Their love for food and unflinching connection with local things led them to start a platform dedicated to regional and traditional cuisine. Over the past two years of its existence, Bengaluru Oota Company—the dream child of Vishal Shetty and Divya Prabhakar—has been showcasing unknown and decades-old forgotten foods of Gowda and Mangalorean communities of Karnataka through their tasting room, catering arm and food fests.
If Vishal brings her mother’s fiery Mangalorean recipes to life, Divya excels and spreads awareness on the lesser-known Gowda community cuisine.
Recently, they collaborated with The Bombay Canteen, a restaurant in Mumbai, which has established itself as a place showcasing lesser-known regional Indian cuisine in a new and accessible avatar through memorable food experiences. Result of the collaborative effort was ‘Canteen Karnataka Feast’—a unique pop-up focusing on the traditional regional cuisines of these two communities.
Divya and Vishal worked with The Bombay Canteen chef-partner Thomas Zacharias and sous chef Shannon Lawrence to curate a thoughtful menu of Gowda and Mangalorean dishes where oota (meal in Kannada) is laden with family memories and the culinary heritage of their loved ones. Meals on plantain leaf (yela oota) for those who want a more immersive experience were the highlight.
“It was a great experience to work in a big city. This tie-up has helped us a lot and many people have come down to taste and experience traditional Karnataka cuisine. Although Mangalore food is more popular in Mumbai, Gowda cuisine was a revelation for them. Mamsa Saaru and Kane Fry were a big hit,” says Divya.
Vishal’s father was the owner of Udyavan, Bengaluru’s legendary drive-in restaurant. Being around her father, who also owned more than a dozen canteens in Mumbai before moving to Bengaluru, led her to fall in love with food. “I used help him in the kitchen. Mangalorean food was always my passion,” says Vishal, who learned to cook biryani at a very young age. “Mangalorean food has influences of different communities—Saraswat Brahmins, Bunts and Catholics. Being a coastal area, the cuisine is known for its seafood. Roasted ground spices and coconut—oil, milk or simply grated—is generously used in all foods.”
A seventh generation Gowda from Ulsoor area of Bengaluru, Divya gave up her 18-year career in hospitality to pursue her passion for regional food. She always felt that the regional food was not getting its due in a city like Bengaluru. “My aim was to re-introduce the Gowda cuisine. Traditionally farmers, Gowdas cook what they grow. A touch of garlic and coriander is the key ingredient, along with jaggery-based desserts. The entire concept therefore includes educating the guests on the food, culture, and popularising the cuisine,” she says.
The two friends’ deep sense of gratitude towards their cuisines gave birth to Bengaluru Oota Company in February 2016. From ingredients to recipes to techniques, they promise to deliver authentic and local flavours of Karnataka to food connoisseurs.
The Company’s Tasting Room in Cambridge Layout—an intimate space in the city—can accommodate up to 30 diners. Here one can share a meal that is curated specially for the customer with a choice between a three and a five-course meal. And they say, “It’s never just about the food at Tasting Room, it’s also about conversations, and sharing stories of the food that we put out for you. A delicious meal can also be eaten in the comfort of one’s own home through our catering arm.”
On January 21, Vishal and Divya hosted a Karnataka Culinary Trail fest in partnership with Go Magic Tours. The highlight of this tie-up was north Karnataka food and a traditional home maker whipped up the most authentic regional dishes. Talking about future projects, Divya says, “We are now looking for partners in Delhi as we would like to take Karnataka cuisine to the northern India and explore other regional cuisines.”
Kaima Unde (meat ball)
Mamsa Saaru (mutton curry),
Bassaru (greens & lentil curry),
Ammani Jamuns (an age-old favourite dessert of the Ulsoor Gowdas)
Marwai Ajadina (Clams)
Kori Ghee Roast
Gujje Ajadina (Jackfruit)
Manoli Upkari (Ivy Gourd)