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The Leaving Journal

Bangalore: Vidyarthi Bhavan

INDIA | Tuesday, 12 January 2016 | Views [467]

 The clock struck 2:25 and the crowd swelled behind us, fifteen more people pouring into the waiting area from the sidewalk and joining our relaxed group of twenty. They brought an energy with them, an urgency, and many of the previously calm families stood up and began vying for a spot at the front. I felt a child pressed against my leg and an old woman’s wiry hair tickling my upper arm. The man directly behind me was so close he could have rested his chin on my shoulder. Looking through the metal grate of the door, I saw waiters buzzing around in the dim restaurant, filling metal pitchers with water and placing one at each booth. At 2:30, a hunched, white-haired, Indian man opened the grated door and shooed the front runners (myself included) away, creating a pocket of space for him to turn the “Closed” sign around to say “Open.” He then stood to the side and allowed the stream of people to push through the small opening into the tiny, low-lit space.

Within less than a minute, each table was filled, every seat utilized efficiently. For several minutes, a mass of people stood in the center of the restaurant, hoping to squeeze in somewhere, before retreating outside and putting their name on the wait list. We were sitting across from a local couple in a basic, plastic booth. Rickety ceiling fans spun slowly, barely moving the air. Sizzling and popping rang out from a dark kitchen in the corner. The menu was a board on the wall with a handful of options listed in English and Hindi. It was an irrelevant posting because people only came to Vidyarthi Bhavan for one thing, the same thing they'd been serving there since 1943: masala dosa.

The waiters, in blue colored shirts and white, skirt-like wraps, walked around barefoot at a leisurely pace, almost sauntering. They delivered the dishes with grim purpose, sometimes piling twenty or thirty plates on top of each other. The first round was a mash of rice and potatoes with vegetables and spices served with a creamy chutney, followed by a savory fried donut in a red broth and then, finally, the legendary dosa. It arrived looking deceivingly simple: a folded-over crepe, hiding its delicious insides of masala-yellowed potatoes and onions spotted with black mustard seed. The waiter dropped the plates in front of us and returned moments later with a pot of soupy coconut chutney, which he dumped haphazardly next to the dosa.

Dosa, a south Indian specialty, was the first thing we ate when we arrived in India. The first restaurant we stumbled upon in the northern city of Delhi just happened to be a south Indian chain called “Flavors of Chennai.” We ordered dosa blindly, with no idea what would arrive at the table. When it came, we inhaled the fluffy pancake filled with vegetables and became enamored - so much so that we revisited the same restaurant multiple times during our five-day stay in Delhi.

Therefore, there is poetry in this famous dosa joint being the site of one of our last meals in India. We enjoyed Vidyarthi Bhavan’s fried flapjack and its perfectly-seasoned insides just as ferociously as we enjoyed our first: with our hands, ripping off pieces of the dosa to use as a glove for scooping the vegetables and chutney into our mouths. While India may not be easy, it’s definitely worth it.



Tags: bangalore, cuisine, dosa, food, india, restaurants

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