The taste of Udupi
The taste of Udupi

The taste of Udupi

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.

Woodlands Udupi thali
This was the ‘regular’ thali, if I remember correctly. The puris went together with the dry subzi I wrote about. Huli, sambar, a dhal (a bit too bland for my north indian dhal-taste-buds) along with curd, buttermilk and payasam completed the fare. Nothing out of the ordinary, but yet all of it so delectably well done.
Jain Idli-sambar in Woodlands in Udupi
Guess the specialty of this idli – sambar ? The sambar is Jain – it doesn’t contain any onions or other ingredients forbidden in Jainism. Quite a rarity in most restaurants – try asking any of them for a Jain sambar. But in Udupi, the food originating from the Krishna Mutt, has traditionally been sattvik. No wonder that this trait finds a presence in restaurants near the temple as well.

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 ?

Mangalore bun at Mita Samaj Udupi
Mangalore buns. Covered by a crispy crepe and consisting of a thick crust that is spicy and stringy when broken; this one is made of maida and might not go down well with the health-freaks. It is quite filling however, and a plate is not really meant to be accompanied by a masala dosa. Especially not with a benne (butter) masala dosa. We did however, just for the sake of it.
Golli Bajji at Mitra Samaj Udupi
The famous Golli Bajje. This one was ordered by most of the patrons who trooped in through Mitra Samaj’s doors. Curious, we ordered a plate too. The bajje turned out to be extremely soft and so piping hot that it was impossible to gulp down at once. The taste though was very mild, it tastes nothing like the other famous vadas/bajjis – this one was light and it was left to the chutney to provide the necessary ammunition.

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.

Cold badam milk at Venkateshwara sweets Udupi
About 1-2 km from the Krishna temple lies this nonchalant sweet shop where they serve a terrific badam (almond) milk. Thick, chilled and topped with generous shavings of almonds, it makes for a refreshing dessert.

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.

Gudbud at Diana's in Udupi
The gudbud icecream has mixed scoops of 3 different ice-creams, all of them made at Diana’s. This one is very good, but not something that you wouldn’t find at other places outside Udupi. Gudbud now finds mention in the menus of most restaurants across Karnataka


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.



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