Journeying through Rice Country

churners and mashers :)

We decided to make a holiday of dropping A off at his college where he begins a new chapter in his life. I put in extra hours at work, squeezed in that second visit to Calcutta, (and stayed away from the blog!) and we were all set.

But let me start at the very beginning… because there is food there as well…

We started for the airport giving ourselves ample time having learnt our lesson just last month when TH and son nearly didn’t make it to the flight on the day they were to report for admissions! What can I say, we are a very laid-back family!

Yet, I didn’t make time for packing some lunch. I don’t care much for the “gourmet sandwiches” they sell on the flight. But where was the need to worry when we now have a spanking new Terminal at the Delhi Airport with all the choice we need, right? W-r-o-n-g.

We checked in and, naturally, there was time to amble around. TH and son went gadget shopping and I followed my nose to the barista. Baker Street cafe – interesting name I thought. The stuffed puff pastries looked so inviting… and wouldn’t they just be the answer to Indigo’s chilled paranthas and samosas? I bought two chicken patties and one paneer – for the vegetarian in the family – put into a neat brown paper bag with napkins. I was looking forward to lunch on the plane.

An hour into the flight Indigo announced it’s delicious fare. But, this time I was prepared! Or so I thought.  For all the well meaning governmental efforts to ban food off the streets of Delhi to make it a world-class city (what is that?) we seem to have overlooked the over-priced under-refrigerated food sold in the newly-opened cafes at our world-class Terminal 1D, and elsewhere! The food only looks fresh; it has probably been sitting there a few hours. And in the case of Baker Street cafe, a few hours in warmed cases!

You know how big that bite is when you have been anticipating the creamy subtly spiced chicken-mince stuffed inside the flakiest pastry? I took that bite. Err… that did not taste right… Baker Street was no Wenger’s that was for sure. Still… a second bite, a bit tentative this time. Nope all was not well. So I did the ‘spoiled food’ test – broke off a piece of the aforementioned food – sure enough, there was that stringy slime! Yuk, thoo! TH’s paneer patty wasn’t spoiled (yet), but it was not as if it was good. So chilled samosas it was. How I wish Indigo would invest in a food warmer. I love the airline, I really do.

And in case you are wondering how will you get a taste of Delhi chaat, don’t stress – like all other efforts at making us law-abiding citizens, this too has failed and faded from memory.  For once, I am not complaining.

udupi streets

We had an eventful flight to Goa.  Indigo has a reputation for being on time.  But this is monsoon season, so turbulent weather is taken for granted.  The plane before us had had a rough landing and had skid off the runway. It was being towed away when we were all lined up to land.  The Captain assured us we had enough fuel.  Which was a good thing.  We circled over Goa for a long time, the turbulent patch becoming more familiar as we flew through it again and again.  I doubt if Indigo made any profit on that flight that day.  At last, after an additional hour in the air, the pilot announced we were on track.  The houses grew bigger and bigger, and the green crisper and lusher, but suddenly instead of lowering the landing gear we went full throttle and up… The Captain had spotted a pack of dogs on the runway!  Once more is the charm.

a station along the Konkan railway  flower seller We, therefore, could not make the connecting train to Udupi, which is not the sleepy town that the station makes you think it is.  Karnataka is one of the more ‘developed’ states of India, with a poverty ratio much lower than the country’s average.  Teeniest of villages have good road or rail access.  Signs of renewal were everywhere – roads being upgraded, railway stations being spruced up.  Udupi enjoys a special status as a college town.  Manipal University was established here over 60 years ago and has grown to enjoy a formidable reputation, especially for its College of Medicine.  All this has meant better health facilities for the locals.  Udupi today boasts health parameters that rival developed countries!

bananas from the coast

tiffin From my impressions I would gather that much of the local cuisine gems are still confined to home kitchens.  I found much the same fare at all the restaurants in Udupi at least.  Recall the amazing variety I had sampled in under three days during my last visit?  But anywhere you go you are sure to get a mean idli-sambar or masala dosa, and filter kapi to die for; it is, after all,  the town that has given us the no-nonsense Udupi restaurants that surround us!


