Lucky Peach, our favourite food magazine, is putting out its last issue this month. Although the magazine had a relatively short run of six years, in that short period, it changed food media forever. It showed us that food writing need not necessarily fall under two polar camps — restaurant reviews or personal essays, but could instead straddle everything in between — from rating supermarket ramen varieties to guides on making fruit preserve at home. Most importantly, it gave permission for food writing to be technical (without being inaccessible), irreverent and cheeky. The most iconic pieces in the magazine’s short stint however, were the city guides that informed the reader on the best places to eat, in each particular city.
As a hat-tip to the magazine that changed the world's perception of food writing, The Goya Journal asked some of the most distinguished voices from each major city in India to put together a city guide for the hungry traveller.
Having lived in Bangalore for nearly three decades, biting into the soft roe-like seeds of drumstick in a sambhar at a darshini’s marble altar, grading the leafy greens of pappu at the many tucked-away Andhra messes, discussing the fat-to-flesh ratio in everything from sheek to sausage to steak, and endlessly plotting coups of the city’s best biryanis with upstarts have become the primary modes of meditating on my home-town. Some of these establishments were revealed to me as secrets and others as standards by family, friends and familiars, and a whole lot of these eateries have reconfigured my own ideas of eating, of food and, more importantly, of taste.
An arrogance fostered by Bangalore is that a lazy lush like me can travel without ever leaving the city limits. I understand that this mode of functioning means that I might never cycle through the paddy fields of Vietnam or be rendered anonymous in the waves of everyday men and women at Shibuya Crossing. I’d like to imagine, though, that the one thing that binds us all is this: a warm, satisfying meal at the end of a hard day’s work heals everything.
Arirang Korean Restaurant
Beef Bulgogi with Glass Noodles
Receding into the many rice-paper rooms of this restaurant painted with red umbrellas, orange-blue birds and emerald-green bamboo provides the prettiest setting to unleash your inner carnivore. Best to invade with everyone in your contact list, so you can eat everything on offer and make like a Roman Legion. The beef bulgogi with glass noodles and an ice-cold bottle of soju are the perfect trap to coax out the beast. Thinnest slices of raw beef, a mop of glassy noodles, chopped scallion and mushroom sizzle over a table-top grill with a moat that collects all juicy release as the meat sizzles. A tip: Keep scooping up the liquid and splashing it over the cooking slivers to infuse even more flavour. Every bite of the dish seems to simply evaporate on contact but leaves behind a buttery, comforting and briny addictive after-taste — swig some soju and repeat.
Getting there: https://goo.gl/maps/Vk3hMj368ek
This, in the heart of Bangalore’s old commercial hub of Majestic, is a place that must be permanently penned into a restaurant outing calendar. Over here, consistency in food isn’t an add-on feature — it is the bedrock and basis of the institution. In decor, it hasn’t shied away from its original 1950’s interiors of formica-topped, powder blue-and-pink tables and benches, and they’ve not been spotlessly maintained to impress, but instead because there is really no other way to run a restaurant. Ask for anything from its well-edited menu and be assured that, if the fish isn’t up to the mark, the waiter will tell you so and steer you elsewhere. The seafood thali is a great way to sample everything before returning a second time, and on that occasion skip the red rice and just get all the seafood — prawns in red masala is the punch your senses need.
Getting there: https://goo.gl/maps/W1Eui8xiWX52
Siddiqu Kabab Centre
Sheek & Phal
If you are the kind of person who roots for the underdog then you might remember, a little over a decade ago, the battle of rolls between Fanoos and the unknown competitor Siddiqu’s. You probably even picked the latter. While that initial choice still drives you to brave the thronging crowds that cause a daily traffic jam at this street-side counter, you’ve long come to see that this kabab centre deserves the crown and has left its competition far behind. Trite dinner party banter will alway spiral into singing its praises, but no one tells you this: much like heartbreak can never be explained to a friend even a minute later, the eating of a Siddique’s sheek roll or a plate of phal cannot be delivered, it can simply be consumed, hot and immediately. Even a moment of delay, and you’ve missed truly knowing the loves of your life.
Getting there: https://goo.gl/maps/eKzg9xAWtv82
Tanang Naga Restaurant
Smoked Pork with Akhuni
The profusion of Evangelical churches and their community of believers in this part of Bangalore has seen several services come up to keep the faithful fed and watered in both body and soul. Atula Longchar, a congregation member of one of these local churches, became the “mom’s kitchen” for so many North-Easterners so very far away from home. Encouraged by her growing popularity, she opened this tiny little eatery. Atula isn’t cooking for the initiate level, she’s cooking for those baptised in the unforgiving fires of the bhut jolokia, which, like all other ingredients, come packed away in the luggage of her nieces and nephews, spice mules who are also the ones taking your orders. For those dipping their toes into this cuisine, the smoked pork with akhuni is a great first chapter — it teaches you to get over the smell and reach in for something sharp, bitter but always inviting.
Getting there: https://goo.gl/maps/fSJFJFbQ3RL2
The Permit Room
Paati’s Magic Rasam
The hallmark of old Bangalore before the arrival of the IT crowd that nudged open its food and drink scene was the resourcefulness, risk and ridiculousness of combinations that we liked to eat. Every Hindu Brahmin boy challenging his tastebuds would indulge the devilish combo of curd rice-chilli chicken, while the creative menus designed for adventurous veggies at the bakeries on the Food Street in VV Puram would shatter your mind — any combo that was sacrilegious was sacred to the ‘90s gourmand. The chef at The Permit Room has taken this spirit of mischief and infused it into a menu chock-a-block with dishes and drinks. Here, bisi bele bath is spiked with mutton kheema, lentil dosas are stuffed with spicy pulled pork, and street side specials have been refined and made bar friendly. However, it is truly the Paati’s Magic Rasam, a whiskey drink dunked with green chillies and a rim of rasam powder, that pays homage to the city in both character and custom. In character, because it hints at its cultural source, and in custom because across all dive bars in Bangalore, after a few beltings of hard liquor, you’d be given a shot glass of rasam, the peppery potion intended to wake you up and mask your breath from a sniffing cop or consort. In speaking to the denizens of the city but still pulling in newcomers, this menu manages to straddle the aspirations of this small town forced to become a big city.
Getting there: https://goo.gl/maps/E3kxhZSDry62
Radio Goya goes behind the scenes on the city guides, to get the low down on what didn't make it to print. To listen to Joshua, skip to 1:20.
Joshua Muyiwa is a Bangalore-based poet, freelancer writer and former editor of Brown Paper Bag Bangalore. He also writes Gazing Outwards, a weekly column on the changing scapes of the city for the Bangalore Mirror.
Illustration by Tasneem Amiruddin
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