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Sitanadi's hotel Srisathyanarayana USP is its 'neer dose'

Driving from Mangaluru towards Shimoga after the Southwest monsoon sets in is a joy difficult to describe. The entire route has been washed clean by the first spell of rains, and there’s greenery everywhere. It is not without reason that Agumbe is called the Cherrapunji of the South; it rains or drizzles almost through the year. Roll down the windows and take in the sights and sounds of acres of pristine Agumbe rainforest. Less than two kilometres before you begin the ascent to the view point, is a place where many a devotee of food worships.

Soon after crossing the lovely village of Sitanadi, on the left, is Hotel Srisathyanarayana, which can seat about 40. It takes time to spot the board: the calling card being cars and motorbikes parked in front. Behind the hotel flows Sitanadi river, known for its rafting facilities. Monkeys play hide-and-seek in the vast network of trees and friendly dogs wait for a morsel from a generous guest.

Sitanadi's hotel Srisathyanarayana USP is its 'neer dose'

Since July 1975, when H Subraya Shenoy started the eatery in the midst of heavy rains, the hotel has been quietly charming visitors with its USP — neer dose, a lacey rice crepe, served with a watery but delicious chutney and Konkani-style sambar. Of course, it serves idli (₹28 for three), idli-uddina vade (₹32) and golibajje (₹20 for 6), avalakki mosaru (₹25), spiced beaten rice served with sugar and curd, and Mangalore buns (₹28 for two), but the neer dose (₹25 for three) wins hands down.

Travellers’ favourite

I first read about the restaurant in a blog where a group of bikers raved about its neer dose. Since then, it’s a regular stop during the four-hour drive to Shimoga.

There was a time when the senior Shenoy saw sales of just ₹75 a day; today, the hotel draws about 300 people on an average every day, and some more during the weekend. Anil Shenoy, who runs it now with help from his wife Amrutha, children Advith and Adithi, and mother Vijayalakshmi, has retained most of the dishes his father began the eatery with. What’s gone out is poori-sagu, regular dose and afternoon meals.

Sitanadi's hotel Srisathyanarayana USP is its 'neer dose'

There was a time when this was one of the very few hotels on this stretch. Anil remembers merchants placing orders in advance and knocking on the door at 2 am to eat something before hitting the road again, carrying vegetables to places far away.

The hotel opens its doors at 7.30 am and closes by 9.30 pm. If the food gets over, the family quickly fries up some jackfruit happala and serves it with coffee or tea. On an average, they grind about nine kilograms of rice every day for the dose alone, and, make chutney one coconut at a time. “This place is also humid. You can’t grind in bulk and wonder whether it is fresh or not. Our guests are mostly travellers, and so we prefer grinding small batches, frequently, to ensure the well-being of those who eat here,” says Anil. The sambar is a non-spicy affair, just the kind you make at home. If you get lucky, are hungry and there’s nothing left on the menu, Amrutha sometimes serves you the family’s breakfast. We got to sample pundi (steamed balls of broken rice) served with sprouts gassi.

Backyard treasures

The coconut primarily comes from the garden behind the spacious home, as do the jackfruits they soak in brine or process into papads. The hotel has a section where it sells traditional Malnad and Mangalore delicacies, such as papads made of beaten rice, banana stem or bitter gourd.

Sitanadi's hotel Srisathyanarayana USP is its 'neer dose'

Anil permits us entry into the kitchen, and it is a trip back in time. The smoky walls speak of the thousands of breakfasts and lunches cooked here. Many of the vessels still being used have been handed down by the senior Shenoy and his ancestors. As we walk in, a vat of oil sizzles with the air-like golibajje that Amrutha has just spooned in. It emerges a minute later, golden and crisp on the outside.

And then, it is time for evening tiffin. The clock shows 6.45 pm, and all those who stayed back at Agumbe, for the sunset view of the panoramic valley, head down for a snack before taking the highway home.

Amrutha and her mother-in-law send out plate after plate of golibajje, as Adithi serves chutney by the spoonful. In between, a batch of buns, crisp on the outside and sweet and spongy inside, is ordered.

Soon, the parked cars drive out and new ones find their spots. All for a taste of food that’s healthy, and local.

In this weekly column, we take a peek at some of the country’s most iconic restaurants.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 4:46:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/you-had-me-at-neer-dose/article24163565.ece

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