Which is not to say I didn’t make any new finds.  I tasted gudbud ice cream.  How could I not?  All of you were recommending it! Gudbud is a sundae – scoops of various flavours of ice cream (vanilla + strawberry is what I had) layered with plentyful nuts and chopped fresh fruit.  I tasted the wondrously sweet small local bananas; I would guess they were either the Rasthali or neypoovan variety.  In Southern India the connoisseurs get to pick from local banana varieties while all we get in Delhi are the sad Cavendish. 😦

A and VJog falls…behind the umbrellas and the mist. 😀 Here is what Jog (pronounced – Joag) falls look like when she lifts her veil.  Spectacular.

Another thing – during the monsoons along the Konkan coast, it never rains. It only pours! But it is not the spanner you might mistake it for. It is life sustaining. And people just go about their work as usual, rolling up their lungi or just not minding pants invariably wet at the ankles. One afternoon, we were drenched in less than half a minute when we stepped off the bus from Mangalore and took a tad long to open the umbrella.

thali at Chutneys (?)

cukes In the little time we had free (college admissions being the prime reason we were there, remember?) we did get to  taste a good thali meal at Mangalore, a visit to the vegetable market near the Udupi bus stand and the famous Krishna temple nearby, and plenty servings of  idli, dosa, and khara bhaath.  Needless to add, I started my day with a tumbler of strong filter coffee every morning.  If I could get coffee like that I might give up tea! 😉

churnersShops around the Krishna temple at Udupi overflow with exquisitely crafted wooden tools and containers. I fell in love with the traditional rice measures made with the wood of the jackfruit tree. I also bought a pointy slender tool meant to flip appe! There were masala dabbas in all sizes, and churners and mashers so well crafted that now I wish I had bought a couple. So what if I already have more than I need, I can always be a collector!

rice measure
I brought home some familiar and some new flavours: local boiled rice, mor milagai, jackfruit papads, plantain chips, Mangalore wheat halva; even a sambar cucumber! 😀

arecanut flowers

Ah, yes, the Quiz.  Those, indeed, are flower buds of the arecanut tree, a favoured offering to Lord Krishna!  Many of you guessed correct:  Anjali, anonymous, Manisha (did you cheat a little?), M, Raaga, Ammu, Shilpa (with help from her Aayi!).  Well done, girls!

Happy Janmashtami and Independence Day folks!  Which also means it is Anniversary month here – time for the annual Mad Tea Party.  Any ideas?

I was thinking with some of us wishing to correct the misconception that Indian food is hard to cook, maybe we can showcase something that is festive, sinful but does not involve hours in the kitchen, the last place anyone wants to linger in in this muggy weather.  What could it be?

(Haven’t heard of The Party? Here is how the madness started!)

70 thoughts on “Journeying through Rice Country

  1. Anita,

    I simply love the way you write, it takes one to the places you so artfully describe….have been reading and trying recipes from your blog faithfully and cannot get enough….keep up the lovely work and happy janmashtami to u n u r family….thanks….

  2. The simplest festive food I can think of is the no-cook shrikhand. It practically makes itself.

    This post was a joy to read, Anita. Best wishes to your son as he starts college.

    1. Shrikhand was the first dish to pop into my mind too! I am wondering if we can’t do more with this….Let’s see, I should announce something in a day or two.

      Thanks for your wishes!

  3. What a fabulous idea! Indian food is not hard to cook will be echoing through the blogosphere soon! For that and much more, you deserve a much nicer letter from me than the one I wrote you last year.

    The umbrella pic is a stunner in b&w! I love it!!

    Glad you had a great trip and A’s settling down well.

    Me? Cheat? Never! I was the first to say pingara, now wasn’t I? And, no RMT? I protest.

