Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

Sixty-two kilometers north of Mangalore in the state of Karnataka, the town of Udupi, home to an ancient Lord Krishna temple and many other religious places, may not be known to many travel lovers. However, Udupi is very well known for the culture of South Indian cuisine. Metropolis Mumbai has many eateries today, but years ago (and for years), there were only two restaurants in Mumbai. One is an Iranian restaurant, and another is a Udupi (or Udipi) restaurant. Irani Hotel is famous for maskaban, tea, and pastry cakes, while Udupi Hotel is popular for idli, dosa, meduvada, and coffee! Restaurants serving the taste of authentic South Indian Udupi style are mostly known as Udupi Cafes. The names Madras Cafe and Mysore Cafe also had wide circulation.

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

The Essence of Udupi Cuisine

A Symphony of Spices: Exploring the Flavors

Udupi cuisine, deeply rooted in tradition, is a harmonious blend of flavors that dances on the palate. The use of freshly ground spices elevates each dish, creating a sensory experience that is both distinctive and delightful. From the warmth of cardamom to the piquancy of mustard seeds, every spice contributes to the symphony of taste that defines Udupi’s culinary identity.

Udupi Essence: Affordable Authenticity in Mumbai’s Heart

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

As soon as the name Udupi comes to mind, boys in light brown, gray, or brown uniforms, a simple and homely atmosphere instead of hi-fi, waiters appearing with water as soon as they take a seat, food arriving quickly after taking the order, its unique kind of authentic South Indian taste, and finally a small (and affordable) bill are remembered. Even today, Udupi restaurants can be found everywhere in Mumbai. On the other hand, relatively expensive South Indian hotels like ‘Woodlands’ and ‘Dasprakash’ have taken hold in other cities of India besides Mumbai.

 

Sacred Ties: Udupi’s Temple Tradition and Culinary Heritage

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

It is not surprising that certain dishes are glorified along with shrines and deities. Similarly, the entire food tradition of Udupi is related to the temples there. Udupi is considered to be a very big center of Vaishnavism. The ancient temple of Sri Krishna here is unique, as the statue of Lord Krishna is not visible at the center of the temple; rather, it is near a window at the back of the temple. According to popular belief, in the fifteenth century, an untouchable devotee named Kanakdas was forbidden to enter the temple and see Lord Krishna, so the idol was arranged in this way. This arrangement indicates the close connection between Udupi and its temple tradition with the caste system. Udupi has been an important place of pilgrimage for centuries due to the monastery founded by the saint Madhavacharya in the thirteenth century.

Pilgrimage Palate: Udupi’s Gastronomic Grace and Sacred Offerings

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

Pilgrims come to Udupi in hundreds of numbers, so along with the devotion, arrangements for appetite are made as well. The temple took that responsibility on its own. The Brahmins of Udupi used to prepare quick, clean, hot, and delicious meals for the people who came in large numbers. Being a Vaishnava place of worship, there is no garlic onion used in the ‘prasad’, which is ritually prepared keeping all the rules. Also,’meaty’ vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, and brinjal are not used. Scholars believe that it is from this religious tradition of fast, clean, hot, and delicious food that the distinctive food tradition of Udupi began and spread across the country.

Culinary Odyssey: Udupi’s Global Influence through ‘Woodlands’

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

The local cuisine of Udupi has established a foothold and gained popularity in neighboring states besides Karnataka, including many small Udupi restaurants, including big brands like ‘Woodlands’ and ‘Dasprakash’. The founder of ‘Woodlands’, K. Krishna Rao, came from an ordinary family. He got a job in a kitchen in a monastery in Udupi after some education. After doing jobs for a while, he left for Madras (Chennai at present) to try his luck. After working in the kitchen of the Sharda Vilas Brahmin Hotel here in the Georgetown area, Krishna Rao got an opportunity to open his own restaurant in partnership with the owner of Sharda Vilas. Leaving the Georgetown area, he started two restaurants, Udupi Shrikrishna Vilas and Udupi Hotel, on Mount Road. After succeeding from here, he started the ‘Woodlands’ hotel in Chennai. After some years, he also opened branches in Bengaluru, Koimbatur, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, New York, London, and Singapore.

Culinary Legacy: The Journey of ‘Dasprakash’ from Tiffin Business to Hotel Group

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

Talking about ‘Dasprakash’, famous for Udupi cuisine, the founder of the hotel, K. Sitaram Rao, was educated. However, tired of the low-paying job, he settled in Mysore to join his brother’s tiffin business. The Tiffin business later evolved into the ‘Dasprakash’ Hotel and later the Hotel Group. The first branch of ‘Dasprakash’ opened in Madras in 1954, after which its name was coined in many other cities of India.

Evolution of Tradition: Udupi Culinary Metamorphosis Beyond Temple BoundariesUdupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

Naturally, when expanded to this extent, the original Udupi cooking methods underwent some changes. Udupi’s dosa-idli-meduvada moved out of the confines of the temple and became part of the hotel, loosening the grip of strict Vaishnav precepts. Tomatoes and eggplants started to be used, along with onions and garlic. Some Udupi hotels may still not use onions or garlic, but the possibility that tradition is more important than Vaishnavism cannot be ruled out.

