutney and sambar cups by the side of these dosas and serve them.

The dosa batter, the red chutney and the potato curry have the same consistency always and they have a secret recipe for each one of them, passed over from three generations.

It is worth visiting Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan for breakfast or evening tea and relish their ultimate Masala Dosas, if not their Idli Vada, Khara Bhaat, Bisi Bele Bhaat, Gulab Jamun, Poori Sagu, the unique Dumrote Halwa and Rava Bisi Bele Bhaat. South Indian lunch is served between 11:30pm and 3:30pm.

They have a sweets stall outside, where they sell good quality milk sweets, ghee sweets and savories. You can also find Dumrote Halwa in the list of the sweets sold there.

View through sweets counter
Special Room
Self Service counter
Morning regulars
Antique clock and fans
People waiting for food parcel
Crowded always!
They have maintained the same old Udupi restaurant look and ambiance with dark granite top tables and wooden chairs. There is also a self service counter that opens early in the morning and then service starts at 8:00am. The restaurant has a hall and an attached family room, which can accommodate 120 persons at a time. There is also a special room where a nominal extra charges are added per item.

Inspired by USKB, we have tried making dumrote halwa and masala Dosa at home in similar style. Dumrote came out somewhat close to what I ate there but we could not reach exact taste, crispness and texture their dosa has.

There may be hundreds and thousands of restaurants serving South Indian snacks today in Bangalore, but Balepet Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan has its own reputation, its own identity and its own 'Ultimate Masala Dosa' a masterpiece crafted by gifted chefs, which can never be imitated by anyone else!

Main entrance
History of USKB:
Back in 1902, Rama Holla and his nephew Janardhaniah opened a humble eatery in the Balepete Circle, amidst the hustle-bustle of the citygoers. It was called the 'Udupi Hotel'.

In 1926, Janadhaniah moved the restaurant to where it stands now and called it 'Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan' (USKB). Later, in 1935, Janardhanaiah son-in-law K. Yagnanarayana Somayaji took charge of the hotel and modernised it, making it one of the city’s finest restaurants.

Come 1958 and the restaurant saw the leadership of H.J Anandram and H.J Srinivas. Under their leadership numerous additions were done making USKB a landmark in the city.

In 1978 H.J Anandram and H.J Srinivas started a hotel in the name of Janardhana Hotel with a restaurant & 60 rooms in Kumara park

USKB had a sweet stall added to its offerings in 1988.

In 1996 came another addition to this institution, Hotel Jalaja. Located just behind the restaurant the hotel has 22 rooms suited for traders who frequent the city often on business. The institution grew manifolds under the leadership of H.J. Srinivas’s son, H.J Subramanya.

In 2010, Subramanya opened another outlet in order to cater to more people. Located in the busy area of Gandhi Bazaar, this is the most recent addition to this institution.

A primary ‘Udupi’ eating joint, the hotel has grown with the  years and is now a household name. Masala Dosa, Rava Idli, Jamoon and coffee

is what is relished the most by the people. Not to forget, their speciality, 'Sagu-Masala Dosa'. From politicians, to film stars to the common man, everyone relishes their food.

Address and phone numbers:
Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan
Janardhan Building
Bangalore – 560053
Phone: 080 – 22875378/22284999
Timings: 7:30am to 7:45pm

Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan
1st Floor
Gandhibazaar Main Road
Bangalore – 560004
Phone: 080 – 26676565/ 26676566
Timings : 7:30am to 8:00pm

Additional inputs from: USKB official website.


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