An epicurean stroll down Food Street in V V Puram.
Experimenting with food is tricky. As dubious as the idea sounds, it could sometimes draw great experiences. Years ago, we ventured into a strange bylane off stuffy Avenue Road at 11.30 PM in the night. While most of Bangalore slept, this little gully would wake up and savor its food. Carts selling sweets, south Indian fare, and Bhajjis appeared out of nowhere to feed the working class. From creatures of the night, driving around with late night radio to giggly college kids wanting to sample the unusual to weary men and women working in surrounding businesses, street food was everyone's grub. A leveler quite like no other.
Gobi Manchurian stall at Food Street (Pic: Deepika Nagabhushan)
Down south in Bangalore at VV Puram, is a similar leveling ground where the haute monde renounce their accented restaurant-name-patronising ways and the middle class bourgeois leave behind their inhibitions about street food and tuck into steaming hot vada pavs over equally warm banter about mutual acquaintances.
Leading away from the busy VV Puram Circle, Food Street or Market Road as it is officially known as begins with the near historical VB Bakery. The undisputed land mark has long been known for stick-toffees, Congress-butter buns and similar trademark condiments. Food Street, thus, needs little introduction to south Bangaloreans.
Corn vendor at Food Street (Pic: Deepika Nagabhushan)
Ask anybody and they will tell you - half eaten butter dosas served in newspaper covers in hand- that it has been around for as long as they can remember. Picking up a Masala Happla(Papad) at a shop advertising Chainese Noodles(sic) and simple Kannadiga delicacies such as Akki rottis alongside. "Which paper?" we were asked by the gentleman handing out tokens, even as I began counting the number of self-celebratory newspaper clippings on Food Street that were framed in each shop.
Unusually hard, sprinkled frugally with grated carrot, chopped onions and chilly powder, the combination was enough to induce panic in any self-respecting chef at your local elegant, reservations-only brasserie. The same boisterousness allows the men at the helm of Food Street with their badaam milk and open air gobi manchurian stalls to co-exist in close proximity.
I, having been here many times, over the years, was mildly disappointed at the changes. The prices were upped, some favourite food carts appeared to be gone for good and the crowd seemed to have thinned down. To my first-timer friends, however, Food Street was some sight. "You should have seen it in those days," I sniffed.
Food Street has its star attractions-case in point, Shivanna's Gulkhand Center, a household name no less, mobbed for those delicious, home grown Gulkhan desserts. Their alternative, high-on-spice, dry-chaat is so popular, it has sparked off a whole new variety. Some sort of a Geographical Indicator for the VV Puram area I'm coming to think.
Food Street (Pic: Deepika Nagabhushan)
Another trademark offering at Shivanna's is the masala cola/soda- A refreshing concoction made of soda, salt and chaat masala. The Benne-Gulkhand-with ice cream was a nearly justifiable Rs.40. I will maintain that the taste of butter and gulkhan (rose petal marinated in syrup) is one of the most unusual tastes ever. A scoop of ice cream makes it that much better.
The gobi manchurian across the street, unlike most gaadi-Chinese experiments was a bit of a let down. Considering how unhealthy, greasy and tasty it looked, it deserved to score better. The buy of the day, however, was deep fried obbattus (sweet pancakes, sort of?) for an unbelievable Rs.9. Soft and multi-layered, served hot, oozing sweet ghee, the obbattus played to the textbook definition of melt-in-mouth. The same store serves cold basundis, phenis, and cold badaam milk and other south Indian delicacies to its loyal patrons. To give the gulaab jamoons here a miss is sacrilege.