Circa 2005: In lush green 🌲🌳environs of Malleshwaram, one of the oldest & liveliest neighborhood of Bengaluru, I was wandering around 18th Cross Sampige Road (or Champaca flower, the street name derived from sampige trees which lined up the street, their lush canopy, providing fragrant, shady & much needed respite from the heat) for counseling to select a seat for my undergrad. It was Day 1 and the seat selection started bit late after all the proceedings and keynote speech to mark the start of new academic year. Accompanied with my dad, we had a quick breakfast where we were staying & headed to counseling. It was well past 3 PM when we were done with our seat selection, satisfied with the day’s events. It was time for an elaborate lunch or rather a brunch. An eatery nearby caught our attention which was thronged by people at the roadside. The taste of Rava Masala Dosa which I ordered from that Darshini, still lingers on my mind and over the years have loved the preparation and taste of this Delicious Dosa. Does any dish evoke such emotions in you? Do share if any 😛 if you had any such gastronomical delights.🍽🥣
So what are Darshinis, which Bengaluru is known for? and How did it come into being? Let’s delve into some history and interesting nuggets about Darshini (that which is visible). It is attributed to a gentleman Mr. Prabhakar who is known as ideas💡man. Many of the hoteliers owe a great deal to him which changed the face of Bengaluru food scene big time. Under Prabhakar’s direction, Bengaluru got its first Cafe Darshini in Jayanagar in 1983 and now there are darshinis at every roadside and very much part of day-to-day life. It has modern kitchen machinery like wet grinders visible to customers from outside. One has to buy a token from the counter(pay-first-eat-later) and hand it over to kitchen staff. There are limited items in the menu- idli, vada, dosa varieties like masala dosa, set- dosa, khaali dosa, rava dosa, kharabath, bisibele bath, kesaribath, chow chow bath(scoop of kharabath & kesaribath) accompanied with tea and coffee. There is no furniture other than few, elbow-high pole with small round tabletop, used to eat standing. The only staff is a cleaning boy, who wipes tabletop as soon as customers leave.
Inspiration: It so happened Mr Prabhakar tagged along with his friend to Singapore for a business purpose. There he understood the market of fast food and was exposed to ideas like takeaways,minimalist but wholesome meals, payment at the counter eliminating the need of waiters. He got so much inspired from the idea that he Indianized it to address and promote South Indian fare. It derives from Brahmin Satvik Tradition from South Canara region of Karnataka especially Kundapura-Udupi region. Udupi hotel in many parts of India is synonymous to South Indian hotel thanks to enterprising individuals from that region who specialized in showcasing culinary delight of South India whether it’s idli,dosa,coconut chatni and of course the coffee. Some of prominent Darshini/coffee chains have stood with test of time and earned the love of patrons over the years. Brahmins Coffee bar, By Two Coffee in Basavanagudi, Mavalli Tiffin Room popularly known as MTR opposite LalBagh, Taza Thindi in Jayanagar, Veena Stores & CTR in Malleshwaram to name a few. 🍛😋
Back story: Madhwacharya, a 13th Century saint from Udupi(temple town in coastal Karnataka), who founded the Dvaita school of philosophy established 8 Brahmin mutts and laid emphasis on developing a school of cooking strictly adhering to sattvik tradition. Many Brahmins from this region took to cooking as a profession and later distinguished themselves in running hotels & restaurants. Some of them dominated the business like Adigas, Maiyas, Bhats, Raos etc and set up shops in many cities.
Pakashastra, the science of cooking had an elaborate structure to set up food. Its said that around 48 unique items should be cooked everyday as Lord Krishna’s neivedyam. The main segments of this rather elaborate spread consisted of five sweets, five payasams, five rassa (sambar, rasam), five fried items, five unboiled items(like salads), five anna(rice items),five vyanjana(pickles, papads) & five jeernakara(herbal chutneys-digestives). These were not to be repeated each day leading to innovation & food improvisation. Since all the preparations was meant to please the Lord, it made use of best of ingredients, cooking practices & highest level of hygiene.
The Legendary Mavalli Tiffin Rooms(MTR) operating since 1920s. Very well known for its one-of-a-kind Masala Dose & Filter Kaapi, it’s said once Chief Minister of Karnataka stood in queue to savour it’s Masala Dosa. During World War 2, when rice was in short supply, they experimented with semolina instead of rice to invent Rava Idli. During Emergency, the restaurant had to be closed leading it to reinvent and move into instant food business, a turning point.
In those days, Udupi in South Canara was part of Madras Presidency, Woodlands and Dasaprakash was established in Madras which became iconic symbols of fine South Indian cuisine. Basavanagudi in Bengaluru was later the focus of attention to Udupi’s entrepreneurs which led to establishment of Vidhyarthi Bhavan, Brahmins Coffee bar & later outlets like By 2 Coffee based on economy of scale-modest per customer income, minimal items, highest quality, consistent taste and hence largest footfall. Veena Stores & Central Tiffin Room(CTR) was setup in Malleshwaram.
In 1990s, Mr. Prabhakar came up with an idea of Bharjari oota in Gandhinagar, a Mysore styled spread of unlimited rice,curries,rasam,chutney,buttermilk along with an MTR softee icecream(to promote new Softee brand 🍦) all for an incredibly low price of ₹10 which led to traffic snarls. Later he came up with an idea to sell food by weight owing to large demands by office going people which needed high quality food for their staff. Even today, such outlets exists.
India’s tryst with Coffee is said to have in early 17th century when Baba Budan, a saint, is said to have smuggled seven coffee beans from present-day Yemen while returning from Hajj in Mecca. He hid the coffee beans in his beard and planted them in the Chandragiri Hills of the Chikkamagaluru district, where they soon flourished. Britishers commercialized its production by establishing large coffee plantations in Coorg, Wayanad and other regions. In Southern Indian household, coffee soon became a necessity in around 19th century where they started brewing coffee with milk, mixed with jaggery/honey for sweetness. With the advent of coffee houses like Indian Coffee House, coffee spread to northern parts of India too.☕
In 1990s, Cafe Coffee Day(CCD) was one of popular hangout coffee shops which popularized coffee all over India. Its success is attributed to V.G. Siddhartha who inherited acres of coffee farms in Chikkamagaluru(Land of Coffee in India). He linked coffee and technology and started CCD, a coffee chain, first established in Brigade Road, Bengaluru in 1996. It was meant for customers to sit and surf the internet while enjoying their coffee; hence the name Cafe Coffee Day.The brainchild to provide customers with free internet, a novelty in the country then, is among the innovations that set CCD on its path to emerge the top player of coffee chains all over India. With teenagers as a primary customer, it came up with a tag line “A lot can happen over a cup of coffee” which became a go to place to hangout.🥤☕🍵🥪🍪🍩
That brings us to an end of this foodgasmic tale.Hope you liked this distilled version, a concoction served hot & fresh 😛
Until next time, Be Good, Eat Good, Feel Good. Bon Appétit!!
References: Askew by T.J.S George