More than just Idli-Vada – The Complex Food Culture of Bangalore

Have you heard of Bangalorean cuisine? Or a single food item that’s synonymous with Bangalore?

You haven’t?

Neither have we. And there’s a good reason for that.

Bangalore is a cosmopolitan city, and home to people from across the nation and the world. This, by natural extension, refers to people’s cultures, religions, habits, values, and food. Sure, Bangalore is a South Indian city and once upon a time, the city’s cuisine was predominantly South Indian. For the most part, it still is.

But there is no such thing as Bangalorean cuisine, simply because it doesn’t exist.

Bangalore has no single cuisine. It has a food culture. Image credits: Curly Tales

The cosmopolitan nature of Bangalore wasn’t birthed overnight. Neither was it formed over ten, twenty or even fifty years. Bangalore is a cultural melting pot that was set in motion centuries ago, with the inflow of rulers and their people from different dynasties. Farmers in and around the old city have been calling Bangalore their home for centuries. Tradespeople from across the nation saw Bangalore for its enviable climate and its location as a hub of trade in South India and settled here. Then came the English rule, which brought about its own set of nuances, along with atrocities. And finally, immigrants from different parts of modern India and the globalized world either chose to make Bangalore their home, or viewed it as an educational hub, or a career city.

These influences played a huge part in shaping Bangalore’s food habits, or its food scene, colloquially speaking. From the south Indian delicacies of idli-vada and masala dosa to the Anglo-Indian bobo curry; from phaal and donne biryani to ghee roast prawns and ramen bowls, Bangaloreans often suffer from mild decision paralysis when it comes to answering the question – ‘what do I eat today?’

Bangalore Food Culture
It’s always busy at Vidyarthi Bhavan. Image credits: G P Sampath Kumar

What we have in Bangalore, is not a singular cuisine, but a potluck of sorts, of different foods that are part home-base and part settler. The city has something better than cuisine. Bangalore has a deep-rooted food culture. There’s nary an OG Bangalorean who hasn’t savoured obbattu or holige, whichever variant you prefer. Have it warm with a dollop of ghee, and it’s akin to having tasted a slice of heaven. The same OG Bangalorean will swear by the small tea stall in Johnson Market, Makkah, to be serving the best – albeit a bit too sweet – sulaimani and khova-stuffed dil pasand. They will also tell you to head next door and order, if not two, then one Fanoos roll or shawarma for the road. Otherwise, they’ll take you two lanes behind and reveal to you a tiny eatery serving mouth-watering biryani, aptly named Khazana.

Dil pasand and samosas at Makkah Café, Johnson Market. Image credits: Abheet Anand

Bangalore’s decades-old darshini culture has cemented the city’s love for all forms of south Indian breakfast foods – fluffy idlis, soft-yet-crisp dosa, savoury upma/uppittu/khaara baath with its saffron-tinted and sweet sibling kesari baath, piping hot bisi bele baath, tangy and flavoursome puliyogare, and of course, a glass of hot filter kaapi to wash it all down.

Several areas of Bangalore that came under the Mysore Maharaja’s direct rule display a special liking to south Indian foods, so much so that Malleshwaram and the Pete areas conduct regular heritage food walks.

Bangalore Food Culture
 South Indian breakfasts make for a great start to the day. Image credits: Asif Saud

In the lunch department, the Biryani sub-culture has one covered.

The NagarjunasMeghanas and Nandhinis across the city are facing competition from the likes of the slightly upscale and more delicately flavoured Behrouz Biryani, and more so from the smaller, unexpected players who are receiving their time in the limelight thanks to delivery apps. Bangaloreans can’t seem to get enough of local biryani variants like donneHoskoteMalabarAmburThalasseryDindigul…. apologies, mouths are watering at the studio!

