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The taste that endures

The Gundappa hotel is one of those legendary eateries that refuse to compromise on quality, and would rather stay small. To this day, its snacks taste the same as they did 50 years ago.



For melt-in-the-mouth delicacies — Photo: K. Gopinathan

TUCKED AWAY in a narrow lane in a prime area of old Bangalore, is an unassuming little cafeteria that was once frequented by greats like the late D.V. Gundappa, Master Hirannayya, and filmstar Ashok Kumar. This modest eatery has had a fan following for the past half a century. Oblivious to the advent of fast foods, the Chinese and pasta revolution, and mercurial eating habits of the ever-hungry Bangalorean, Sri Rama Vilas, popularly called Gundappa Sweets, near the Dharmaraya Temple on OTC Road in Nagarthpet, is still going strong. Its customers swear by the melt-in-the-mouth jalebis, Mysore paks, jahangiris, dumroot, and the spicy mixture, khara boondi, topped by badam milk.

The secret of Sri Rama Vilas's staying power, according to its proprietor, is its rigid adherence to tradition. "We are extremely careful about what goes into the preparation of the delicacies. We go to the market ourselves to ensure we get the right ingredients,'' says Narasimhamurthy, who with brothers Srikanth and Ranganath, takes turns to shop. The brothers are today carrying forward the proud tradition started by their father Gundappa (H.S. Gundanna was his real name), who set up the place in the 1950s.

Gundappa, who passed away in the 1970s, began his career as a caterer in the1930s when he came to Bangalore from a village near Dodballapur in search of a job. He ran into a generous soul, Rama Rao, who teamed up with him to start an eatery that specialised in kharabath and kesaribath. After Rao's death, Gundappa set up shop in Balepet, selling badam milk and a few snacks and sweets like Mysore pak, mainly catering to the lecturers and students of Central College.

It was in 1950 that Gundappa bought a piece of land from a pehelwan on OTC Road to start Sri Rama Vilas, the name being a tribute to his late benefactor. To this day, ingredients such as butter and milk that go into making the sweets and savouries are procured from the same sources that supplied them 50 years ago. The family has ensured that nothing synthetic or artificial spoils that special taste of its snacks. The stress on tradition is so strong that the establishment had to strike its famed chiroti off the menu after a cook, who was an expert in making it, died. The brothers have also avoided expanding their operations in order to keep their enterprise running just as it has been down the years. A special to Gundappa's and not seen anywhere in Bangalore is a sweet called vimurti, an interesting relative of the jahangiri, made twice a day at noon and at 5 p.m.. Needless to say, it is snapped up in minutes. As for its badam milk, litres of it is consumed everyday, thanks to that special taste. Served piping hot, it is sipped to the accompaniment of another Gundappa special, the heerekai bajji, making for a delectable combination.

The place itself is a cosy little joint with a few unpretentious tables and chairs, where some prefer to relax and savour the taste and memories. There are also the more business-like, who munch the snack standing up. Then are also those who pack the stuff to take home.

With the sweets priced at Rs. 140 to Rs. 160 a kg., spicy khara Rs. 140 a kg., badam milk Rs. 5 a glass, and the famed heerekai bajji Rs. 7 for 50 gm., all accompanied by that heavenly individual flavour, it is no wonder that customers come here from all over the State.

Time was when the Gundappa hotel was a meeting place for intellectuals and writers. During DVG's days, it used to be like the fabled English coffee house, where the great writer and his friends held forth on all topics under the sun even as munched their favourite snacks. Dhasarithi Dikshit mentions the place in his book Gampara Gumpu.

Time and distance have evidently not erased Gundappa's from the memories of those who have relished its treats. Mr. Narasimhamurthy recalls a customer who turned up to buy its sweets for his daughter who wanted to carry them to the US.

Gundappa's is at 14, OTC Road, Nagarthpet, Ph: 2222055. Business hours are from noon to 8 p.m..

M.V. CHANDRASHEKAR

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