From modakas to momos and masala pepsi to aamras, if there is one road that can satisfy your hunger pangs, it’s got to be the V V Puram ‘Eat Street’. This lane near Basavanagudi, teeming with people, is Bangalore’s answer to the food streets of Old Delhi, the Chowpati of Mumbai and the food lane of Indore.
High school and college goers flock here during their lunch hour, moving in groups from stall to stall, sharing an idli here, a masala puri there, so that they may savour more variety.
As you enter the street from one end, you might catch sight of the bhutta wallah turning over a musukina jola as it crackles and whistles on the coal, sending sparks into the air.
Across the road is the ‘Shivanna Gulkhan Center’, famous for the gulkand as its name indicates. Unlike the traditional gulkand with butter, sometimes served with banana - a grandma’s recipe to neutralise body ‘heat’ - here men clad in checked shirts and dhotis hand you this along with fresh figs, juicy nellikai or amla morabba and green grapes. Butterscotch ice cream with crunchy bits of nougat is optional.
“As people became more health conscious, we introduced fruits to the butter-gulkand mixture to adapt to the changing tastes and lifestyles of today. And for us, business has only gotten better,” says Rajanna, the owner of the shop that also stocks South Indian fried savouries like avarekai ‘mixture’, chakkuli, kodubale and sweets like kobbari mithai made of grated dry coconut and sugar as well as the more modern packaged goodies. “We also serve bhel puri and other chats,” he adds.
If it begins to rain, the crowds may thin, with two-wheeler riders keeping their helmets on to cover their heads even while they relish their meal or evening snack. Others dig out their umbrellas or huddle under shop awnings. Families with cars often treat the lane as a drive-thru restaurant, stopping in front of an eat-out and getting their drivers to fetch a masala dosa or asking the vendors to pass on an obbattu, rolled and roasted in ghee.
Friendly, some of those sweating it out in front of the stove might strike up a conversation with you if you’re standing, waiting for your order. Most, though, have become more wary of journalists following the supposed negative publicity the street eatery owners collectively received, thanks to a city-based regional channel’s programme.
“They shot some videos about a pani puri gadi elsewhere, but came and did the anchoring here. False allegations of serving stale food are heaped upon us, even though you can see us preparing everything fresh, right there in front of your eyes,” says the manager at the coupon counter at Idli Mane that serves steaming idlis that melt in your mouth.
Walk on and there are bajjis - raw banana, chilli and potato - and masala vadas. Garnished with grated carrot, finely chopped onion, coriander leaves, a spoonful of spicy green chutney and its sweet tamarind variant, it’s as palatable as it is visually appealing.
Most people who have tasted the food here once keep coming back, at least once every few months. One such person is Dinesh Jain, who migrated to the city from Gujarat nearly twenty five years ago and fell in love with South Indian food in general and the soft, mouth-watering idlis from a nameless shop here in particular.
“I first sampled the idlis here 17 years ago, when one plate (three idlis) cost `1.50,” he shares. And the taste is what brings him here once or twice a month with his two daughters all the way from Koramangala on a two-wheeler even after the price has increased tenfold. “The idlis are just the same,” he says, one of his daughters adding, “They have shrunk in size though.”
Still, for those who work late into the night in the vicinity, it’s eat street to the rescue. “One or two plates of paddu or dosa fill you up. Only, you have to get there before 11 pm as Bangalore shuts down by then,” says Suman Rao, who works in an office nearby.
In the midst of this season of festivals, it might save you the trouble of preparing sweets at home if you get your bele obbattu packed from here. V B Bakery, known for its aloo buns and honey cakes is around six decades old. Paddu or dosa balls made on a special pan with holes, and mosaru kodbale or ‘curd rings’ as the menu billboards advertise them, are examples of more native fare available here. Other cuisines represented in this food street include Rajasthani at the Rajasthani Paratha Point and Indian Chinese at Chinese Corner (‘Small Place. Big Taste.’).