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History wrapped in crisp dosas

Those perfectly-roasted dosas and spongy idlis drowned in steaming sambar! Restaurants may be a dime a dozen in Bangalore, but few can match the standards of Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan, an institution in itself.


SOME THINGS, thankfully, never change. The dosas at Balepet's Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan, for instance. The cooks at this 100-year-old hotel have faithfully handed down their masterly recipes to their successors, ensuring that the dosas are always roasted to that degree of perfection. So, a tradition started by Rama Holla (popular as Ramaiah) has been maintained by his great grandchildren, Srinivasa J. Holla and Subramanya Holla.

The hotel, which has become something of a landmark in the City today, started as a humble Udupi-style eatery in 1902 at Balepet Circle (not exactly where it stands today, but close to it) by Ramaiah, a policeman. The pious proprietor kept a saligrama in one of the rooms in the hotel. He served free breakfast to people who performed the sandhyavandane regularly.

Ramaiah's brother-in-law, K.N. Somayaji, took charge of the hotel after two years. Somayaji gradually modernised the place, which was one of the earliest to get a 10 KW power connection in 1947-48. Incidentally, the only other Bangalore restaurant boasting of a similar facility at that time was one little establishment called Mavalli Tiffin Room, now the famed MTR. In 1949, Somayaji gave the restaurant a major facelift. But through all these changes, the taste of the masala dosas, ragi dosas, and puris remained unchanged. Soon, the aroma reached far and wide and people began to flock to this humble-looking eatery. Though the restaurant is located in an obscure, congested part of Old Bangalore, it has always stood apart because of its track record for cleanliness and hygiene. The City Corporation has adjudged the restaurant the "cleanest hotel" several times.

Subramanya Holla, the current proprietor, has also brought in some changes in keeping with the changing times. The most significant of them is the self-service section. The restaurant has different sections such as the family room, which can hold 120 people, and a special room where an additional 50 paise is charged. Behind Sri Udupi Krishna Bhavan is Jalaja Hotel, the restaurant's sister concern, which boasts of an air-conditioned room that seats 20.

Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan specialises in masala idlis wrapped in plantain leaves, rava idlis, puri sagu, and meals. Ragi dosa made here is a particular favourite with many, and since it is made in limited numbers, you better be there early if you want a bite. South Indian lunch, introduced a couple of years ago, is available between 11.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m., for Rs. 20. Breakfast is served between 8 a.m. and 11.45 a.m., and again from 1.30 p.m. to 7.45 p.m.. Sumptuous breakfast for two might cost around Rs. 60.

But it's the masala dosa that is regarded the masterpiece here. The crisp delicacy has everything in the right quantity, and the chutney is a perfect match to it. The sagu masala dosa, also a special to the restaurant, is sought after. The idli sambar here is different, not merely in taste, but also in the way it is served. Soft spongy idlis are simply drowned in steaming sambar and the combination is simply heavenly. An interesting variant of the bisibelebath, rava bisibelebath, is available here.

The sweet stall, opened in 1988, sells khova, maida sweets, and kharas. The shavige kheer is a special, and is lapped up by customers between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m..

Mr. Srinivasa Holla recalls how many customers would refer to the restaurant as "Congress Hotel" at one time, since the khadi-clad Somayaji was an active Congressman and his friends and fellow-Congressmen, such as K.C. Reddy, K.S. Kumaran, and K.T. Bhashyam , visited the place often.

The place is today not just a restaurant, but more an institution. Mr. Srinivasa Holla mentions of a cashier who has been working here for the last 50 years. One of the dosa specialists, Rao, retired a year ago after serving the hotel for more than 45 years. Rao's senior, Aithal, served for nearly 35 years. The newcomers are trained till they master the art of dosa-making.

Mr. Srinivasa Holla laughs as he talks of how many women customers have asked him for his "secret formula". But the secret will always remain a secret, he swears! Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan is situated at the Janardhana Buildings, 123-124, Balepet. The hotel can be contacted on 2875378/2284999, or on e-mail uskb@vsnl.com.

M.V. CHANDRASHEKAR

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