Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A (Mostly) Vegetarian Excursion to Mysore 01: Maddur Tiffanyss 1

Friends and FoodScapes readers regularly complain about the dearth of posts on vegetarian food.[1][2][3][4] In private conversation some have even ventured to ask if I eat veggie food at all, ever, going by the contempt I show for it on the blog. To which my response runs something like this: Of course I eat veggie food, thrive on it in fact. My mother-in-law's veg cooking, for example, has to be tasted to be believed. But the blog's not exactly about food per se; it's about foodie adventures. And that's where the point lies.

This raises the question, what do I mean by adventure? For sure it's not about locations. I've had the most satisfying adventures in Delhi's Lal Kuan, Bangalore's Langford Road, and Singapore's Lucky Plaza, notable for ironmongeries, colleges, and touristy kitsch respectively but otherwise unremarkable all three of them. The adventures were about what I encountered there, very unexpected stuff mostly.

So is it the element of surprise that makes for adventure? I'd say sure, in most cases, but not necessarily so. Some times it is the sheer satisfaction one gets which transmutes the experience into an adventure. Our recent trip to Mysore falls into this category. Much of what we ate was conventional, and vegetarian, and also so delightful that it would be a shame not to write about the experience. There was some iffy stuff too, ditto surprises. Even some carnivore interludes, but for this once at least I won't talk about them much.

Writing the post represents a challenge of another kind. Let me be honest about it, it 's a challenge I've always tried to weasel out of, mainly because I'm still not sure how to tackle it. The remit of this blog extends to both food and travel writing. Though the respective subjects often often coincide (such as when one encounters interesting food joints in the course of travel), they entail qualitatively different experiences.

Foodie experiences have a certain discreteness about them: you discover a new eatery, you go there, eat, enjoy the food (or not), come away, write about what you experienced, and that's it. Travel, on the other hand, implies a certain fluidity. While travelling one engages in several different activities, encounters different experiences, some commonplace, others not. And yet because these diversities emanate in the course of a single journey, they demand to be written about together as a whole. Tihis is what imparts fluidity to travel writing.

The question is, how do I write about foodie binges experienced while travelling? As separate posts, or as part of longer writings about the trip as a whole? If the first, then where do I write about non-food experiences? And if the second, won't the foodie bits lose their individual significance and get submerged within the larger narrative? My first visit to Malaysia yielded posts only on quail eggs and Kari Raisu. True, in the latter I did recount my non-foodie adventures (or to be accurate, my misadventures in trying to get something to eat), but even that one was without doubt a foodie post in character. I have so far not written about my subsequent trips to Malaysia and elsewhere (including an epic Istanbul sojourn) precisely because of this problem with balancing foodie bits with the general demands of continuity. This time around, I'm trying out a new approach: several posts of varying length within a longer series. This way I get to showcase foodie encounters in individual posts, while maintaining through the series the context in which they and other experiences arose. If necessary I could even dedicate some posts to non-foodie experiences, though I haven't done that here. Let's see if this approach works.

Back to the Mysore trip, now. It happened when my mother paid us a long visit after the birth of our daughter. My father-in-law then got this fantastic idea of a trip to Mysore during the Navaratri festival, traditionally celebrated there with much pomp, circumstance and gusto. And oh yes, that's one more reason for the heavily vegetarian character of this post. Believers customarily eschew non-vegetarian food during the festivities and, at least initially, both father-in-law and sister-in-law Adithi observed this practice. The rest of us also happily fell in line with the sentiment, which is why we tended to gravitate towards veggie joints more often than not. Anyway, my father-in-law then sounded out his close friend and former colleague Mr Winston David. (As per prevalent Indian convention I address him as Uncle, but doing it on the blog does seem strange. So in this post I'll refer to him as Mr David.) He was equally enthused about the idea, and volunteered to get his car along. A spacious, comfortable car it is, the Hyundai i20, accommodated the six of us in reasonable comfort. Six as in self, mother, father-in-law, Adithi, Mr David and his daughter Amita, a very sweet young girl still in high school. In short, terrific company all round, and the great diversity in our ages and backgrounds only made things the more interesting. Unfortunately, the wife had to stay behind; our daughter was then just a few months old. I'm waiting for the little one to grow up a little, so's she, her mother and her father can travel lots together.

