Pretty lanes of the area surprise you with culinary enterprise

In Cox Town, you will not find large hotels with flashy neon boards; you will not see street food vendors hawking fried food; you will not even smell the aroma of spices coming from humble restaurants. When you least expect a treat for your senses, though, as you are just turning a corner of a pretty lane, a whiff of bread will hit you. Follow that signal and you might chance upon the little neighbourhood bakeries the locality is known for.

Richard’s Bakery

One such is the Richard’s bakery (9986491125, 080-22905648), which residents vouch for vehemently. Located on Hutchins Road in Richard’s Town, the bakery seems to try hard to be inconspicuous.

The bakery was started in 1975 by G.S. Manickam, from the house just across its present location, and is known for its rich plum cakes. “Earlier, we would make plum cakes on a daily basis, but now, we make them only on order as our customers’ tastes are not the same as before,” says Lawrence Prem Kumar, one of the four brothers who run the place. “There used to be many Anglo-Indians before, now the demand is mainly for our puffs and patties of egg, mutton and beef.”

Prem may not wear his puffs as his badge of honour, but they are certainly among the best I have tasted. They are flaky and soft, with a lot of filling and a melt-in-the-mouth exterior. “Wedding cakes are our primary business,” he says.

Happy Belly Bakes

Happy Belly Bakes (9845011638, 9945001555) on Clarke Road, at the entrance to Richard’s Town, bang opposite Richard’s Park, seems to dare chain bakeries that have come up opposite.

Apart from the bakery staples of puffs, doughnuts and cakes, this cosy place also serves a range of hot and cold coffees and teas. Their generous servings of hot green tea in a pot, in varieties such as Japanese and Chinese, are blissful refreshment on a rainy day. What worked best with the tea was a starchy yet light potato quiche, a welcome change from the regular chicken or spinach ones. Their other speciality is flavoured macaroons, filled with coffee, chocolate, vanilla or cashew, served with tea or coffee. Happy Belly Bakes also makes novelty cakes on order.

Café de Costa

You might easily miss Café de Costa (080-25490345) on Wheeler Road if you weren’t looking for it. Its signboard only half-heartedly announces the presence of a café in muted colours. Started only in 2008, it is already something of a neighbourhood favourite. “It was my house owner who suggested that my friends and I open a café,” says Afzal, who runs the place now. “My friends have taken up other professions now, and I continue to do this.”

The bakery sells bread, rolls, buns, biscuits and tea cakes, in a wide variety of flavours — garlic, cheese, wheat, coconut, chocolate, masala, cashew, carrot, banana — in permutations and combinations too.

The cafe has little wooden tables and chairs laid out for those who would like to relish the snacks with a cup of tea. A mobile number stuck on the wall under the name ‘sanas’ would lead you to just that — Mangalore sannas (steamed rice cakes), prepared by the owner of the building, Joy, on order.

Café Idly

If you thought idli was plain and boring, brothers Dhinesh and Rajesh challenge your notion with their Café Idly (9741999800, 9845938663). “Why not Idli?” asks Dhinesh. “If a shop can sell only doughnuts or burgers or even dosas, it is possible to find enough people who have a similar love affair with the soft steamed rice cake that is the idli.” The café, located on Kenchappa Road, is a like a cubbyhole, not only because of its size but also because of its dark lighting, designed to match its ‘rock’ theme. The kitchen is a basic counter with an idli steamer kept on it.

There are small stools, placed around equally small tables, piled with Rolling Stone and other music magazines. “Most people like to take their plates and sit on the steps outside anyway,” Dhinesh says.

Café Idly serves regular idli and its variants such as thatte, kadubu, Kancheepuram. It has tried to innovate with an idli burger, which is surprisingly soft and spicy and a must try. All idlies are served with chutney and chilli powder and no sambar.

Mrs. Khan’s Biryani

The name Kishwar Sultana Khan does not ring a bell to residents of Cox Town. But, say Mrs. Khan, and they’ll respond, “Biryani!” Simply walking by her house will tell you why. The strong smells of cut ginger and onion will hit you first, followed by a range of masalas, being cooked with fresh meat and aromatic rice. There is no signboard carrying the name of her outlet; there is no outlet to begin with. You call (8892046121, 080-25475853) and place your order, and come over later to collect it.

“We wanted to start something that is specific to Mughlai cuisine. We also make other dishes such as kebabs, gravies and pulavs. But, biryani is what we have become known for,” says Ms. Kishwar, who runs her take-away with her two sons. “All the recipes are mine and I make sure I do the cooking myself and take help for all the chopping and cleaning only.”

Her truly special biryanis come in varieties of mutton, chicken, beef and vegetable, and are served with a spicy tangy brinjal curry and raita. Orders have to be placed a day in advance for large numbers.

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