S.R. RAMAKRISHNA writes from Bangalore: Iyengar bakeries must be Karnataka’s culinary gift to the world.
The Iyengars of Tamil Nadu don’t run bakeries. The Iyengar bakeries in Madras—a friend tells me that city has at least two dozen—are called Bangalore Iyengar bakeries.
How this orthodox Tamil-speaking Brahmin sect got into the business of making English-style buns, puffs and biscuits is one the biggest puzzles of Karnataka’s cultural history. A couple of bakery owners tell me they don’t eat the cakes they make because they are vegetarian, and can’t have eggs.
Among the Iyengars, only the Vadagalai sect is associated with the bakery business. All bakery owners hail from Hassan district, which has also famously produced a prime minister in H.D. Deve Gowda.
The Tamil spoken by Hassan Iyengars is Kannada-flavoured, and sounds suspect to the ears of their clansmen in Tamil Nadu. But if you were to hold a baking and confectionery contest between the two, the Kannadiga Iyengars would win hands down.
Every corner in southern Bangalore has an Iyengar bakery, although some newer enterprises, like Butter Sponge, have dropped the caste prefix. Most have names like LJ (Lakshmi Janardhana) and SLV (Sri Laksmi Venkateshwara).
For working couples and their children, the Iyengar bakeries were a godsend. Then the darshinis happened, Malayali Muslim bakeries arrived with their egg puffs, pizza outlets mushroomed, and Bangalore became, in the language of the metro supplements, hip and happening.
The Iyengar bakeries haven’t really vanished, but their ’70s glory is gone.
Anil Kumble was reportedly fond of dil khush and dil pasand, two sweets that most bakeries added to their menu in the late 1970s, when he was a student of National High School in Basavangudi.
In an ad, the Test captain appears against a Mediterranean backdrop with a wine glass in his hand and some fancy dish on his plate. Mistaken branding! He would have been a more convincing brand ambassador for the Iyengar bakeries, with a veg puff and a glass of badam milk in his hand.
My bakery favourites are the special bread (called ‘special’ because it has sugar, as against ‘ordinary’ which is bland), the spicy khara bun, the unbearably sweet benne biscuit (butter cookie), and the sunflower yellow-coloured badam burfi (a VB Bakery speciality).
I also used to like the apple cake, which I now understand is made from breadcrumbs and the previous days leftovers.
Iyengar bakeries offer good variety, but each item is a carb feast. The icing on their cakes, for instance, is too sugary. Their syrupy flavours are particularly attractive to the taste buds of school and college students, but many graduate to grilled sandwiches and gobi manchurian, which the Iyengar bakeries don’t make.
The best time to eat bakery stuff is three in the afternoon, when the stuff comes hot out of the Iyengar ovens. The bakers would do most of their work manually till 15 years ago, but machines have taken over now even for simple chores like slicing the loaves.
Growing up on bakery stuff is probably a nutritional disaster.
I have frequented an Iyengar bakery since I was in school, giving them steady business for their breads, buns (sweet and stuffed) and what they call pups (puffs). The bakers, who won’t eat what they make, remain young and fit, but I’ve greyed!
(S.R. Ramakrishna is the editor of MiD Day, Bangalore, where an earlier version of this piece originally appeared)
Photograph: courtesy Vikram Chadaga
Cross-posted on kosambari