Takeaway

Sandwiched in Bengaluru

Zac o?Yeah | Updated on January 20, 2018

For the perfect sliver of ham, there's The Bangalore Ham Shop   -  Zac O'Yeah

Country mustard from Lusitania Cold Storage   -  Zac O'Yeah

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Find the ingredients for the finest sandwich in all of Asia

Being a Swede in Bengaluru, one single culinary concern overshadows all others: How to get the just right sandwich? In my native Sweden I grew up on ‘ost och skinkmacka’ — a cheese-and-ham sandwich that is something of our national dish.

There are plenty of sandwich joints in Bengaluru, including some global brands. There are also interesting Indian fusion sandwiches. At a trendy café I often pass by, a top draw is the chilli macaroni sandwich. But I’m somewhat conservative in my sandwich tastes.

Located in St Mark’s Road, the venerable Koshy’s Parade Café has been the city’s favourite hangout since the 1950s and it is the club sandwich there, I have discovered, that is a perfected version of an ‘ost och skinkmacka’. As a test, I bring friends along — who are neither fans of Koshy’s nor club sandwiches — and each time reactions range from “sooper” to “orgasmic”. But you have got to ask for the mustard and only if you do it nicely will the waiter bring a bowl of it.

However, I want to be able to make a good sandwich at home, and so I set about doing extensive research to identify classic and preferably non-imported ingredients for my personal ‘sandwich project’.

Interestingly, the search led me to some of the oldest and most trusted food shops of Bengaluru, where quality has been assured for generations, and each of which was able to provide one key component.

To begin with, good bread is a must. Long ago, or so I hear, bakeries around Johnson Market sold bread with a thick crust, in the days when plenty of Anglo-Indian families still lived in that area. The thicker crust was needed to mop up the stew from the plate with. Nowadays, people don’t eat stew with bread, so bakeries like Fatima’s (started in 1957) tend to produce soft-crust loaves, which aren’t nearly chewy enough.

To add to my woes, I had already bought a state-of-the-art professional bread saw (a special serrated knife for carving bread) from Adams & Company, the 104-year-old kitchenware shop located in Richards Square, adjacent to Russel Market, where you get anything from pasta machines to pastry tongs. I was naturally desperate to find the bread that suited my saw.

Then one day I was told about the most ancient bread shop in town, the 100-year-old Albert Bakery on Mosque Road. The rustic bakery is only open in the evenings but sells the most amazing pao buns which matched my bread saw. The crust is thick, the chewy texture perfect. A bag of eight substantial pieces is ₹60 and enough for one week’s worth of sandwiches.

From Mosque Road it is a short rickshaw ride to 106 MG Road and the Bangalore Ham Shop, which has been in business since forever, but Indian-owned since 1936. Products in the clean but tiny outlet (barely a 100 sq ft) come from their own manufacturing unit on the outskirts of town, such as the green masala sausages (foodies rave about these). A 200 gm pack of ready-to-eat smoked ham slices costs ₹150 and is sufficient for about five to six sandwiches. It is their ham, I’m told, that is used in the club sandwiches at Koshy’s.

Next, one needs cheese and that is luckily available around the corner. The ideal choice is the time-tested Nilgiri’s cheddar. For some reason the half-kilogram slabs sold at an affordable ₹270 at the original Nilgiri’s Supermarket in 171 Brigade Road (founded in 1905) taste better than those 200 gm packs available in shops around town. I’m not sure why, but the bigger piece of cheese seems to develop a finer consistency and a mellow tanginess that works on the palate especially well when combined with the above-mentioned ham. Incidentally, Nilgiri’s also bakes wholewheat crackers to go with your cheese tray.

Finally, the seasoning must be nothing but mustard. This remained a problem for the longest time because many factory-produced Indian mustards tend to taste more of vinegar. After trying every available brand, I discovered a local world-class mustard which, as it happens, is unbranded. It can be bought at the Lusitania Cold Storage (a short walk from Nilgiri’s). Lusitania is the youngest establishment on my tour — it has only been around since 1972. They specialise in Goan sausages and other ready-to-cook meats, but there’s also a shelf with interesting pickles and condiments such as prawn balchao. And on a good day they will have just received a batch of fresh ‘country mustard’.

Made in limited editions, the label is sometimes printed, sometimes handwritten, and sold for ₹80 per jar. It packs in a decent punch which, if you’re unprepared, might make the hair stand on your head even if you’re bald. Where it comes from is a mystery. The taciturn staff says: “Made by a lady.”

Where?

‘In town.’

If you need more ingredients, then around the corner is Bamburies in Richmond Road, which sells the finest cold cuts of various kinds. Now, having done the shopping, it is time to go home. Once there, simply combine the ingredients in a logical manner — perhaps adding a slice of onion, tomato or pickled gherkin for extra juiciness — and there you go: bite into the perhaps tastiest sandwich in all of Asia.

Zac o’Yeah is a part-time travel writer and part-time detective novelist based in Bengaluru. His latest novel is Haria Hero for Hire

Published on April 22, 2016

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