Monday, June 20, 2005

Fresh puffs, dilpasand and a little nostalgia

What the Irani café was to Mumbaiites, the humble Iyengar’s bakery was to Bangaloreans. After a hard day at school, and a long bus ride back home, there could be no greater treat awaiting me than some warm vegetable puffs and fresh pastries from the local bakery (Maggi 2-minute noodles be damned!).

These little bakeries were omnipresent, dotting every large street in just about any Bangalore suburb, especially the older residential suburbs like Jayanagar, Malleswaram, Basavanagudi or Rajajinagar. My own haunts in Jayanagar had some of the best bakeries anywhere. The delightful aroma of fresh baking would greet the weary walker who passed one of these. Most of these bakeries were just called “Iyengar’s bakery”, or “Bangalore Iyengar’s bakery”, but some of them would make a strong statement of individuality by imaginatively calling themselves “LB Iyengar’s bakery”, “YB Iyengar’s bakery” or something on those lines.

The variety of products, so to speak, would largely be identical in every Iyengar bakery in town. The sweet tooth would be treated to orange, sticky honey cakes, or just plain old super-sweet cream pastries, or “butter biscuits” or novel treats like their own invention, the “Japanese cake”. And then there was the magnificent dilpasand, and the sublime dilkush. Many people were never sure which was which (since they look somewhat similar), but to the cognoscenti the dilpasand always has sweet stuffing with coconut, while the dilkush was more mundane with reddish-brown stuffing, and never had coconut. For savories, you had the dazzling choice of fresh vegetable puffs (unlike their Hyderabadi baker counterparts, the Iyengar bakers would never serve egg puffs), salt and “khara” potato chips, khara (spicy) buns, “palya” (vegetable) buns, and a little something modestly called “toast”. This “toast” had little to do with its namesake, a slice of bread browned by a toaster. Here, bread was taken to sublime heights, by topping it with a “patented” recipe that was yellowish, had lots of onions, some tomatoes, and LOTS of spice. It often made your eyes water (while its smell made you drool), and just like Lays; you couldn’t stop with just one.

My own patronage was split between two bakeries. There was one, right by my house in Jayanagar 9th block, and another, less than a kilometer away, in 4th T Block. This second bakery was run by a friendly Iyengar baker we secretly and uncharitably nicknamed “goondan” (Tamil for fatty). That wasn’t saying much, since every single Iyengar baker worth his salt was plump, with a well-rounded paunch, clean-shaven, and with slick, oiled-back hair. Goondan fit the description perfectly, but also wore spectacles. The first bakery in 9th block was run by Goondan’s younger brother, Goondan Jr. (little fatty). Together, they were trying to squeeze out another Iyengar baker, who was located exactly halfway between their bakeries. To their advantage was the fact that they were both right by the 9th block or 4th T block bus stands. I preferred Jr. since his bakery was just a block from our apartment, but B and K would make me get off the bus a stop earlier and drag me to Goondan, claiming his puffs were vastly superior to his brother’s (just because THEY lived closer to Goondan’s bakery). I (naturally preferring the company of good friends) would sulkily follow. Their theory was shattered when we once saw Goondan Jr. running his brother’s bakery in 4th T Block, and we found out that they often baked their goods together in the mornings, and sold them at the two separate stores. But B would still stubbornly continue to insist on Goondan’s superiority (experience, he said).

I paid Goondan Jr.’s bakery a visit this March. I hadn’t been there in over a decade. A warm smile still greeted me, but the hair was graying, and wrinkles lined his face. He didn’t recognize me. As I was polishing off my third palya bun, I asked him how business was.

”Paravailla Sir, atharu munthe thara illa” (Not too bad, but not like it used to be).

He said he was selling half as many loaves of bread as he did ten years ago. His son and daughter are both in Engineering College, and they don’t care much about the bakery.

Bangalore has changed tremendously, and the sleepy, laid back suburbs are a distant memory. There’s a Café Coffee Day or Barristas in every corner, or an upscale bakery, where people can sit in (often air-conditioned) comfort, chat and munch their 50 rupee pastries. The joy of spending that soiled five-rupee note on a scrumptious treat, and indulging in friendly local gossip is also becoming part of that distant memory.

38 comments:

Vishnu said...

Bangalore has changed tremendously, and the sleepy, laid back suburbs are a distant memory.
I'm more lucky in that respect. Thiruvananthapuram is still sleepy. It would be hard to find a soul on the roads after 7pm, courtesy the Malayalam versions of Saans-bahu. If you see people out after 8pm, you can be sure that they are TCS trainees!

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sunil
Are you in Bangalore now?
This post reminds me of that old phrase "You can never go home."

Btw, there is a French pasterie called a japonaise. Is the Japanese cake like this?

Sunil said...

hehe...Vishnu...the Bangalore of my childhood used to be like that. Now, ofcourse...after 7 pm the TCS/Infosys/Wipro/Microsoft/Seimens/HCL/Whateverelse employee is at work at 7 pm. (S)he is roaming in the streets at 9 pm or later.

