Saturday, April 22, 2006

Getting better with age

Getting better with age

Raghavendra Prasanna marches on with the spirit in which it started off, making its trademark idlis and fabulous chutney

Raghavendra Prasanna was started in a place which was rented for Rs 16 a month with an advance of Rs. 39

The Hindu

SOFT 'N' FLUFFY Nobody can make idlis like they do here

Bangalore is truly a foodie's delight. Almost every road seems to have a restaurant that beckons its customers with its signature dishes. Raghavendra Prasanna Coffee Club, started in 1939, is one such joint. Started by P. Nagappiah from Udupi Pandeshwar, Raghavendra Prasanna is synonymous for its fabulous idli and chutney.

Nagappiah initially worked for a hotel called Sharada Villas in Bangalore. As there were very few hotels in the city in the 1930s he decided to start his own eatery. At first it was a one-man show where he had to do everything — right from shopping to cooking to serving.

"My father was well versed with cooking. In fact, he learnt the art of cooking from his grandfather, who cooked for marriages back in the village," reminisces B. N. Sripathy Rao, Nagappiah's son, who runs the place now.

Humble start

It's also interesting to learn that Raghavendra Prasanna was started in a place which was rented for Rs. 16 a month with an advance of Rs. 39. "He then bought a few vessels and started off by selling idlis and rice bath," recalls Sripathy about the humble beginnings. The customers who flocked this tiny joint those days were shopkeepers and vegetable traders who had to come to the market in the early hours of every morning.

As the hotel's popularity grew so did its menu. By 1945 this little hotel started serving poori, shavige bath and khara bath too, along with the idlis and rice bath.

What is there to rave about the humble idli? you might wonder. But believe me, not everyone can work up enough magic to make such ultra soft melt-in-the-mouth idlis. In fact, this hotel is also famous as the "Idli Hotel". Its idli is spiked with ginger, which gives it a subtle flavour. These idlis are served with the hotel's signature chutney, ground with the right ingredients and seasoned with mustard, channa dhal, and curry leaves.

The chutney is a bit watery, that's the way the clientele like it, and most of them even ask for extra chutney and drink it up. Sambar is available but the regulars prefer the unlimited chutney.

"We sell about 1,000 idlis a day," beams Sripathy. The hotel can seat 60 people and it's packed all the time. In fact, you can find people squatting on the floor near the storeroom or standing in corners holding their plates. There are some loyal customers who also patiently wait for their turn for a seat.

The interiors are simple with Cudappah stones forming the table, while old foldable chairs make a comfortable, no-nonsense seat.

Another first to the hotel's credit is the idli-making machine, which was designed by Nagappiah. And 45 years back, the hotel, under the leadership of Nagappiah also designed a generator that could supply 3.5 kw of power, solely used for the idli-making machine. The idli machine, with four compartments, can make about 240 idlis at a time.

Sripathy's passion was so keen on pursuing his father's business that he gave up studying medicine. He has in fact, learnt all the technicalities from his father.

It's not just about customers, but also about employees who form a strong bond with the management. A cashier quit working for Raghavendra Prasanna to start his own restaurant but was soon back at his old counter.

So, those of you who don't mind eating a plate of idli and mouth-watering chutney with a dash of history, Raghavendra Prasanna should be your destination. It is located on Gundopanth Street, Avenue Road near old City Market. Phone: 22875678.

Ambience: Old-world charm
Service: Warm and cordial
Wallet factor: A steal by any standards of today


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