An icon of Bengaluru now accessible to the world.
“Bangalore has the ingredients to become Silicon Valley… It is probably the only city in India that could become one”, writes the United States Agency for International Development. The city might be a collective for software and sub-contracting centre for multinational companies, but it so far hasn’t grown into the shoes laid out for it. It might be an I.T. hub – just not a centre for creativity and innovation. Often compared to less free, communist-socialist but increasingly capitalist China, the prosperity of India just hasn’t transcended to much of the population – the wealth exclusive to the significant minority middle and upper class, crumbling colonial-era infrastructure and lack of a strong central government means that the world’s second most population nation is only the tenth-largest economy in the world. The statistic is pathetic especially considering that India’s economy is still behind Italy, post-GFC – underscoring the non-performance of the country.
One thing Bangalore has however, is its cuisine. And as the capital city of the South Indian state of Karnataka, there are some wonderful things to be had. Karnataka cuisine is rich in diversity due in part to its geographic location, spliced between the South and North Indian states. The result is an eclectic mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian types including pork curries and seafood specialties, with regional influences affecting the variety and food habits throughout the state. Even staples vary, from jola (sorghum, which is a type of grain) and ragi (finger millet, which is another type of grain) to the ubiquitous rice. It’s in this state where we find Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, or MTR. After a tour of Europe, the owners sought to introduce a western-style restaurant in Karnataka, near Udupi, the birthplace of the masala dosa. They were enamored, not by the service delivery, but by the standard of cleanliness and the quality of food, and with the opening of their first restaurant, then called Brahmin’s Coffee House in 1924, instilled a strict decorum on kitchen cleanliness and hygiene, novel concepts at the time. Rechristened Mavalli Tiffin Rooms in 1960, the local community prided on the restaurant to deliver, clean, quality food at affordable prices. It opened a second branch in 2004, and this year, opens its third restaurant, and first ever outside India, in Singapore.
MTR1924, located just up Serangoon Road from City Square, takes a little deciphering. While it claims that its operating hours are from 8am to 9pm, there is an intermittent cease of operations after 3pm or whenever the session’s use of ingredients is complete. It doesn’t reopen till 5.30pm. Next up, the menu, which is rather extensive, varies by meal and on a day-to-day basis, guaranteeing that diners have something new to look forward to every day. For example, the desserts, such as the mouth-watering Chandrahara, which is deep-fried maida flour topped with a rich khoa sauce, and the French Fruit Mixture, a cocktail of mango and other tropical fruits served with an in-house ice cream, are only available on Sundays. After almost two-hours in the gym, I was famished, so I ordered a Bisibele Bath, which is a Karnataka classic of rice with lentils, assorted vegetables, nutmeg, cashews, curry leaves and tamarind pulp. The dish, served in of course, tiffin utensils, is served with raitha, an Indian yoghurt condiment and mixed with diced onions and a tease of ghee, which is clarified butter.
The humane thing anyone might do is not to pour the ghee over the dish, but according to the George Mateljan Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to create a healthier world through healthier eating suggests that at levels under 10% of total calories, ghee helps lower cardiovascular risks if the calories you consume that day are exclusively from plants or plant oils. The Bisibele Bath was amazing, with a consistency not unlike Italian risotto or porridge, it hit just the right spot – it was comfort food in all its simplicity and sophistication. The ghee, which I sparingly poured over and mixed, gave the dish a certain rich savory sensation. Like many South Indian restaurants, water is provided in a tumbler free-of-charge for you to drink to your heart’s content. I finished off with a Pure Filter Coffee, which I was advised to be served, and drink after the meal. The restaurant’s website says that the coffee beans are procured directly from coffee estates, but for those who like their coffee done Melbourne-style, this isn’t for you. It’s raw, roast, rich aromatic coffee.
I need to come back again. The best part? The prices. The Bisibele Bath’s only SGD 4. Set lunches are SGD 7.5.