Michael....I just visited Bangalore in March for a month....but no, i'm ofcourse in the States (Seattle). I grew up in Bangalore though, and for us "old timers" the city has changed beyond recognition.

And...interestingly.....the Japanese cake seems to be a cheap imitation of that link you had!! It's very creamy, with some nuts/almonds, and slightly toasted...but with jam instead of chocolate, and no real vanilla or anything :-))
I couldn't find it in the bakery this time.....just a relic of the past.

Mustang said...

I've had similar experiences everytime I've gone back to India. call it culture shock.

Sunil said...

Aah.....you're back in town! Very nice post......

Hadn't visited more pens down for a few weeks...and have missed quite a bit it seems!

uma said...

oh god, goondan's bakery. remember the 'shpeshul' bread?

Charu said...

ah ha, I didn't know anyone else even knew about Japanese cake - have never found that anywhere else - I make it a point to gorge on them whenever I visit Bangalore - and Ramya was also a favourite name for Iyengar bakeries - and somehow I found that IBs in Madras were not the same - nothing could match up to those puffs which just melt in your mouth.. yummmmm let me go find some breakfast now.

by the way, i had written about Bangalore and ow it was changing - over a year ago when we moved from Bgl back to Bombay - you might find this interesting - http://indsight.org/blog/index.php?p=152

Sunil said...

shpeshul bread, indeed!! I used to love that sweet, soft bread.

Charu.....only a Bangalorean would have eaten Japanese cake, and I think it was an acquired taste. A friend of mine from Kerala found it too sweet (poor chap). Nice post on MTR....but there's one place I rate even better....Vidhyarthi Bhavan. A post on that some other time.

Abi said...

Sunil, you forgot to mention the 'apple cake', whose relationship to apple is yet to be discovered. Is it because it wasn't a common thing at Iyengar Bakeries during 'your time' (I have been having it -- and enjoying it -- ever since I came here some 11+ years ago).

Actually, the number of Iyengar bakeries continues to grow, in spite of the Cafe Coffee Days and Barristas. Good taste, apparently, is alive and kicking. We have had a net increase of three in Sadashiva Nagar - Malleswaram - Yeshwantpur - Sanjay Nagar quadrangle in the last five years or so.

Good to see Bangalore being described in such fond language! The present-day Bangalore, however, seems to inspire only scorn and sarcasm in the newspapers, blogs, magazines, ...

Sunil said...

oh yes! Apple cake!
Actually, it is as old as the bakeries themselves, but I hated it, so decided to ignore it in the post. You caught me out :-)

Charu said...

ya to me the way MTR has shed its 'tiffin room' skin and moved on to ready-to-eat foods is much like what happened to Bangalore. but the way the 'tiffin room' still thrives, for most old time Bangaloreans, the image of a calm pensioners paradise still lvies on :)
(personaly I think MTR is highly overrated - I liked Kadambam better)

Vikram A. said...

Hi Sunil,

I don't like the egg puffs anyway. The vegetable puffs are a lot better, even in Hyderabad. All this is making me hungry.

Vikram

Soultan of Swing said...

speaking of japanese cakes...it's a huge hit in coimbatore. i always looked forward to it on my trips to see my grandparents there. there have been times when i have gone to the bakery and come back empty-handed coz the jap-cakes for the day were sold out. there was this bakery called jm english bakery (50 years back they honed their cake-making skills in england, and hence the name) which started it off, but pretty much every bakery in coimbatore has it nowadays. my grandma always used to have a six-pack of 'em ready whenever i'd be visiting for the summer. it's still very much a favorite with me.
alrighty sunil..u have got me thinking on my next post! let's see what i can come up with.

Akshay said...

Lovely post enjoyed reading it as much as you did the palya bun. You should nominate this post for the Mela.

Sunil said...

Akshay....you could nominate it for me too! :-))))
Thanks for your comments.

vk said...

And the "khaara buns". Bangalore used to be awesome in my childhood. Not so much any longer , I think. (Disclaimer: I have not lived in Bangalore for more than a few months at a time in the last 10 years.).

Quip pro quo said...

To say nothing of congress and hurugalu! Oh man, this whole Bangalore food nostalgia trip is driving me nuts! Great post :)

anantha said...

Awesome post! But the "Banglore Iyengar bakery" is not a phenomenon restricted to Bangalore! Chennai has its own share of "Iyengar" Bakeries!

Aaah... toast and the veg puffs!

Sunil said...

Anti...chennai definitely has its "Iyengar" bakeries....but really, they aren't a patch on the Bangalore ones. The proof of the pudding is in the eating...as the phrase goes. And having lived in both cities, and extensively tested out bakeries in both places, I can be absolutely confident in my conclusion. The ones in Chennai are pale imitations....:-)

Michael Higgins said...

Sunil
I've been to Switzerland. If you like cakes and sweets, nothing in Bangalore or Chennai could compare. It's a good thing that I don't live there, I'd be about 500 pounds.

But I have many wonderful memories of that trip. I was there 61 days and came back with 62 chocolate bar wrappers - so by the pigeonhole principle, I must have eaten more than one chocolate bar at least once.

Anonymous said...

lol @ mhiggins' combinatorics puffery. well done, sir.

