On an overcast afternoon, one stretch of pavement on Margosa Road near Malleswaram 15th cross was crowded. Not because people anticipated rain and reached for cover, but thanks to the fluffy, steaming idlis served up at Veena Stores.
During rush hour at Veena Stores — which is to say, every hour it is open — there is a fine art to the waiting, the standing in the snaking line. You must crane your necks, and keep the counter, like Cavafy’s Ithaca, “always in your mind”. You must step forward diligently each time the line moves; space must not be wasted. When your turn finally arrives, you must have the order pat down, lest you stumble and incur the wrath of the gent at the counter. You must not fumble with the payment.
And then, you will be rewarded with the south Indian snack your heart desires, most often the ever-popular two-idli-one-vada.
But Veena Stores triumphs, as it has over the years, for its equally strong offerings beyond the admittedly stunning idli-vada. Patrons have grown fond of tangy puliogare, the almost-liquid heat of the khara bhaat, the creamy pongal. All this is best topped off with a “swalpa-strong-kodi” coffee, but regulars also swear by the kashaya and badam milk.
Best of all, it’s streetside: if you’re unlucky, you’ll bite into dust-flavoured idlis; if you’re lucky, you can breathe in rain-fresh air, and allow your heart to brim with the occasional loveliness of the city.
It is open from 6 a.m. to noon, 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.
For the homesick
From Veena Stores for breakfast or an evening snack, the hungry (and homesick) in Malleswaram are well-advised to seek out Iyer Mess, a banana-leaf joint in a narrow alley off 8th cross, Malleswaram’s prime shopping street.
A series of conspicuous boards on your way will guide you, promising “Veg Homely Meals”. They do not lie. Located in a small room in the owner’s house, Iyer Mess is essentially a series of tables, each topped with banana leaves. As soon as you are seated, the food begins to materialise: rice, shaped into a careful mound, soon to be vehicle for tangy sambar and spicy rasam. A veggie curry (beans, on the day I visited), lime pickle, a fresh raitha with cucumbers and onions, and a little plastic container of thick yoghurt. Top that off with a giant papad, and you’ve got yourself a satisfying, simple meal, a steal at Rs. 45.
Iyer Mess is no place to linger: there is nothing to do here but focus on the food. In about 15 minutes, patrons are done. The joint is open from 11.30 a.m. to 3.15 p.m. and 7.15 p.m. to 9.15 p.m.
Pick and choose
While Veena Stores and Iyer Mess are two eateries in the area with cult followings, there’s plenty more to Malleswaram’s (largely vegetarian) culinary offerings. There is Janata Hotel and Central Tiffin Room, iconic in their own ways and sinful in their masala dosas; Halli Mane, an eatery dedicated to Karnataka-style food; Al-Bek, a relatively new kabab joint; any number of sterling darshini-style eateries, and a host of copy-paste chain eateries at the mall.