My earliest memories of eating out, is going to the Udupi joint in our town and digging into the humble Vada Sambar. Crunchy outside, piping hot inside, dipped in a slightly spicy sambar – it has passed down the years as my go-to snack whenever I step into an Udupi restaurant for breakfast.
And speaking of restaurants in Udupi, one of the reasons I traveled the Karnataka coastline was also to taste Udupi’s eponymous cuisine. And we had in Chethan, our friend and also a native of Udupi, our best guide to the place and it’s famous food.
Woodlands hotel Udupi
Our first stop, was for lunch at the famous Woodlands hotel. We ordered a plate of puri-bhaji, rava idly, and 2 normal ‘thalis’. One thing stood out for me in the thali that arrived; even though most of the items were standard fare, the spices used never dominated the other flavors.
There was a dry ‘subzi’ made of red chana that had just the right mix of roasted coconut shavings, dried red chili and coriander. The result was a perfect amalgamation of the mildly sweet taste of coconut and the slight spiciness of chili.
The ‘Huli’ was another item that merits a mention. It reminded me of ‘Puli’ (Malayalam for sour and for tamarind). A gravy made of a mixture of grated coconut, tamarind, jaggery, red chillies and cummin; it is a side dish that all of us visitors to Udupi hotels anywhere, must have tasted numerous times. It was only in Woodlands that I realized how it was supposed to taste like. Once again, the flavors – the tangy tamarind infusion and the roasted spices seemed to complement each other perfectly.
Mitra Samaj Udupi
We then moved on to Mitra Samaj, an institution that is almost as venerable as the Krishna Mutt in Udupi. Situated right on the road leading to the temple, this one has been covered by multiple travel shows and print media over the years. Touted to be the birth place of the masala dosa as well (supposedly, difficult to believe however), this restaurant is a favorite with the old-timers as well as the tourists.
Formica topped tables are wiped down quickly for the next customer and quick service times are standard here. A possible predecessor to the modern-day efficiency of the Udupi restaurants maybe ?
There was a general consensus building that maybe we were over eating. Chethan would have none of it however, and he led us right next to the next item on the agenda – cold badam milk to wash everything down.
Dessert couldn’t just be a single dish and so, we moved on to Diana’s, famous for its Gudbud icecream. The original Diana’s has moved to a more upmarket location in the town but still retains a regular flow of students from the nearby Manipal university and other regulars.
Apart from the vegetarian cuisine that it is famous for, we also sample a few delectable fish and chicken preparations at one of Udupi’s more upmarket restaurants. Compared to fare at the restaurants near the temple however, these were nothing to write about. I will leave you with a few photographs from Udupi’s markets that we had to stroll around, to work off all the food we’d eaten.