A change in the tradition of the dish

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

In cities like Mumbai, Udpi hotels with prices that are affordable to the common man have become a heaven for people who come to Mumbai to try their luck, apart from being a place for dining. Daya Nayak, a police officer from Maharashtra, once known as an encounter specialist, started his career in Mumbai as a waiter at the Udpi Hotel. The generous owner of the hotel arranged for him to study in the evening. Daya Nayak studied under the lights of the municipality and became a police officer. Years later, in a press interview, he said, ‘I can still hold five cups of tea in one hand.’

 

Culinary Evolution: Udupi Hotels Embrace Diversity in Mumbai and Beyond

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

With the changing times, there have been many changes in Udupi hotels, not only in Mumbai but across the country. The biggest change is that, in addition to dishes considered Udupi special, sandwiches, pizza, Punjabi, and Chinese dishes have been added to their menu. A restaurant can’t run successfully with only a few dishes, and when there are many hotels in the name of Udupi in the same city, the one that has variety in the menu card will win the competition. Udupi hoteliers realized this truth. They have also added new items without leaving their original recipes. Restaurants in Udupi and surrounding areas served many traditional local dishes apart from Dosa-Idli-Meduvada, which can be enjoyed today in many Udupi hotels in the Matunga area of Mumbai. Some old, well-known, and must-visit hotels are:

Sharda Bhavan:Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

This restaurant started over fifty years ago, and instead of adding modern non-Udupi dishes to its menu, it has retained the original Udupi flavor in limited items. The owners of Sarada Bhavan have not left their ‘Udupiness’ even in terms of cultural thinking. Hence, hotel waiters are seen walking around in the traditional South Indian lungi instead of a pant shirt and tie. Sharda Bhavan is known for its Upma, Rava Dosa, Curry Idli (not Sambhar, curry-dipped idlis), pineapple Halwa, and coconut chutney.

Address: Opposite Matunga Railway Station, Matunga-East, Mumbai.

Ram Ashray:

It is an 85-year-old restaurant that is open from five in the morning to ten at night and is buzzing continuously during that time. There is often a long line for breakfast here. There is no practice of having a printed menu at this hotel. The list of daily dishes was written with chalk on a black board. This tradition is still ongoing. Here, upma is served with sambhar. Idli, neer dosa, vada, filter coffee, pineapple, strawberry and saffron Halwa sweets are the best-selling items.

Here is a brief introduction to Neer Dosa. Neer means water in the Tulu language. Neer dosa made from watery cucumber is thin, pliable, and easy to digest. Hence, it is mainly taken for breakfast with coconut chutney. The meal is served with neer dosa chutney, vegetable kurma, non-veg curry, or potato or sweet potato.

Neer Dosa is available in many Udupi restaurants in Mumbai, but to taste it at Ram Asraya, 

Address: Bhandarkar Road, Matunga-East, Mumbai.

A. Ramanayak & Sons:

This hotel was started in 1942. The original tradition of eating in the natural’vessels’ of banana leaves has been largely eradicated today. However, A. Ramanayak & Sons serves Udupi-style food on plantain leaves to its customers even today. This meal is a unique feature of this hotel, which is visited by a large number of people every day to experience it. The chances of getting a table here are low on holidays and weekends.

Address: 2/461, Ram Niwas, Kings Circle, Matunga-East, Mumbai.

Cafe Mysore:

Serving Udupi cuisine for almost 80 years, the most popular dish at this hotel is Kotte Kadubu/Mude. Looking like a cylindrical roll of ice candy, kotte kadubu is actually a type of idli. The leaves of the jackfruit tree are used to give it a special shape. A mold is made from weaving leaves and then filled with batter and steamed in a cooker or in a big pot. Jackfruit leaves add their own special (slightly sweet) flavor and sweetness to the idli. Kotte kadubu is softer than normal idlis.

Cafe Mysore is also highly acclaimed for its authentic South Indian filter coffee. Celebrities like Reliance tycoon Mukesh Ambani, former cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar, and Rahul Dravid are Udupi connoisseurs of Cafe Mysore.

Address: 461, Nishant Building, Opposite Kings Circle Garden, Matunga-East.

Arya Bhavan:

Generally, we are aware of one or two types of Idli. On the other hand, traditional Udupi cuisine has more than one variety of Udupi: Chettinad, Thatte, Brahmin, Iyengar, Buttercoin idli, which Arya Bhavan is a well-known place to enjoy. Muthuswamy, the owner of the seventy-year-old hotel, used to sell idlis in Mumbai’s Dharavi area years ago. Today, he is known as the Idli King in Mumbai.

Address: Opposite Matunga Railway Station, Matunga-East.

