As someone who has visited Bangalore only once before, MTR brings to my mind the packaged dosa mixes that seem to have a lot of promise, but never actually turn out to be a dosa as we know it. In Bangalore, after an overnight journey from Goa, my muscles still aching after trying to sleep in those push-back seats, my friend took me on a bike ride across the city to one of the 9 MTR outlets in Bangalore at Indiranagar. At that point, I did not know what the big fuss about this place was all about and as I sat hunched at the back with my rucksack, I told myself that it better be good. We reached the outlet and it was kind of love at first sight. I will tell you why.
- The ambience: The sign board of the restaurant was simple in black and red and read MTR 1924. Immediately, I knew that I was dealing with serious history, a brand people have loved for so many years, has to be something special. There was a fair crowd waiting outside, people of all ages- young couples, babies, kids, old people with walking sticks and also foreign nationals. The atmosphere in the waiting area outside was jovial; people were talking to each other in their Sunday cheerfulness and waiting for their turn to go inside. There is nothing like food to bring people together and here was a place that was doing it across all its outlets in Bangalore and even abroad.
- The history: In 1920, three brothers, Parameshwara, Ganappayya and Yagnanarayana Maiya, left a small sleepy hamlet near Udipi in South Kanara and found their way to Bangalore where they took up employment as cooks in the houses of prominent people of those times. In 1924 Parameshwara and Ganappayya , with the assistance from their employers opened a small restaurant in Lalbah Fort Road in Bangalore called the Brahmin Coffee Club and served Coffee and Idlis. After 5 years Parameshwara died and Yagnanarayana joined his brother in running the restaurant. For the next three decades, Yagnanarayana, affectionately known as Yagnappa managed the restaurant in his enterprising ways and brought it accolades and fame. In 1951 Yagnanarayana went on a tour of Europe to find out how restaurants functioned there. He came back an enlightened man, impressed with the standards of cleanliness, hygiene, discipline and practices followed by those restaurants. On coming back, he implemented a lot of it at his restaurant and some of it involved sterilising cutlery and utensils and also strict measures to control the quality of ingredients used in the food. When the restaurant moved to its new location, just a few minutes from the Brahmin Coffee Club, in 1960, its name changed to “Mavalli Tiffin Rooms” ( MTR).
- The food: Coming to the food, let me admit that we tasted only a few dishes, but that was all I needed to be won over. We had the kharabhath( semolina upma), wheat dosa, vada and masala dosa. The pongal and vada were tasty, but what sealed the deal for me was the wheat dosa, a healthier variant of the South Indian dosa served with coconut chutney and ginger chutney . The dosas were light golden brown in colour, crispy and of a slightly different texture, and were filled with a layer of green chutney which gave it an unique taste. The masala dosa, unlike the ones I have had elsewhere, was darker brown in colour, crispy on the outside, folded into a triangle, the masala inside was tasty and spongy, but what I liked was that it came with a tiny bowl of ghee on top, which when poured over the dosa made it taste even better. The chutneys and the sambhar were awesome too and I for one who is not a big fan of sambhar finished my bowl and asked for another one! Yagnanarayana was so radical in his thinking that once back from Europe, he designed his restaurant with the concept of walk-through kitchens where the customers could walk through the kitchens to reach the dining area which meant that even before the customer reached the table his sense were sufficiently intrigued by the aroma of the freshly ground coffee and pure ghee. Take that for an experience!
- The dessert: The restaurant has put up boards that chronicle some of its interesting history and I as I ate, I read them as a curious first timer. On his visit to Europe, Yagnanarayana was fascinated by the French cuisine and he invented a sweet that resembled the layered French pastry and initially called it the ‘French Sweet’. But it did not take off. Then an idea struck him and he changed the name of ‘Chandrahara’ after a movie by the same name running at that time in a theatre nearby and it was an instant hit with patrons. Till today it remains a trademark MTR dessert served only on Sundays and it was obviously something I wanted to finish my meal with. And there it was – the pastry made with maida flour and deep fried to perfection and topped with sweet khoa. A bite into it and the very sweet and crispy pastry mellowed by the less sweeter and creamy khoa was a combination that was just wow!
- The Coffee: I am avid coffee drinker and you would usually find me at a cafe with a cup of espresso or cappuccino and a book, but I am a fan of filter coffee too and I wanted to end my meal with a cuppa. The coffee here was however not served in glass tumblers but in a porcelain cup and boy, it had everything going for it. I want to immerse myself in my coffee and as closed my eyes, took a whiff of the rich aromatic flavour and had a sip, I realised what the fuss for South Indian filter coffee was all about. It takes the right coffee powder, rightly roasted, the right amount of hot water to make the decoction and then the right amount of freshly boiled milk to make the steaming cup of coffee. The perfect coffee was however, not brewed in a day. Yagnanarayana went out of the way to ensure that what he served his customers was the best, he meticulously chose the beans, roasting and grinding them daily, so there was no loss of flavour, used buffalo milk to enhance the flavour of the decoction, and silver cups were used to serve the coffee which was topped with exactly 1/4th inch of froth. Even now, before serving, the coffee is mixed by pouring it four times from one cup to another at the distance of one yard, which is why it is called four yards of coffee, the beans are ground every day and no chicory is added.
To sum up, this is one breakfast I will remember for long time to come. And the lesson learnt is simple- stick to your passion and try to make things better and people will remember you for all the right reasons.