We’re staring at a stone plaque in Pulakeshinagar, which proclaims that the area we are in is actually Fraser Town. “It is often misspelled as Frazertown,” points out Mansoor Ali, architect and foodie, who is about to guide us down ‘Gourmet Boulevard’ as Mosque Road is sometimes called. We humans have many names for the things we love. For sure, this place could also be called Kebabtown, because the road that begins at this stone is lined with non-veg eateries.
Stuart Mitford Fraser, a prominent Indian Civil Service officer who tutored the Maharajah of Mysore, is the gentleman whose name graces the foundation stone which further indicates that Fraser Town was born in August 1910. It existed happily for about a hundred years under that name, until it recently turned into Pulakeshinagar — named after an ancient king.
We’re a handful of eager eaters who have joined the ‘Biryani Walk’ run by unhurried.in . The food and heritage walk encompasses upwards half-a-dozen restaurants (out of the 50 or so that line these streets), with an equal number of biryanis to sample, or over-indulge in, depending on one’s mentality. As I’m not really a gourmet, but rather a gourmand or a borderline glutton, I initially worry that this sounds too good to be true, but it turns out to be 100 per cent for real.
At the first restaurant, aptly named Heritage, there is tangible anticipation in the air as we wait for the rare kofta ki biryani — also known as purdah biryani due to the roti that is used to seal the degchi . Ali helps us pass the time by narrating the history of biryani as a Persian military dish. That it isn’t really native to South India is also reflected in the menu, which declares allegiance to Peshawari, Arabic and Awadhi cuisines. The biryani we taste comes almost straight out of Lucknavi Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s cookbook.
The basic crash course on biryani also enlightens us about the fact that no matter how many biryanis there may be — including southern varieties like Hyderabadi, Thalassery, Ambur and Chettinadu — they’re all essentially of two kinds: Layered, where cooked meat is mixed with the prepared rice, or the un-layered, where raw meat is boiled along with the rice, imparting meaty juices to it. Incidentally, the ubiquitous Andhra biryani, served on every street in Bengaluru, isn’t part of this connoisseur’s tour. “Too much spice,” dismisses Ali.
Around the corneron MM Road, at the stylish Sait, we sample a unique Gujarati Muslim cuisine. The delicate Kutchi Memon-style mutton dum biryani is made of impossibly long-grained rice. Incidentally, this particular restaurant was started just some months ago, but the Zackria family behind it are local legends — they were the first caterers in town, cooking good food since 1964, and this new venture is getting rave reviews from food critics.
Speaking of religious food experiences, Fraser Town is the place to be seen — I mean, eating — during the month of Ramzan, when all of Mosque Road turns into one big food court, with stalls selling goat brain puffs, skewered camel, grilled quail and the interestingly misspelled ‘wheel kebab’, which isn’t the result of some horrific traffic accident, but made of veal. Next door, at Chichaba’s Taj, run by descendants of Chichaba uncle, a spice merchant who started the original Taj (not the hotel chain or the mausoleum in Agra) in Shivajinagar in 1935, we get to try the ‘Bangalore biryani’, which is also known as Dakhni biryani , essentially a dum biryani with medium-grained zeera rice and fatty chunks of mutton.
Afterwards we head to the smart Alibaba, a Middle-Eastern eatery tucked away on the first floor of a building, where we encounter a rare Bhatkal-style preparation, shaiya biryani , made of, hold your breath, thin rice flour vermicelli (mixed with chicken), suggesting perhaps Mediterranean trading influences. Bhatkal in Karnataka is, after all, a coastal town, so connections with exotic cuisines are only to be expected.
By this time I loosen up my belt by an inch or five. I won’t go into all the other side items we eat — quail, for one, at Rahhams (‘the Authentic Taste of Bengaluru’), which is the oldest running restaurant in these parts.
The walk focuses on the slightly classier eateries, but equally enthusiastic crowds swarm around the humbler canteens. The menus are particularly partial to mutton and chicken kebabs, but brain or bheja fry appears on more than one. As does ‘horse meat’, points out one Australian woman on the tour; however, after some confused discussion it turns out she’s mistaken horse gram for equestrian fillet.
While strolling, Ali also tells stories of the older buildings. The last stop is the iconic Albert Bakery dating back to 1902 and one of the best-kept foodie secrets in town. Well, maybe not quite so secret considering it is crowded with people buying khoya naans and chicken samosas and mutton puffs.
Ah! It is great to be a tourist in one’s hometown sometimes. For travelling is not just about flying to Thailand, Switzerland or Goa. It can also be about venturing out in a local bus to a neighbourhood that you’re not so familiar with. Other similar walks led by Ali take visitors to the old Russell and Johnson Markets, both rich in food lore, and for the more vegetarian-minded there is the idli-dosa walk in the predominantly Brahmin neighbourhood of Malleshwaram.
(This new monthly column combines the two best things in life — food and travel)
Zac O’Yeahis a Bengaluru-based author, travel writer and literary critic