Meat in the flesh

Zac O?Yeah | Updated on January 11, 2018
Love me tender: Seekh kebabs at one of the pushcarts in Shivajinagar. Photo: Zac O’Yeah

Love me tender: Seekh kebabs at one of the pushcarts in Shivajinagar. Photo: Zac O’Yeah

Brain on a plate: A bheja (brain) preparation at New Hilal Non-Veg. Photo: Zac O’Yeah

Brain on a plate: A bheja (brain) preparation at New Hilal Non-Veg. Photo: Zac O’Yeah

Zac O’Yeah

Zac O’Yeah   -  BusinessLine

Combine affordable eats and a smorgasbord of non-veg delicacies, and you have described Shivajinagar in Bengaluru

Many places are defined by their food — and the opportunity for epicurean bliss — which makes them attractive destinations for travellers and foodies alike. In south India one such locality is Shivajinagar, Bengaluru’s old cantonment market built in the 1870s; especially Broadway Road, which starts right opposite the slaughterhouses and where almost every second doorway has a smoking grill in front of it. Much before colonial times, Shivajinagar is believed to have been a village settled by Tamilian rice farmers, but these days it has become a carnivore’s Mecca thanks to its culinarily adept Muslim population.

The combination of innumerable shops for fresh produce — such as Russell Market (built in 1927) with its rows of vendors for fruits, vegetables, meat and fish — and many options for affordable eating, is what makes Shivajinagar one of the largest smorgasbords of non-veg delicacies in India, exuding as it does the peculiarly evocative aroma that is an amalgamation of animals living, dead and cooked.

The obvious appetiser is best had at one of the pushcarts: a leaf plate of juicy kebabs. My favourite vendor Shabeer Ahmed has been roasting kebabs for almost 30 years. He parks his pushcart at the corner in front of Iqbal’s Dressed Chicken (7-8 Broadway Road Cross) and is open for business after 4pm, continuing until stocks last. Ahmed’s is merely one of about half-a-dozen pushcarts here with a wide selection of chaap (meat chops), phaal (meat cuts in spicy semi-gravy) and seekh (elongated meatballs), but I keep returning to Ahmed for his ₹40 kalmi kebab, which consists of nicely marinated meaty chunks alternated with melt-in-mouth fattier nuggets on skewers, roasted over hot embers.

Kebab, incidentally, counts as one of West Asia’s greatest contributions to world cuisine. Apparently the name originates from Turkish kebap, which may have the Arabic root ‘kab’ that means ‘rotate’ or ‘turn over’, or it might mean ‘roast’ or ‘char’ in some other West Asian tongue. Nobody quite knows. Kalmi is even more puzzling — on the internet I found spurious definitions from ‘frying’ to how the skewered kebabs resemble pencils, ‘ kalam’. But whatever the case, Ahmed’s kalmi kebabs compare favourably with the most sublime kebaps I’ve tasted in Turkey itself.

Between courses, Shivajinagar offers great shopping, whether it be the latest burkas or Urdu pulp fiction. Pick up some handmade leather shoes, sniff around the Sweaty Lingerie shop, or upgrade your kitchenware cheaply at Adams & Co. Food stores have imported Japanese wasabi, European canned artichoke hearts and fancy dates from Arabia (at ₹2,400 a kg). One could even buy a fully or partially stolen car in the ‘thieves’ market’ of Stephen’s Square, which actually is a legitimate vast car scrapyard with an undeservedly bad reputation. (Though you may still like to travel by bus to Shivajinagar, because it is tricky to find a parking spot.)

There’s also a Jeweller’s Street, wholesale antiques in the alleys around Kamaraj Road, and of course the legendary Commercial Street, where trendy city-dwellers used to go before the advent of the shopping mall. Even today, girls flock there for the bargain knock-offs and cheaper unbranded goods at shops such as Bollywood Bags, but one also finds genuine Nike and Levi’s.

What did I buy this time? A sturdy ₹100 lathi to have as a walking stick from one of the area’s many security uniform shops. However, since I’m here to fill my protein quota for the month, I move on to sample the unusual offal offerings. At the New Hilal Non-Veg (10 Broadway Road) a plate of sira dry, a generous helping of pulpy goat’s eyes and chewy tongues that have a spongy shiitake mushroom-like texture, costs ₹170. The rich ‘head curry’ is another satisfying main course when served with Kerala parottas. If that sounds too ‘non-veg’ for you, ask around for kidneys ( gurda), liver ( kaleji), brain ( bheja) or soupy marrow ( nalli) — pretty much every imaginable and unimaginable part of the animal finds its way onto your plate hereabouts.

For a more normal meal, say, butter chicken (₹140) with Ceylon parathas or a full tandoori chicken for ₹250 only, the classic destination is the sprawling Taj Hotel (no rooms) on the corner of Jumma Masjid Road and Dharmaraja Koil Street. Their morning-only leg soup ( paya curry) counts as the no. 1 breakfast in these parts. For dessert, however, it is best to head to the iconic Luna Sweets (2 Broadway Road) or hit any one of the countless chai stalls for the milkless Suleimani.

If one takes too much non-veg and worries that one’s karma has turned negative, the area has an unusually secular proliferation of religious institutions, including any number of mosques and temples, but also a Zoroastrian sanctuary and the St Mary’s Basilica (though the present building, with its 160-ft steeple, is only 135 years old, St Mary’s is the city’s first church and also where Jean Dubois, author of one of the first proper European studies on India, Description of the Character, Manners and Customs of the People of India, preached in 1799 shortly after the Battle of Srirangapatnam).

Plenty of venues in which to seek spiritual succour if one cannot solve post-prandial problems with antacids!

Zac O’Yeah is a part-time travel writer and part-time detective novelist; zacnet@email.com

Published on May 19, 2017

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