The drive out was pleasant and largely uneventful. It featured only one foodie experience. But it was a zinger! At about four in the afternoon we stopped for a breather at Maddur, a small town famed for the eponymous vada it is associated with. The conventional vada is about the size and shape of a doughnut, and soft and spongy beneath a thin crisp outer coating. The Maddur variant is flatter, bereft of a hole in the middle, flecked with fried onions, and crunchier. I'm quite fond of Maddur Vada, generally prefer it to the usual type. But this was an altogether different experience, tasting it at source as it were. Mr David suggested a shop called Tiffany's. Or should that be one of the shops called Tiffany's? There were at least four with near-identical names and logos, and a few more with strongly derivative signboards. The one Mr David ended up taking us to, and which he said was the original, bore the name "Maddur Tiffanyss [sic] 1". At least that was what the signboard said, I'm not sure what if anything the "1" denoted.

Original or not, the choice was certainly inspired. A clean, simple place it was, running to granite-topped tables and rather uncomfortable chromium-plated chairs. But the food more than made up for it. The vadas here were larger than those I've eaten elsewhere. It was also less oily, and exuded that flavour you get only when the freshest ingredients are used. Along with the vadas we also ordered Benne (butter) Dosas, generally associated with the town of Davangere up north, and so presumably not quite as indigenous to Maddur as the vada is. Nevertheless, once again the choice turned out a winner all through - light, crisp, made with fresh batter, and smeared on the inside with this lovely red chutney. All in all, a very enjoyable experience.

Our next stop was a brief one at Tipu Sultan's tomb in Srirangapatna. He and his father Hyder Ali have been elevated to the status of Sufi saints (the other day in Bangalore I saw a poster proclaiming something about "Hazarth Tipu Sultan Shaheed R.A."). Nobody objected to me taking my camera inside, but when I started taking pictures someone told me, very politely, that photography inside was not permitted. Then someone else said, 'Go ahead, but be quick about it.' And that's how I secured these photos of the splendid interior, and the smoky, incense-laden, emotionally-charged and slightly spooky atmosphere it shares with most Sufi shrines.

[Continued in Part II


At the Shed of Trishna's Corner- Trishna's Shades said...

Thanks Abhik...a post after a long time...n surely takes us through the mysore sojourn, tiffiny n its clones and your family.
In the para on David uncle, was amused to read that line...his daughter, still high schooling :-)
..and on the Tiffiny and almost Tiffiny ..felt as if it was a multiple choice question, with just a single chance to answer...and all the choices confusingly similar...overall fun read

Abhik Majumdar said...

Thanks for the comment, Trishna's Shed!

Tiffanyss was a pretty neat experience, so many of them, and with almost identical signboards! We dropped in there on our way back too; you'll get to read about it in Part IV.

ys said...

My comments so far - had to look up the word remit and then assume that it is used in the sense of 'relaxing' the limit here :P. 'brand new daughter' LOL! oketinit is a nice word to prove i am not a robot :D

ys said...

Was about to abandon your debate over foodie vs. travel posts, when it came to a meaningful end. Tiffany's ONE may be coz it is the original ONE! The Maddur vada paragraph ends with a half sentence...

Abhik Majumdar said...

> Was about to abandon your debate over foodie vs. travel posts, when it came to a meaningful end.

Too long, you think? I was trying to experiment with a writing style I don't usually follow.

> Tiffany's ONE may be coz it is the original ONE!

Hmm. Could be, though perhaps not very likely.

> The Maddur vada paragraph ends with a half sentence...

Whoops! Thanks for pointing this out. It's been corrected.

Wings of Harmony said...

Benne Dosas are one of the yummiest dosas I had, while in Bangalore. The photographs of Srirangapatna are surreal. Lovely Post! Will come back for more! :D


Abhik Majumdar said...

Thanks for the comment, Pradeeta! I like Benne Dose myself, but check Part III in this series. The dose I talk about there are the best I've ever, ever had, bar none.

And glad you liked the pictures. Photography's been an interest of mine for a long time.