Other Outlets:

Apart from this, in the Matunga area of Mumbai, there are many other well-known hotels. Here is the list:

(1) Anand Bhavan, since 1940.
Address: 461/A, Ram Niwas, Maheshwari Udyan, Ambedkar Road, Matunga-East

(2) Maniz Lunch Home, since 1937.
Address: 153/C, Mahaskar Building, Matunga-East

A number of other Udupi hotels are located in Mumbai. The names and locations of each may be different, but even today, the compass of the kitchen points towards Udupi.

The irony of time is that the era of Udupi restaurants that popularized Udupi cuisine across the country and, to some extent, the world is slowly waning from its birthplace, Udupi. Udupi’s importance as a place of worship remains intact, but addresses for traditional cuisine are not particularly spared. Probably because those addresses have shifted to cities like Mumbai. Of course, the traditional Udupi hotel, its food, and its ambiance hold a special place in the minds of foodies. That is why the taste tradition of Udupi is still going strong.

Some famous (but unknown to us) Udupi dishes

Uppu Huli Kara Dosa: Different from Neer Dosa, Uppu Huli Kara Dosa is quite spicy and sour. Apart from rice and udad dal, tamarind water, jaggery, coconut, and other spices are added to this dosa batter. Tangy taste lovers prefer this dosa.

Madurvada:

Flat and fried like puri (a deep-fried bread) made from rice flour, suji, fenugreek, neem, onion, coconut, and other spiced flours, these vadas are so tasty that they can be eaten without any sauce. Most hotels serve maduravada with chutney or tomato ketchup. This dish was invented in Udupi exactly 100 years ago.

Perugu Vada/Mosari Vada:

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka
Perugu Vada

It is not wrong to call it a South Indian Dahivada. Fried menduvadas are soaked in buttermilk and then anointed with thick curd enriched with mustard seeds, udad dal, gram dal, red chillies, asafoetida, neem, etc.

Payasam:

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka
Payasam

Payasam occupies a prominent place among Udupi sweets. (Payasam = Kheer). Payasam is carried as prasad in various festivals and in worshipping. Payasam is made from various materials, such as rice, broken wheat, soap, coconut, moong dal, gram dal, and dates.

Holij/puranpoli:

Puranpoli is made from dal (pulses), and mava is known and enjoyed by us. But holij, or puranpoli, of coconut, sweet potatoes, and dates may be a novel dish for us.

Basle Sambhar/ Basle Sopu Huli or Malabar Spinach Sambhar:

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka
Basale Gasi

Plants of Malabar spinach are grown in almost every home in the region. This delicious sambhar is prepared with toor dal, coconut, vegetables, Malabar spinach, and spices. A good amount of garlic is added to its tadka. The taste of spinach sambhar is different from the same available in a normal hotel.

 

 

Goli Bhajji/Mysore Boda:

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka
Goli Bhajji

This dish is made by adding curd, onion, coriander, green chillies, coconut, and spices in a mixture of various types of flour and then frying the potato vada-shaped boda out of it. Fritters, made from the long leaves of raw bananas, are also a delicious dish. Apart from this, fritters of turi (redged gourd) and fennel are also made in Udupi recipes.

Menskrai/Gojju: A traditional Udupi curry or gravy is Gojju. Which is prepared with fruits like pineapple, mango, grapes, and different varieties of gojju with vegetables like fenugreek, bitter gourd, brinjal, okra, tomato, and fennel. Gojju can be eaten with rice roti, rice or dosa.

 

Chitrana and Bisi Bele Rice:

Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka

Rice is used as the main rice in South India. Roti is prepared from rice flour. Rice, however, is the main component of the meal. Hence, Udupi cuisine has a variety of plain, spicy, and sweet rice. Varieties of masala rice in the form of chirana are topped with ingredients like lemon, raw mango, and coconut. Bisi belle rice contains turmeric, dry fruits, tamarind, mustard seeds, coconut and vegetables. This spicy rice is eaten with bundi, potato slices, or souce-chutney.

Artistry in Every Bite: The Udupi Palya

A unique aspect of Udupi’s culinary landscape is the emphasis on showcasing the natural flavors of vegetables in dishes like the Udupi Palya. Here, the vegetables are sautéed to perfection with a melange of spices, allowing each ingredient to shine. It’s a testament to the artistry in Udupi’s kitchens, where simplicity and authenticity reign supreme.

Culinary Odyssey: Food Festivals in Udupi

Immersing oneself in Udupi’s culinary excellence extends beyond the regular dining experience. The town hosts vibrant food festivals that showcase the diversity and richness of its gastronomic offerings. These festivals serve as a melting pot of flavors, bringing together culinary enthusiasts from far and wide.

Conclusion

In the heart of coastal Karnataka, Udupi emerges not just as a town but as a culinary haven where tradition and taste intertwine. From the iconic Masala Dosa to the intricate flavors of the Udupi Thali, every dish tells a story of culinary craftsmanship that has stood the test of time.


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1 thought on “Udupi Unplugged: Reveling in the Authentic Flavors of Coastal Karnataka”

  1. You really made us taste this delicious food just bt your words and also gave information regarding this cuisine precisely this is really very informative and you should keep writing about cuisines like this so that we can know about the cuisines of famous places and also its historical perspective

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