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.

Woodlands hotel

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.

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
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.

Mitra Samaj

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.

Mangalore buns iwith fresh coconut chutney.
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 bajje in Mitra Samaj
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
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 icecream at Diana's, 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

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2 thoughts on “The taste of Udupi

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