PSUdesi said...

As a "married" to a Jayanagarite(?) wife, I can attest to the IB of Jayanagar. He brings back a bunch of the khara buns back every time he visits. They are frozen and every small bite is relished. I have eaten them at Chennai and they are parvaillai :-). Even though he has now lived in the US longer than in JN, I have realized that once a Jayanagarite is always one. He always makes it a point to take his sons to the old "haunts" and recounts how there was no Complex and they used to play cricket there!! His sons love the toast and have a few everytime they visit IBs. Thank you for the article, Sunil and also to Sepiamutiny for connecting to your blog!!

PSUdesi

Anonymous said...

For completeness sake, "palya bun" is also called "potato bun". Your blog reminded me of Krishna Bakery on Double Road in Mysore.

Jan said...

Aaah bangalore..specifically jayanagar 3rd block and 4th block- victory to the place:) land of iyengar bakeris, 1 by 2 kapis, adigas kharabath, cool joint sandwiches, hot chips pav bhajis and puchkas, arya bhavan badam milk, dosa camp dosas and now upahara darshini idlis. Just got back to toronto after visiting all my treasured haunts and if there is one new year resolution I have its recreating nippatt, khara bun, alu bun , alu puff and khara bread from scratch at home. Why is it so difficult to get an authentic udipi cook-created meal in this land of well not-quite milk and honey is beyond me. Seaking of apple cake, my mother forbade us on fear of reprisals to not order taht cake EVER since her theory was that its made form the leftover sof all cakes. To this day, its aguilty pleasure I still nurse. Maybe next time I will fulfill my lifelong dream of finally eating one:)

good post.

Anil S said...

My Sweet Old Bangalore

Neon said...

Hi,
I recently moved to bangalore.can u recommend a good bakery near hebbal flyover?

lostandfound said...

Loved your blog.My own favorite was (don't know if its still there) on Richmond Road.We used to go there as a gang and then have the freshly made and cut puffs washing it down with a Mazaa mango juice.

Vishal Rao said...

Hi, I came across this page while looking for a recipe for potato buns. I must say all that talk about speshul bread and japanese cake has my mouth watering. Mr neon if you are still looking for a bakery in Hebbal, there is one near the Canara bank. That used our adda. :)

shobha said...

hi hi

thanks for making me remember my house in jayanagar 7th block where we have two bakeries on two major roads. one is k.r. road and the other in kanakpura road. shastry bakery in k.r. road was and is our favourite one because its the corner shop of our busy 12th cross road.all the traffic from aurobindo school and national college has made this bakery famous. i was too searching for palya bun recipe, and the google led me here.

Anonymous said...

awsome write up...i am from malleswaramm...now in San Diego...this evening I was baking some vegetable puffs and looking for a recipe and found this link.... :)...Bangalore..bangalore...such fond memories......It will always always be my home

Eikon Marks said...

I really cherish those memories way back in 97 when i was a b'glore on my way back frm work i would eat at the iyengar bakery near ludo theatre. man the food was awesome and it really satisfied my hungry and growling stomach. those were the Golden days!

Anakal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anakal said...

Ahh.. The Apple Cake..
As Abi said it, nothing to do with apple..
And it was no where close to a cake either.. A ball of half baked soft dough.. My twin and I used to eat them a lot. We always wondered whether they were lacing it with drugs, the way we were addicted to it!! I think they were lacing stuff on Palya Buns and Veg Puffs as well :) !! Go Iyengar's bakery on K.R.Road..

Anonymous said...

hmmm....i transponded myself to my favorite bakery haunts too in bangalore....

JB bakery in Jayanagar 4th block -- Promptly at 3, a fragrant fresh baked aroma used to waft through the whole of fourth block -of breads, special buns (with tutty frutty), raisin buns etc.

And how about the hot and cold badam haalu (Almond milk) ooooh....
And the cone cake, apple cake, it used to be just Rs 1.50 and since I was an eternally cash-strapped student :), this used to be my staple :)

Great blog man :)

Anonymous said...

Once I played silkroad, I did not know how to get strong, someone told me that you must have silkroad gold. He gave me some sro gold, he said that I could buy silkroad online gold, but I did not have money, then I played it all my spare time. From then on, I got some silk road gold, if I did not continue to play it, I can sell cheap silkroad gold to anyone who want.

Shuba said...

Hey guys,

Can anyone please post a recipe for Japanese cake? It's been more than 20 years since I went to Coimbatore but the cake has always haunted me!

Someone could really make my day by getting me the recipe!

Shuba

Anonymous said...

I like a game which needs to use requiem gold, when you do not have requiem lant, you must borrow requiem money from friends, or you cheap requiem lant. If you get requiem online gold, you can continue this game.

Anonymous said...

Am from Bangalore, I have been living overseas for eighth years now, recently been to my hometown , I am a kannadiga, my god has it changed ? Most of the bakeries I used to go to have been out of business,closed down or it's lost it's touch. Icouldn't find a decent vege puffs, or any of their traditional items, bakeries replaced to some big buildings or other trading centres, missed the feeling of feeling nostalgic, no more namma Bangalore