An Ode to the Humble Udupi cafe

Udupi standing restaurant
A typical ‘Sagar’ restaurant

Though Bangalore is where I have spent the most of my adult life (across two stints), I have made no secret of the fact that I am yet to warm to the city in the same way as my home city of Mumbai. And one of the key factors in that is food.

I do not think anyone will argue that, between Bangalore and Mumbai, when it comes to food, Mumbai is streets ahead. And when it comes to street food, it is almost unfair to make any comparison – Mumbai’s exceptional street food at very reasonable prices is one of the best in the world, in my humble opinion. As one travel guide put it, Mumbai’s street food culture is more varied than many entire European / Western cuisines!

However, if there is one area where Bangalore manages to beat Mumbai, it’s to do with South Indian snacks. And specifically, the culture of ‘standing joints‘ which go by the generic names of ‘Darshinis’ or ‘Sagars’. Also called ‘Udupi‘ cafes, these typically serve hot  vegetarian South Indian snacks usually cooked in full view of the customer and served with a range of delicious chutneys and sambar at pocket friendly rates – it is the closest that Bangalore gets to Mumbai street food. Add on the exceptional South Indian filter coffee which typically costs only Rs. 10, and you have a clear winner!

South Indian filter coffee
South Indian filter coffee

And like Mumbai street food, everyone, rich or poor, businessman or working class, can be seen standing and eating next to each other. The open nature of these cafe / restaurants with no glass frontage or door also makes for a very welcoming and comfortable space for segments of people who might otherwise think twice of eating out alone.

Almost every locality in Bangalore will have one of these. For a long time, it felt like the only exception was the area where I live. We had all the varied shops and restaurants you would expect in a typical middle / upper-middle income locality, except for one major gap – an Udupi restaurant. Thankfully, the gap was filled a few months. Maybe catering to the locality, this specific outlet does not have any ‘standing only’ tables. But in almost all other aspects, it sticks to the standard template. And, as was to be expected, the place has been buzzing almost from the first day.

 

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