    1. 😀 I really needed the break and was happy that I could take the time to drop A off, as was he, I am sure.
      You were the first one to say pingara, can’t deny that! 😉
      And since you love quizzes so much, I promise the next quiz is going to be RMT…

  4. What a fab post!I felt like I was there with you.I loved the shot of the wooden things. Churners aren’t they?All the best with your son’s future.

  5. I hear you, Anita! In the bid to make the city into “clean”, street food is being taken off the streets. I am told that all this is because the city is soon going to host Commonwealth Games. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the Airport cafe’s. The food is waaaaaaaaaaay too over-priced and really bad.

    Love the pictures of the food! The idli picture reminds me of my favorite Veena Stores in Bangalore. Yum yum yum!

    1. Sanitise, or as Pel said – vanillize…
      Why must we have only once acceptable way! Can’t we have clean street food on the street? Must it be taken into food courts?

  6. Happy Janmashtami!

    I also had a bad patty experience recently. 😦 not gone bad… but it was bad! 😦

    I wish I could find those mangalore cucumbers 🙂

  7. “Yuk, thoo!” – LOL!

    Great post, Anita, and best wishes to your son. I recently came across an Outlook article that featured you and our other friends. Quite excited to read it.

  8. No more street food?! But when one considers how long- (hundreds of years?) that Delhi has had street-vendors, isn’t that an absolutely terrible shame? White-washing…vanilla-izing…I don’t like where that’s going at all. Reminds me of here. And if there becomes here there’s no point in traveling.

    But despite all that, marvelous post. Your writing makes me want to visit Udupi very badly now. I recall seeing Padma Lakshmi at the temple in a show she did about South India. And there you were- rain, glorious food (that masala dosa you snapped is a beauty!), interesting veggies, wooden thingies to buy for friends…it isn’t fair I tell ya! 🙂

    1. Ah, but we don’t give in that easy! You think you can just make a law and then expect us to abide? think again! Street food is alive and well!

      I want to visit Udupi again too! Don’t know if it just the writing… 😀 You got clean air…can’t have it all! Though Udupi is small and remote and has clean air.

  9. I agree Terminal 1D food is definitely low on taste and quality, apart from good old Barista coffee. Had a disastrous experience with the green tea and afore mentioned goodies. But Kingfisher Red food is still the worst as we found enroute Leh.

    Fantastic post, as always worth the wait 🙂

  10. This post is making me homesick again.
    Now I have hopes of meeting you sometime, if we move back to India in next 4 years :). Aayi would be very happy if you could visit us during one of our visits 🙂

    1. Ohh I forgot to say, I don’t like “modernizing” Indian food. I was really shocked that the delicious Indian tea has been replaced by tea bags in many places these days :((. Food also has changed soo much.

  11. Oh the past life South Indian now will have lot of reason to be where the heart wants to be:)

    So is it Engineering or Medicine for the son?

    All the best to him.

  12. Jai Karnataka! 😀

    I love that region of Karnataka. Delicious food and great people. I’m so glad you tried out gudbud! Brilliant no? 😀

    Neer dosa? Had?

    I love the idea of the partyyyyyyyy! I’m in. Hmm.. I will think of something and let you know!

    1. Jai Karnataka! 🙂
      Haven’t tried neer dosa…but I do think I might get increased opportunity to visit this state.

      Stay tuned for party update!

  13. Anita,

    Congratulations to your son! Your pictures are beautiful as usual.

    After all my plans for my kitchen garden I had to halt their execution because William got posted to Barbados for a few months. We love it here and got to meet Cynthia from Tastes like Home. She is a wonderful and generous person and cooks great food. Well, she cooked this fish curry the first time we ate together and guess which spice she used? A concoction using Goda masala from you! The curry was delicious and for the first time I got to smell and taste goda masala. Small world!

    Tonite she is coming over and I want to try your modur pullow recipe. I hope it comes out well.

    Take care.

  14. Hi Anita,

    How I enjoyed reading through this post and remembering taking my son to college (though not such a long journey and with none of those delicious eats!). Wishing your son all the best in his college career 🙂

    Your photos are great — I especially loved all the wooden utensils.

