BENGALURU: For anyone who has grown up in Bengaluru, before the mushrooming of various bakery chains and outlets, the iconic Iyengar bakeries, found around every street corner, were go-to spots for the softest sponge cakes, fresh buns and crispy puffs. The heady aroma of bread being brought out of the oven would envelop the entire locality, a smell that takes many back to carefree childhood days.
Over the years, people have moved on to fancier bakeries, but those loyal to Iyengar bakeries, some of which have crossed the 100-year mark, continue to be customers, sometimes traveling far off to their favourite one, or waking up in the wee hours to get a fresh batch of buns.
Bakeries places to socialise in Colonial times
City-based historian Arun Prasad says that the art of baking dates back to the time of the Roman Empire, and was eventually popularised by the British, who took the art to the countries they colonized. In Colonial times, bakeries were primarily spaces to socialize, he says.“British army officers brought cakes and cookies from England to India. Though it is hard to trace the exact history, it is certain that it was the Iyengar community, who learnt baking from the British, that brought bakeries to the city, and these became popular for their high quality, hygeinic food,” says Prasad.
He says that these Tamil-speaking Iyengars travelled to different parts from the Hassan district — one theory is that they came looking for jobs, the other is that there was a draught that forced them to relocate. “This sect of Iyengars are called Hebbar Iyengars, and were followers of Ramanujam. They were also referred to as Ashtangrama Iyengars, owing to the fact that they were from eight different villages within the Hassan district. Though the period of migration is uncertain, it is known that these Iyengars were employed by the British for various jobs — some in administrative posts, others as helpers on private estates, which is how they learnt how to bake. Despite being a vegetarian community, they started using egg for baking purposes.”
After the 1950s, Iyengar bakeries became popular throughout the city, and the community became known as ‘bakery Iyengars’ or ‘bread Iyengars’. However, several other people, outside the community, opened up these bakeries by banking on the same name, says Prasad.
First Iyengar bakery in city estd in 1898
Prasad says that there was a theory that the first Iyengar bakery in the city was started in the 1890s by a family from Hassan, and was a sweet shop before it became a bakery.Shedding some light on this is Pavithra, whose father, Sreenivas, runs BB Bakery, apparently the first Iyengar bakery in the city, started in 1898. Pavithra says that her great grandfather Thirumalachar, ran a sweet shop in Chikpet, and was taught how to bake bread by a British man, whose name is unknown. After buns, Thirumalachar started selling bread and cakes too.“My father was never inclined towards studies, and despite his father’s hesitance towards him joining the business, he decided to take over, and I plan on carrying on the legacy after him,” says Pavithra, adding that the buns are their most popular item till date, as their size and taste make them very unique and sought after.
Though BB Bakery moved out of its old home in Chikpet, due to issues with the owner, and has relocated to Kengeri now, Pavithra says that loyal customers, some of whom have been visiting for the last 50 years, still come all the way. She says her father wakes up at 5am everyday, at his age, to ensure his customers get fresh buns. Despite him not being keen on his three daughters taking over, they don’t want the over-a-century-old family business to die out.
Pavithra says that business has changed over the years. Earlier, people would pick up in bulk, but now, it’s become on a more day-to-day basis, where people pick up just what they need for that day.
“My father keeps experimenting and innovating now to keep the products selling. The tomato bun, pudina bun, kaju khara, choco-gems cookies and choco-strawberry cookies are newer items, and they have been doing well. My father just wants to keep his customers satisfied,” she says, adding that to keep up with the times, her younger sister has started a Facebook page and rebranded the bakery with a new logo too.
Raman and Lakshmeesha, brothers to run Iyengar’s Bakery in Austin Town, say that their father started the bakery back in 1981. The baked good they are known for are bun-butter-jam, plain cakes and nippat.
“We sell 250 products, from buns to namkeen to cakes. We have started online orders, and are the only Iyengar bakery that is doing this. But we have noticed that these days, people are picking up goods just for their daily requirements.”
Nostalgia all the way
For Ruth D’souza Prabhu, a food writer, her earliest memories of Iyengar bakeries go back to when she first moved here to work, about 18 years back. “I would go to the closest Iyengar bakery before work for breakfast and pick up an aloo bun or a khaara bun, which is filled with a spicy mix of vegetables, and this would keep me satisfied for quite some time. The plain cakes are something I still pick up, and my daughter, who is extremely fussy about her food, tried this one first and that is how she took to eating cake — so I am thankful to Iyengar bakeries for this,” she says.
Prakash, 63, has lived in Bengaluru almost all his life, and Iyengar bakeries are part of his childhood in the city. “As kids, we would go to the bakery and buy cream buns with the little pocket money we got — this was after school when all the neighbourhood boys would get together to play. Even now, some of my friends and I gather here in the evenings, some even bring their grandkids. But we don’t eat cream buns anymore,” he says laughing.
Fakers stay away
Over the years, some people have started Iyengar bakeries without actually belonging to the community, which has resulted in legal issues. Raman says, “People who aren’t from the community are using the name just to make their bakeries popular, they are not authentic. However, those who know which the authentic bakeries are, make sure they go only to the original ones,” he says, adding that his only request to customers is to go to authentic Iyengar bakeries, and not take the others at face value.