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.