    If you want something to showcase ease of Indian cooking how about sambhar, yum. You could even add idli and surely it couldn’t be any more daunting (ok, to me!) than poori 😉

    1. Thank you for your wishes, Linda.

      It is remarkable that we still have artisans who do all this work. Like the shop attendant said, it will not be for very long that we will find such things; already much has been replaced by cheaper plastic stuff.

      You’re right about idli-sambar!

  15. food in indigo flights are bad? try jetlite. i am sure they can give indigo serious competition in the “cold-n-yucky” food category!
    i have never been to karnataka even though i live in the neighbouring state!
    i wud nev er have been able to guess the picutre was of flower buds of the arecanut tree.. simple coz i have never seen the tree! or its buds for that matter!:)

    1. I guess most airline food is bad… MDLR wasn’t that bad though – it was served hot, and it was FREE! In fact, the chocolate pudding was very good!
      If the airlines are going to charge me Rs 50 for a samosa, they should at least serve it hot!
      The flowers were a revelation to me too…live (and travel to the neighbouring state) and learn!

  16. pssst.. i am a little embarrassed to say this.. especially since i just read you have recieved some super jazzy sounding award.. but i might as well say it…i passed on a couple of small awards to ya! 🙂

  17. Yeah completely know the feeling of biting into a spoilt patty (is that the right singular of patties?), I guess everyone has had the experience at least once 🙂

    And is it that time of the year already? I had loved the excuse last year to have some batata wadas. If it is to be sweet this time, how about Shira/Sooji ka Halwa, everyone has their own version & it will be interesting to get to know them.

    1. Yup, one patty, two patties! 😉

      How time flies; I have been here 3 years already!
      Thanks for the suggestion, Bhagyashri. Let’s see what I zero in on.

  18. Anita,
    Visiting here after a long time , Im glad I did , what a wonderful post about the southern part of India.. made me nostalgic. I think Karnataka , especially the northern part is a very beautiful state . I really do miss India !sigh!

    1. I have been lucky enough to have traveled through Karnataka many times, and each trip has been memorable. This was my first visit to Udupi though.

      Come, visit soon!

  19. Hi Anita,
    I wanted to know about Roth and thus came to know about your blog. Your recipes are good and you are a great storyteller!!! You know your blog is listed as one of five popular Indian Food Blogs in Good Housekeeping August 2009 issue.

  20. You have replied to each of the 56 comments of this post. Thats why I like you and your blog, ofcourse. Mangalore is my mom’s native place and I just love it there. Life seemed simpler there and the air definitely cleaner. Thanks.

  21. Anita

    I went back to the original tea party. Thanks for linking back to it. I made aaloo subji stuffed in green peppers ( New Jersey farm fresh) with mint puris with dahi and punjabi achaar. I do not know what it was , the meal actually tasted as if it had been made in Delhi on a rainy day. Thanks the ‘simpler’ the better it seems.

  22. Hey Anita

    I think you stuck to the larger newer restaurants in Udupi and missed out on some authentic fare.

    An awesome breakfast item simply called “buns” is one of my favorite things to eat when I’m in Udupi or Mangalore.

    At Udupi, the small joints around the Krishna Temple serve some great badam milk and holiges (either the dal or coconut variety.)

    And well, the list goes on… It helps that I spent all my growing summers in a village near Udupi. But I’m quite happy you tried out the gudbud, I still crave one now and then. 🙂

    1. I was late for the ‘buns’ every breakfast-time! I hope to cover them all the next time I visit. So, if you have any suggestions from that list, do tell!

      1. Kaha tha na Energizer use karo… goes on and on.. and on! 😀

        Hoyeinga hoyeinga… thoda sa patience mangta. Apun thosa sa slow hai na, kya kareinga.

  23. Planning to visit mangalore soon.Any tips from a foodie?I mean where to eat etc.Would that be too much to ask pretty please?

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