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 Udupi restaurants, 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, the best guide.
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 here. 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 in any land, have tasted numerous times. It was only in Woodlands that I realized how it was supposed to taste like. Once again, the flavors – slight tanginess of tamarind and the masalas seemed to complement each other, perfectly.
We then moved on to Mitra Samaj, an institution that is one of the oldest in Udupi. Situated right on the road leading to the Krishna 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.
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.