Friday, November 7, 2008

Udipi Ode

There was an article the other day in Outlook on Udipi restaurants – and how they are slowly going out of business.

I was saddened by that news. It’s hard to imagine a life without the ubiquitous and unassuming Udipi restaurants. The Shanbagh and the Kamath hotels, with their charming pineapple-sweet lime garlands , the butter soft idlis-delectable dosas- mouth-watering sambhar-steaming coffee, and the impossibly quick service, that are such an intrinsic part of the cultural and epicurean landscape of any city.

For me and for many of my generation, Udipi restaurants were the favoured, and sometimes the only option, through school and college. This was before the Mochas (and money) became as common as they are today.

At that time – there were only two types of eateries. At one end of the spectrum one had the exorbitant ‘five star’s (on a shoestring pocket money budget, any half-decent-half-clean-eatery fell into this category)- These were the places one went for birthday treats or when a parent was funding.

And then there was the affordable roadside refectory - composed of grandiosely named Chink’s Ming (with their fiery red meat stakes hung upside down characterized by the cloying ajinomoto odor) or the samosa-and-wada-wala who used to produce steaming crisp samosas from a degchi filled with a speckled liquid that could euphemistically be called oil. (My classmates assured me that it was this indeterminate concoction which gave the distinct flavour to the food. I never tried it though – I’m slightly neurotic about food hygiene) and the ever-present sandwich-vendor.

Udipi restaurants managed to fill the golden median – cheap, yet clean, wholesome, yet tasty and thus, many of my food and growing up memories are inextricably linked to various Udipi restaurants across India.

Class 9 in Hyderabad, one of the first unsupervised trips to an eating place, Shanbagh Hotel – Panjagutta. A classmate got offended when a waiter looked askance at the bunch of broke-looking-kids-in-school-uniform. He proceeded to call the waiter to our table, produced a soiled Rs.10 note from his pocket and waved at him, grandly declaring that “Humare pass paisa HAI – SACHHII”

Or that poky little place in Santa Cruz where we used to go from my Aptech Class (I actually went for 2 years to Aptech sigh. Follies of youth and all that) for a desperately needed ‘Special' Ganga-Jamuna juice to neutralize the sweltering mid-noon heat. Incidentally, I have always been fascinated by the 'Ganga-Jamuna' juice and once I was lucky enough to get a 'Ganga-Jamuna-Saraswati'- I forget what the 'Saraswati' was though.

Or that small hotel in Bandra where Goonda, aghast, decided to take an impromptu SQ test minutes after I admitted that I thought oral sex meant TALKING about sex.

Or while at B-school, where the next door Udipi joint idlis formed the staple diet of all the local students after they were guilt-tripped out of their dabbas by purportedly starving hostelites. The place the waiters knew us by name and didn’t bat an eyelid when ONE idli plate was methodically divided by 8 (my friend R has been immortalized for her “Bhaiyya iske chotte chotte tukde kardo please” in her slightly anglicized accent)

Those early working years, where I and my friend B would meet up in Irla for a medu-wada, and to bitch about work, love and life.

Or at Coffee House in Camp – which was one of the first places which S took me out to in Pune where we stopped bickering and learnt about companionable silence.
Incidentally, this was also the place we went for dinner the day we got married. Probably the only couple in the universe to eat their first meal as husband and wife in an Udipi joint (with my mother, uncle, aunts and cousins for company and with me in full bridal choora. Long story, will post about it someday)

And oh so many more – of reunion and partings. Of gupshup and gossip. Of food and friends.

Ah sigh. It will be such a tragedy if they do disappear.


narendra shenoy said...

Ah, such a wonderful post! I echo your sentiments! My granddad used to own and run an Udipi restaurant in Byculla. None of his descendants saw fit to continue, though that little eaterie pulled our entire family out of the starving category to the nicely heeled.

manuscrypts said...

we should get suneil shetty to take up the cause...and start a udupi 2.0 version

P said...

What a nice senti post. Reminds me of my school/college days and all our fav roadside or slightly better eateries. Even now when I go home and have get together with some like-minded friends, we prefer to meet in those places. Even though now we can afford the new up-scale places, they can't provide the same feelings and many times the same taste :)

Please post the wedding dinner at Udipi story..sounds most promising :D

j said...

True indeed. The question is, why are they going out of business? May be they ought to change their model a bit. May be they could relocate to the US. The %$#@!~ Punjabi restaurants here in Boston could defi nitely use some serious competition ($9 for what only looks like a dosa).

