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Breads with a BRIT flavour

If bakery products, once considered `English food', slowly caught up with the local people, a large part of the credit goes to Excelsior Bakery.

Excelsior Bakery: As popular now as it was during the Raj. — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

THE HISTORY of British Rule in India is peppered with interesting tales of white rulers striking unusual relationships with the ruled. One such is the story of Excelsior Bakery, which has the distinction of being the first Indian bakery to introduce typical British bakery products in Bangalore. The bakery, in Russel Market, remains popular to this day.

This interesting story begins with Sagadev, a boy who had just finished Class V, joining Honour's Bakery, run by an Englishman on Dispensary Road. He soon won the trust of the Englishman with his honesty and hard work. So impressed was he with Sagadev that he taught him everything one needs to know to run a bakery and decided to help him set up a bakery before he returned to England. The Englishman gave Sagadev a certificate of honesty before he left the country.

Sagadev started his own bakery (behind Cantonment Railway Station), called Bangalore Bakery, in 1927, with the help of Mrs. Emery. This bakery, however, closed down in 1929. Not to be cowed down, Sagadev started another bakery on Quadrant Road in 1930. Mrs. Emery decided to name it Excelsior Bakery. The door number, 36, added up to nine and a name with nine letters would prove lucky, she reasoned. And the bakery has never run out of luck for the last 73 years.

The grandchildren of Sagadev — Dharmalingam and Murali — who run the bakery now, say that there were very few bakeries in Bangalore at that time. Though Swamy's, Naidu's, Koshy's, Fatima, and Albert did business then, the products that Sagadev learnt to make were unique and popular even among the finicky Englishmen. The British and Anglo-Indians flocked the bakery, and after a while, even the locals, who till then did not fancy bakery products, took a liking to them. The bakery became so popular that even the MEG would buy 300 to 400 loaves everyday for more than 10 years.

After Sagadev's death in 1964, his son Angannan took over and introduced buns, milk buns, small milk breads, seed cakes, fruit buns, and hot cross buns. The bakery's plum cakes became particularly popular among its customers during this period. Angannan was generous enough not to keep trade secrets to himself. Several aspiring bakers in Bangalore, Chennai, and K.G.F. took tips from him. Dharmalingam and Murali took charge of the bakery in 1992.

Surprisingly, there has been no decline in the popularity of Excelsior Bakery, with 150 to 200 people buying from here every day. Milk bread (Rs. 6) is a particular favourite among the customers. Equally popular are coconut burfis, sold in two variants — with jaggery and sugar. Christmas and Easter times are hectic times at the bakery, with customers queuing up to buy plum cake. You can choose from 100 designs of birthday cakes here.

The bakery was also part of an interesting colonial tradition. The Russell Market had an annual market show during Christmas where the best meat and vegetables were judged. There used to be a committee of eight to judge the entries. Excelsior Bakery used to send the committee cakes till the 1950's. Once the British left, the market show slowly died out.

Another interesting anecdote connected with the bakery is that between the Fifties and the Seventies, youngsters who wished to join the military used to take up work at the bakery to build up muscles before going for the selections. Kneading five kilos of dough for about 45 minutes was as good as a workout in any gym.

The bakery can be contacted on 5551899.


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