Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tiffins and more

Tiffins and more



Kavitha SrinivasaFirst Published : 28 Nov 2009 01:15:10 AM ISTLast Updated : 28 Nov 2009 08:19:00 AM IST
BANGALORE: MTR or Mavalli Tiffin Rooms is more than a city landmark. It’s the first port of call for lovers of vegetarian South Indian food.
What makes MTR click is its tendency to generously use ghee to make South Indian tiffin items like idli, vada and kara bhat.
So what was considered a nondescript staple dish was morphed into comfort food, with generous amounts of ghee and cashewnuts added in. As a result, MTR food has come to be known for its rich food, that even weight watchers find it hard to resist.
The place attracts all sorts of people, many of whom are second and third generation customers. “I have been coming here since 20 years and I meet my friends over a cup of filter coffee. It has become a habit,” said 52-year-old Premnath, a businessman.
MTR may not exactly fit into the yuppie image of a coffee joint, but the peppy frothy beverage is something to die for.
The ambience hasn’t changed since 1924, when it was started by two brothers, Yajnanarayana Maiya and Ganappayya Maiya who hail from Parampalli, near Udupi. Their recipes remain culinary treasures, while giving the foodie a sumptuous treat. Over the decades, it changed hands, but it remains a family run business, with a few cosmetic changes. For instance, the entrance was from the side — the restaurateurs wanted their patrons to pass through the kitchen. While they still score on the cleanliness count, the entrance has shifted. Nevertheless, one can still get glimpses of Brahmin cooks cooking furiously in cauldrons.
MTR lives in its own time warp with its laminated tabletops and large whirring fans and a somewhat weathered look. Yet its charm lies in the people who run it. P Janardhan Maiya has been its manager for over 40 years and he connects with diners.
The senior citizen has served past and present political leaders. Strangely, they take it sportingly when they are spotted at the eatery.
Over time, MTR has grown into a sort of place where fluffy idlis and filter coffee are flavoured with nostalgia. Customers still get a glimpse of the kitchen. The place is noisy, waiters carry trays of goodies and jostle for space. After a morning walk at Lalbagh, people drop by and succumb to the temptations of a crisp, golden brown dosa laden with ghee at MTR. Families come for leisurely luncheons, which began around ten years ago. With a rotating menu, there’s an elaborate sit down meal, with cooked rice items, sweets and ice cream, washed down with beeda. “Though we pioneered the rava idli, masala dosas and chandrahara, sweet dishes have been our winning formula,” said Hemamalini Maiya, its managing partner and third generation descendent. She runs the place with her siblings Vikram and Arvind.
Ever since she took over the reins in October 1999, she expanded the bakery, besides setting up a sandwich bakery. Today, its multiple counters have monumental displays of food. The bakery measures up to the modern image of a confectionery, with its eggless brownies and cakes, along with Indian mithais.
The bakery continues to evolve, and innovations have helped the place grow. During World War II, due to rice shortage, it was difficult to make idlis. The restaurant experimented with semolina instead of rice and that led to rava idli. All this and more attracts celebrities, film stars and food lovers. Don’t be surprised if you find film-maker Yash Chopra or political bigwig Farooq Abdullah or the late Dr Rajkumar’s family enjoying a meal at the place.
Guess there’s a need for some things to stay timeless and MTR is no exception.
The restaurant however has a presence in other parts of the city, in the form of small food outlets.

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