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The India Chronicles | Highway Eating - 1

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"How much longer?", I ask the driver.
"Just 15 more minutes, Maddum...few kilometres only", he says to my reflection in the rear view mirror.

We are cruising down State Highway 17, south-west of Bangalore towards Mysore and onwards to our lovely weekend holiday. An early morning start with no breakfast and a bumpy stop-and-go ride within city limits has introduced me to a new malaise, one that I've so far been unacquainted with - motion-induced nausea. And it's not nice. All I want to do is stop, and eat. The driver has lifted my spirits by telling me we'll soon be stopping at a "famous idlee place" - "Very nice idlees, Saar", he tells my better half. The thought is comforting and I cannot wait.

Almost every Indian highway between two cities has a "famous eatery" on it. The cuisine , ambience and service will depend on the region or state you're in, but if there's an excellent , sure-shot way to sample some of the best local cuisine in India, this is it. The towns and cities that these highways connect will of course have their own "famous eateries", but if you're on the road and on the move, this is your choice.

So on every road trip in the last few weeks and despite the return of the motion sickness on each of these trips, I urged the driver to bypass the famous coffee-shop chain outlets enroute and head to the "famous idli places" - after all, machine-made coffee and bland sandwiches have nothing on authentic south Indian filter coffee and idlis. And each time I was rewarded for my additional effort to keep the bile in (sorry for that imagery). It wasn't just the excellent food and coffee...

Highway Eating - 1

Highway Eating -1

Highway Eating - 1

... it was also the bustling busy men and women who served us, sometimes wearing uniforms that were an interesting mixture of the new and practical and the old and traditional.

Highway Eating - 1

Highway Eating - 1

Highway Eating - 1

... and the ambience, made special by its local flavour and quirkiness...

Highway Eating - 1

Highway Eating - 1

Highway Eating - 1

Highway Eating - 1

Highway Eating - 1

But then no India food guide could possibly miss the ubiquitous street vendor, and these highways are no exception.

Highway Eating - 1

Highway Eating - 1

Highway Eating - 1

Each stop a delight for the foodie, for the flâneur, for the photographer. I've been a flâneuse and photographer for years - and although I'm not a foodie, I think I could totally become one if I spent the rest of my life cruising down India's highways. I do not know about the rest of my life but I'm certainly hoping to make a few more road trips and a few more highway food stops here before I return to London. Motion sickness be damned.

12 comments so far:

Psychotropic said...

Idleeeeee!! Kaaaaaaaapppiiiii!!! Me want!!
New holiday package concept - the Indian Highway cuisine cruise - wouldn't that be an interesting vacation?
Imagine, you'd go thru idli joints down south, choriz pao and vindaloo in goa, vadapao joints in maharashtra and kali daal roti dhabas up north, momo's in the north east, and god knows what ever else all thru out! I think they do have a travel show based on the concept.

SloganMurugan said...

Aah Kamats!

In the last 2 years I have been to quite a few of them. This one in Ramanagaram, one south of Karwar near Ankola, Ooty Road (Mysore) and one just outside Nashik (the only one that served non veg food and liquor and local nashik wine).

Erinn said...

I'll have to keep these tips in mind when I travel there. ;-) What are the huge leaves that they wrap the food in? I'm going to have to go get some now, because your pictures make it look so good. The guys serving it? They don't look so friendly.

Paul Nixon said...

Indian food at its best. We've been to some great places on that highway - and also a couple of ropey ones. Good simple, tasty food.

Lunatic said...

Superb blog....excellent photographs in this post.

SD (Aspherical) said...

The man in the fourth shot down looks terribly serious! Nice candid.

jyothy karat said...

i like the kamat too!

sanely insane said...

Yes aren't these eateries fun (as long as one doesn't drink water :P ) hot piping tea / coffee(sometimes too sweet) with the local stuff to go with it, whether it be samosas /pakodas in north india or idlis down south

nice pics...they build the story very well :)

Flaneurbanite said...

Psychotropic: Great idea. Yes, they have a food travel show on NDTV Good Times running here...nice concept, funny presenters but the most godawful camera work. The camera person seems to have a serious case of the dizzies.

SloMo: I knew you'd recognise the place! I haven't managed to go to the other Kamats around here but I gathered the extent of their popularity just by the sheer number of people around at this place. Of course, the food is the main attraction for most. What charmed me additionally was the very local flavour of the place - the waiters' uniforms, the wall art, the thatched roof taken from local architectural influences...all in all, lovely!

Flaneurbanite said...

Erinn: The huge leaves are banana / plantain leaves. It's the traditional way to serve food in much of South India - an old precursor to crockery! It's also quite practical because the leaves keep the food fresh and hot, and also absorb excess grease and oil.
The servers were very rushed, poor guys. You need to see the sheer number of people waiting to be served, to believe it. We ourselves had to wait for about 20 minutes to get a table! But despite the crowds, these guys do a fantastically efficient job most of the time. I guess they don't have the time to smile. :)

Paul: Oh yes, Kamats is certainly one of the best ones around. There are a few average to bad ones as well - I mean, they have Cafe Coffee Day on the highway too. It can't get worse than that!

Flaneurbanite said...

Lunatic: Thank you so much! And thanks for visiting - do drop in again for more quirky stuff from around India and London (and hopefully other parts of the world too!).

SD (Aspherical): Oh yes, too busy and rushed to smile :) These guys cater to so many people at one go, I don't grudge them the lack of a pleasant countenance. I was just grateful for my plate of piping hot yummy food that arrived within 5 minutes of ordering.

Flaneurbanite said...

jyothy karat: Haha...everyone seems to like it!

sanely insane: Thanks for dropping by and for your kind words :) It's always a tricky tightrope enjoying food in India, isn't it? On one hand there is the prolific variety and on the other hand is the possibility of catching something! Especially if you don't have a India-hardened tummy :) But fun, and lots of it, nevertheless.

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