I recently wrote about Mysore, my hometown, and as I was writing I started missing the city and obviously its food! India is a diverse nation, and as rightly put in a TV show:
Mile Mile yaha badle pani, Mehke rang naya sa,
Zayka akhir kyun na badle, badal rahi jab bhasha
So like every other inch of India, Mysore has its unique cuisine, dishes that may or may not be found elsewhere, but will definitely have unique taste in Mysore. Although the Mysore Pak has made it big and is now famous across the globe, there are quite a few lesser known dishes that are as delicious, if not more. By the way, in case no source has told you yet, you should eat Mysore Pak at Guru Sweets in Mysore, apparently they are the ones that made them in the first place. (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Guru-Sweets/196400447130121 )
The second most popular dish has to be the Mysore Masala Dosa. A rice and lentil pancake, with a filling of spiced potatoes and onions. Unlike its madras counterpart, the Mysore Masala Dosa is not a paper thin and crispy dosa. It is a thick, soft-crispy dosa, laced on the inside with a garlic and red chilly paste, ensuring a spicy-tangy taste in every bite. The secret to a good potato bhaji is less potato more onion! And then a lot of butter on the dosa, making it a benne masala dosa. This one can be found at a lot of outlets across Mysore, but like most of the internet will tell you, the best place in Mysore to have a Masala Dosa, is at Mylari. (https://www.zomato.com/mysore/vinayaka-mylari-doora ). The old lady at the counter is quite popular thanks to the million TV shows now.
Another breakfast dish in Mysorean homes that is not very popular is the Akki Rotti. It is a thick flatbread made with rice flour, salt and cumin. To add to its nutritional value there is also grated carrot, onions, dill leaves or anything else that your mom wants to feed you! The best akki rottis are the ones cooked in home-churned butter. And although they are delicious to be eaten on their own, they can also be savoured with coconut chutney, honey or dollops of butter! Although a lot of restaurants serve the Akki rotti the best place to have one is at a Mysorean friend’s house.
An important part of a Mysore breakfast, has to be the filter Kaapi. The traditional coffee is bitter and strong with more coffee and little or no sugar. Although Fresh and Honest is the more popular coffee brand, to get the best blend, you have to go to the local vendor and ask for a freshly blended stock that won’t last more than a week, lest it loose its strong fragrance. The secret to good coffee is as much the coffee as is the right proportion of chicory. The chicory gives it the bitter taste and also helps the hot water better extract coffee in the filter. If visits to the local “kaapi works” is not your thing, I have found Gayathri Filter Coffee to be the best substitute.
As the day moves on, and it is time for lunch, mysore offers a lot of choice, with many restaurants serving the typical South Indian Thalis, but what they also have is a ton of rice specialties. These include the Bisi Bele Bath and Puliyogre, two of my favorites! The Bisi Bele bath is a rice-lentil and vegetable based dish that is a complete meal in itself. It is spiced with tamarind, chillies and a horde of other spices and includes carrot, bean-stalks, green peas and any other seasonal vegetables. Although some people also add onions and tomatoes, I do not prefer these. Bisi Bele Bath literally translates to Hot-Lentil Rice and a hot bowl of this one with some cold seasoned curd rice (mosranna) is the best lunch you can have around here! In most restaurants, the dish is topped with a generous serving of Khara Bundi, the crunchiness of the bundi adding a nice texture to each spoonful. My favorite bisi bele bath, apart from the one at home is the one served by Mahesh Prasad, near RTO office. (https://www.zomato.com/mysore/mahesh-prasad-chamrajpura )
Another favorite of quite a few Mysorean homes is the Ragi mudde, steamed finger-millet dough balls. These are a staple in rural areas around Mysore and along with gravy of greens (soppu saaru) form a filling meal for a hardworking farmer. Many a times, the Greens are also substituted with chicken/ mutton. Ragi mudde is not usually found in restaurants and you will have to make a lot of friends in Mysore to find the one whose mother makes Ragi Mudde.
In the winters Mysoreans wake up to the glory of Avarekalu (Indian Flat Beans). From Late December to Mid-February, Avarekalu is used in at least one dish a day in every household. These may include Avarekalu-Palya, Saaru, Gojju, Upma, Rotti and even Obbattu (puranpoli)!! In some places, the avarekalu is also deep fried and enjoyed as a tea-time snack.
Evenings bring back the Filter Kaapi and also Churmuri. Churmuri is the Mysorean Cousin of Bhel, with some oil, grated carrot, chillies and onions, salt and spices thrown in with puffed rice. Unlike bhel this one usually does not have chutneys and is hence relatively dry. However modern day versions have come to include chutneys as well. The best churmuri in Mysore I have had is the one aunty in front of Sadvidya used to dish out!
Another evening snack I have enjoyed in Mysore is Paddu (Guli Appa) served at the Dasprakash Restaurant. The crisp Paddus made in coconut oil and served with delicious chutney are something I have never forgotten and never found elsewhere; do give them a try if you are in Mysore and if Dasaprakash is still open!
Food in Mysore is not as popular as that in Indore or in Delhi, but it has a magic of its own. One that goes quite well with the serene, quite image of the city. Nothing too messy, nothing with too much going on, everything simple, everything brilliant.