This post was originally written by the author on August 16, 2010
I used to be a big fan (still am) of Malgudi Days the tele-series. I used to watch it in our 14 inch black and white TV, totally lost in the world of Swami and his friends. Going to Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR) in Saturday reminded me of the 20th century of my childhood which is the sleeping nineties.
After finishing a round across an overcrowded lal bagh, my stomach begged for food and hence me and Prashanth went out in search for the famous MTR. MTR was started in 1924 and the owners have tried their level best to ensure that the customers know that it is a pretty old place. We were really disappointed to find that the entry doors were shut. There were groups of affluent people sitting in front of the door, waiting for it to open (which would be at 12:30), from almost half an hour before its time. It made me wonder about this mysterious looking, pre independence day building and its visible charm over the crowd outside. Two minutes before 12:30, a man wearing a veshti/mundu on a two wheeler came honking towards the entrance and shooed away the people sitting there, to park his vehicle. He had the air of a medieval Zamindar. He entered the building from the back entrance and opened the front gate of MTR like an emperor. In a total lack of direction, we followed the crowd which thronged inside to stand in a queue. Stepping inside MTR was like time travel. The place had minimal modern day elements. Even the tap at the washbasin looked as if it was made by a novice engineering student as a part of his workshop assignment. When it was our turn to pay, we were really surprised to find that the lunch would cost us Rs. 130 per head. “It better be good” was what my skeptic part of the brain said. But I had a feeling that it was going to be good.
We were ushered into a room inside a room inside a room… I lost the count, but the name of the restaurant started making sense. We were seated in a martial fashion on a table for eight(we were later on joined by an illad family). An attempt by Prashanth to seat himself at the place of his choice was foiled by a stout and bald veshti clad gentleman. In the meanwhile Prashanth apparently spotted a beautiful girl in the room just before the room we were in and he started acting stoned (he still cribs about moving one more room inside).
The meal started with grape juice. This was followed by carrot salad(I’m sure it has some other name) and a large quantity of chutney. The first round included dosa which were too yummy (better synonym unavailable) and so I had a second helping. After this I was served bisibele bath, a local cuisine of which I had been introduced through my PLCC(Programming Language and Compiler Construction) lecture slides. Usually I am not a big fan of any dish which has that tinge of brown which the bisibele bath served to me had. However I was mistaken and I loved it. In the meanwhile, people who served food (waiter sounds inappropriate) were hell bent on proving that they don’t give a damn about the 21st century pro-consumer crap. From avial in my payasam to water on my rice, I was in for a potpourri of brilliance. By now my plate had avial, rice, sambhar, halwa, payasam, beetroot dish and salad.
Time for a digression. When I was a kid and used to go to kerala at my grandmother’s, she used to serve rice to me and my brother with homemade ghee. It used to be … well yummy. One of the MTR people who served food poured a spoon of ghee on my rice( and water and avial and on everything in its trajectory). It was getting better every passing minute. When it was turn to eat rice, I thought of getting rid of my spoon (before the people who served food might ask me to) and eat it Indian style. By now my stomach was bulging out and my tongue was in a trance. When Rasam came, I couldn’t have faith on even MTR, because I am a chronic Rasam intolerant. By then end of rice, the tensile strength of my duodenum was under test. However it was followed by the inevitable(in south india) curd rice. On a normal day, I would have said “curd rice? Really?”. I usually find it difficult to understand how such a bland combination of mere rice and curd is staple food for millions. But well that day was no ordinary day and MTR gave me something more to hog on. By the time I finished the elaborate dessert ( paysam + halwa+ icecream), I was all smiles for the food. The exit from the building was even more interesting. We came down a flight of stairs and found ourselves in the middle of the kitchen. We found our way out, to be greeted by the Bangalore of 2010 all over again.