Bangaloreans and neighbours queue up at 4 AM for biryani at Mani Dum Biryani in Hoskote. Image credits: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy

A part of the credit for the inviting food culture of Bangalore goes to age-old institutions that have kept old and new Bangaloreans well-fed and coming back for more. We’re talking about the good ol’ Koshy’s with Kerala, Anglo-Indian and Continental fare that has had Bangaloreans going gaga for their complimentary breadaahbutter (given only to long-time customers).

Imperial, or Impees as it was affectionately known, and Empire hotels have been keeping young party-goers satiated beyond midnight with their unwavering ghee rice and butter chicken. The dosa camps that open as early as 4 AM have also been the saving grace for many across the city who have had one too many pegs of happy juice on a Friday night.

Bangalore Food Culture
Decades-old institutions like India Coffee House keep Bangalore’s food culture alive. Image credits: Avi Kramer

The street food in Shivajinagar is a world apart, with the scent of smokey meats and wholesome broths wafting onto the roads and nearby shops, tempting shoppers, vendors and passersby alike to step into stalls for a paaya soup, kababsbheja fry and parotta.

And this is just a glimpse into the massive spread during Ramzan. People of all religions flock to take part in the Iftar. Stalls set up under cloth mandaps offer you everything you could imagine – Haleempatthar gosht, biryanis, Mughlai paranthasheekh kabab, falooda, phirni, and so much more!

Shivajinagar Cox Town and Frazer Town are known for street barbecues. Image credits: Nicolas Mirguet

Beyond obbattuidli and raagi mudde, the food culture of Bangalore boasts of its take on Creole cuisine – Anglo-Indian cuisine. As a result of the unwilling colonization of India by British forces, Anglo-Indian cuisine was born. Elements of English cooking found their way into typical Indian dishes – harmonizing the spicy and pungent flavours of India with the mild, bland dishes of the West, to appeal to the English. This birthed specialities such as bread and butter pudding, yellow coconut rice, ball curry, kedgeree (Anglo-Indian kichdi), fish rissoles and mulligatawny soup (Anglo-Indian rasam), which continue to feature in many an old Bangalorean kitchen.

Railway Mutton Curry was served on long-distance trains and in rail refreshment rooms. Image credits: Bridget Kumar

Ask a Bangalorean for their favourite shawarma place, and they’ll name at least two. Bangalore’s fondness for Middle-Eastern food – think kebabs, tikkas, hummus and the like – is on par with its love for Mangalorean cuisine (sanas and vindaloo fans, anyone?), be it Mangalorean seafood dishes or the ubiquitously coastal Mangalore buns. As for food from other parts of India, look no further than the capital of Karnataka for your fix of Punjabi, Bengali, Maharashtrian, Oriyan, Mizo, Naga, and the like. Still, OG Bangaloreans will grudgingly bring up the fact that their recently relocated colleagues from Delhi and Gurgaon ‘trash talk’ the North Indian food available in the city.

The food culture of Bangalore wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t feature some absolute bangers from across the globe. Decades-old Korean restaurants are now sharing patrons with Korean barbecue joints that sometimes dole out complimentary rice wine, while five-star hotels serving global cuisine are going neck-and-neck with indie players plating up everything from Burmese flavours and Sri Lankan delicacies to Paninis and chicken karaage, to Brazilian delights and of course, Italian delicacies. Tibetan food is available aplenty and for a steal, allowing Bangalorean students to savour tummy-loving thupkalaphingshaptra and our absolute favourite, a warm tingmo, while preventing a wallet burn.

Bangalore Food Culture
Taste of Tibet is always packed with students from Residency Road and Brigade Road’s institutions. Image credits: Jeff

Tl,dr: Bangalore may not be known for a singular dish, but it’s a city that welcomes everyone and makes everyone’s cuisines its own. The food culture of Bangalore is unlike any other – a beautiful medley of age-old dishes, colonial flavours, and cosmopolitan culinary delights – that is simply a reflection of the city’s welcoming spirit.

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