I remember the 10 rupee incident making me cringe.

Parul said...

I loved the bit about sharing a plate of idli :-) Very nice touch. Would you like to do a guest post over my blog sometime? Thanks :D

Parul said...

Sorry, it should read - over AT my blog.

IdeaSmith said...

With their tenacity, they'll probably get into the vada pav/misal pav/vaange bath business and tranform into Udipi/Marathi chains.

Hyde said...

If Udupi restaurants close down, where will the people of Udupi go and work??

I suppose they will return to their native land and enrich the food culture there.

And Udupi is 10 hours from here. What joy!

Rada said...

First it were the Irani restuarants that went the way of history in Bombay during the '70s. Is it now the turn of the Udupi restaurants? I sincerely hope not.

In my struggling days in Bombay with a pittance for salary, I could not have survived without the ubiquitous Udupi restaurant in every street corner!

Very thought-provoking post!

Cynic in Wonderland said...

ah naren you are from the udipi clan? so what happened to the restaurant - shut down or sold off? pity. really.

manuscrypts - yuppy udipi restaurantsyou mean? i guess there are some hybrid varieties of these which exist already?

p - i guess the udipi restaurant has what upscales ones dont. a character. and usually lots of memories.

j - they are going out of business is that they survive on sundar, sasta khana with no frills. now people want the frills and ac and what not. but they cant manage to do the frills with the prices expected. and also the explosion of choice right?

parul - whatever else we didnt do ( studying comes to mind) sharing was one thing we excelled at. whether it was food, work, assignmennt, or studying for exams. and of course ill do the post. im so flattered you asked!

ideasmithy - yus im sure they will do something. they originally started off as chefs to the affluent brahmin families since they needed brahmin cooks. then they shifted to hostlery and lets see what next. i think we will be the losers though.

hyde - as per the article, the karnataka govt is trying to keep them in udipi by giving more opps etc. and lucky you.

rada - exactly. yes irani restaurants did die out almost no?

Soulmate said...

Ask me.. I love Coffe House in Camp.. dunno how many times i have had lunches there when i didnt know where to go... sad if they close the Udupi restaurants.. even in other cities wherever i have been, udupi restaurants are the places where I have spent time with friends...

a million different people said...

The one near school is not like it was before. :(

Guess the food is still the same. But not many people. Shrug.

Santosh said...

Will they disappear? Not long ago I stood in queue to get a table in an Uduppi restaurant. Long live they.

Trinaa said...

i heard abt these restaurants on travel n living recently..never been to one tho..hope they dont close down..

phatichar said...

Guess they're preparing to pack up and board Chandrayaan-II.

Thankfully, being a Mangalorean by origin, I don't have to despair the disappearance of udupi joints, though I second your opinions. And I don't see them go in a hurry, at least here in Bangalore. I guess they'd be better off taking manuscrypt's advice.

And of course, a wonderfully written nostalgique!

Cynic in Wonderland said...

soulmate - you know strangely its the udipi chain one doesnt mind eating alone in isnt it?

a million different people - the old order and all that. but i guess you are of a newer gen as well - so u probabaly dont remember a time when udipi was all there was .

trinaa - make sure you do go to one before they do shut down

santosh - long live indeed.

phatichar - the food wont disappear i suppose. i dont see idlis and dosas going away for some reason. but will miss the spirit?

Iya said...

Cyn - I have an idea.. u can shift to Bangalore...u will never run short of Udipi place here...

Sandy said...

really? they are dying out in mumbai? sad. bangalore is still blissful in it's indulgence with udupi fare. we even have a true true udupi udupi fare restaurant that has actual konkani food of the kamaths and the shanbaghs...

Cynic in Wonderland said...

iya - its apparently all over the place.

sandy - if you ever go to goa, try and go to one of the plantations for authentic konkani food.

Ms Taggart said...

Though I know if first hand that Udupi Hotels are not running all that great, it hurts to see it in writing.. :(

After all, I am a daughter of a Udupi hotel owner myself, and though I hated the boring idlis and vadas then, now without any neat Udupi hotel around me, I am craving for that food!
And that mention of Punjagutta's Shanbagh brought back really nice memories!
A very good post.. glad I hopped over here after IdeaSmithys'!

Maddy said...

i don't think they are dying - they are branching out - the other day we went to a fabulous udipi place in San Francisco - it was just great

~G said...

Mani's in matunga- the kaapi and hot idlis served on wooden stools lined up outsede the shop, early in the morning. One memory that seems to linger.
Lovely post!