When lunches become gourmet

Kalyan Karmakar

Military hotels are an urban legend among Bangalore food lovers. They are described as Spartan, functional and excellent places to eat non-vegetarian food; lamb in particular. The most famous is the Shivaji Military Hotel. The most famous dish is donne biryani, named for the areca nut palm leaf in which it is served. This is similar to Dindigul biryani from Tamil Nadu , and is made with the same seeraga samba rice with short grain.

The reason I call it an urban legend is that it is not easy for an itinerant traveler to reach. Most are in places like Jayanagar, Malleswaram and Cottonpet, the most traditional areas of the city that are not so bustling today, especially with the city expanding its borders. I intended to try one for a while, but the logistics never worked. They were too far away or closed by the end of work.

Some open in the morning and people queue until 8 in the morning to be satisfied with biryani and other fleshy delights! These are places of Hindu management and, therefore, the lamb is the meat of choice. Beef and pork are not served. Seafood has made its presence felt and also chicken; It's not that the owners are too happy with the latter. I finally arrived at a military hotel when I recently went to the Ranganna military hotel, which was established in 1964. The owner is a gentleman named Ranganna, and still oversees the grinding of spice mixtures. everyday. His wife supervises the kitchen. Ranganna's son, Sunil, helps run the business.

I must say that the experience in Ranganna did not turn out to be what I hoped would have been my first military visit to the hotel. Ranganna is big, neat and clean. Nothing like the grimy environment I had prepared for. Nor was the male clientele dominated. I had read that initially military hotels emerged to feed the men inside Karnataka, who had come to work in the city. Other theories say they were established to feed the Maratha soldiers, or those of the British colonial army. Hence the military name. The crowd in Ranganna on a Sunday night (when traffic was lower) consisted of both genders, divided into age groups and social classes. The local Bangalore, Somanna Muthanna, of the Company of Souls, recommended Ranganna, saying it is more welcoming to strangers, apart from the fact that locals swear by their food. A sentiment echoed by Divya Prabhakar, who runs the Bengaluru Oota Company along with Vishal Shetty. Divya belongs to the local Gowda community as do the owners of Ranganna. During a delicious meal with Gowda and Mangalorean dishes that I had in his restaurant the next day, Divya said that he will often eat at Ranganna.

I went to Ranganna with two Bengali companions, Diganta Chakraborty and Arghya Sanyal, and we were captivated by the excellent quality of the lamb served and the sense of home cooking that the food had. Our order that night was a matter of nose-to-tail lamb that included tender lamb chops, fried liver and brain, chopped lamb gojju (a thick curry), lamb biryani (no donne leaves here) and an egg curry from the side of the poultry. Despite being a place without frills, the subtlety in the seasoning of each and the different flavors they offered explained why this 56-year-old restaurant is still so popular. It reminded me of places like the Swadhin Bharat Hotel and the Kolkata hotels and Kshirsagar, Hotel Sindhudurg, Chaitanya and the many Malvani restaurants in Mumbai. These restaurants had also originally emerged to feed their home kitchens to migrant workers in these cities. Are there more examples of this type in all of India? Please write on www.timeskitchentales and tell us about them.

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