“You have to come here during Ramzan“ Sharjeel tells me as we walk from Shivaji Nagar bus stand to Russell Market, the center point of most of the activity in this part of town. Located between MG Road area and the Cantonment, Shivaji Nagar is a major commercial area and an important transport hub. Its population is mostly Muslim, some Tamils and a few Christians.
Once known as Blackpally, the first settlers in the area were farmers from Gingee, who set up a village and cultivated white rice. It is believed that the name Black pally for the area came from the bili akki (white rice) that they grew in their fields. As the Cantonment was established to its south and east Blackpally along with Ulsoor gradually became a native settlement servicing the needs of Cantonment residents.
Today Shivaji Nagar is a hub of activity, from fresh produce shoppers at the Russell Market in the early morning hours, to visitors to the shopping streets in the that sell pretty much anything and everything (including a scrap parts market called Shivaji Nagar gujri. Read about it here.) Then add the worshipers to the many mosques, temples and churches in the vicinity and finally foodies like us exploring the many delicacies that this part of Bangalore is known for.
“It is also perhaps the only place where you can get excellent tea and snacks at 2 AM”, Sharjeel points out. Indeed that is true, as I find out during the course of the evening, much of it spent walking from one eatery to another, favourites of Amrin and Sharjeel. Amrin and Sharjeel are foodies, experts in non-vegetarian, Muslim-style food and know places across Bangalore serving the best of meats. They were kind enough to offer a walk through Shivaji Nagar with stops at eateries that they have frequented over the years, and I jumped at the opportunity. Our walk is peppered with Sharjeel’s experiences – he has family that stays around Shivaji Nagar – and Amrin’s perfect explanations of how the different dishes we encounter, are cooked. She draws from her recollections of them being prepared at home.
We start off at Luna Sweets, a 51-year-old sweet shop started by Abdul Khayyum, whom we had the pleasure of meeting. The shop is run by his sons now, one of whom is a recipe designer. Luna Sweets stocks mithais of all kinds – from Chobe Ka Meetha to Ras Malai to Ajmeri Kalakand. However, their invention Aflatoon, a milk-based sweet made using semolina and to the mishti doi, a sweetened curd, are the fastest selling sweets in this shop.
Our next stop is in a lane adjacent to the slaughter house as Sharjeel guides the way to Abdul Lateef Paya Shop. Amrin and he recall coming here often when younger, to have the delicious Paya, a soup like dish made of meat, slow-cooked over a wooden oven all through the night, and served for breakfast with locally made bread. The 50 year old shop opens at 6 AM and closes at 9 AM after all its happy customers are done with their delicious paya. It reopens at 4 PM, this time to serve perfectly spiced veal kebabs and green chilli kebabs.
The slaughter house road is a hub of activity in the evenings around 5:30 PM when small carts and street-side eateries come to life, displaying a wide variety of kebabs, ready to be served to waiting customers.
The next halt is Royal Restaurant across the road, diagonally opposite the kebab street. Opened in 1988, it has two sections. A tea and snacks section that functions through the day and a meals section, for breakfast, lunch and dinner thalis. The owners insist that we have tea and samosas so we do. Hot Suleimani Chai is served in typical tea glasses and the onion samosa that accompanies the tea has a perfect crunch and a pleasant filling. As we converse with the elderly gentleman at the counter, my eyes fall on a square fried sweet which he calls Khajoor. Amrin explains the complicated process of making it and how the perfect Khajoor is judged by how soft it is on the inside while the exterior is hard and crunchy. “It’s a delicacy made at home on special occasions”, she tells me.
We walk further down HKP Road, the road that Royal is on, this time to go to one of Amrin’s recommended restaurants called North-Indian Hotel. An out and out beef place, Amrin recalls visiting this place as a kid, always for their Beef Biryani and Beef Pepper Dry. “Infact, once when I came here with a friend, I decided to order chicken kebabs. It took more than 45 mins for them to serve my order. Ordering chicken is a no-no though it is there on the menu”, she advises. Better known as Bismillah Hotel, it is very popular and is open till 3 AM every night.
By now, it’s close to 7 PM and our walk is drawing to a close. The last stop is Savera Tea Center with its famous Sulemani Chai, a kind of flavoured, black tea as well as the Kachhi Chai, a milky tea. It is also popular for its Hareera, a dry fruit milk made by adding spices and dry fruits to milk and boiling it. Delicious snacks such as onion samosas, Badushas and Khaja are also available.
It’s dusk and the lights are up, glittering through the smoke rising from the kebabs being grilled over coal fires. It’s been an interesting evening, hopping between eateries that are decades old, cooking up delicious food and serving them with the same warmth over the years.