Culinary Quests: A Tale of Friendship and Flavours

This article is also available to read in Telugu here ఉల్లి అట్టు: స్నేహం మరియు రుచుల కథ

It was a tranquil evening, with the clock striking six, and my head throbbing with a relentless ache. The pangs of hunger had also set in, compelling me to halt my journey home and seek solace in a local hotel, with the promise of a comforting cup of tea. After parking my bicycle in the designated stand, I entered the establishment. Inside, a rotund gentleman, sporting thick glasses, occupied a table near the entrance.

“Is it necessary to obtain a token?” I inquired.

In a genial tone, he responded, “No need for tokens here; you can relish your meal and settle the bill at your leisure.”

“Very well,” I replied.

I ventured a few steps further into the establishment, finding a vacant seat at a cozy side table. The ambiance within the hotel exuded warmth and comfort. A diminutive, dark-skinned server approached, setting a glass of water before me.

“May I take your order, son?” he inquired.

Curiosity piqued, I asked, “What delectable offerings do you recommend in this establishment?”

He paused momentarily, then offered, “How about savoring our exquisite onion dosa?”

“Sounds delightful,” I concurred.

Efficiently noting down my order on a small scrap of paper, he disappeared into the bustling kitchen. While waiting, I took a refreshing sip of water to soothe my parched throat. Closing my eyes, I gently started massaging my temple, seeking respite from the persistent headache.

As I opened my eyes, I was greeted by a slender, glistening triangular plate placed before me. The tantalizing aroma wafting from the dish invigorated my senses.

The plate had been thoughtfully divided into three compartments. One held a luscious serving of coconut chutney, another cradled a portion of zesty ginger chutney, and the third contained a steaming bowl of aromatic sambar.

With each bite, I dipped the dosa, generously adorned with thinly sliced onions, into the sambar, followed by the coconut and ginger chutneys. My taste buds and my mind were revived with each succulent mouthful. I devoured the entire meal in a mere two minutes. Afterward, as I washed my hands in the plate, the server inquired,

“Would you fancy some coffee, sir?”

Opting for tea, I replied, “I’ll take a cup of tea, please.”

“The coffee served here is highly renowned,” he recommended.

“Very well, then,” I acquiesced.

As I savored the frothy, steaming cup of coffee, the server skillfully calculated my bill, jotting down the total amount of nine rupees on a small piece of paper. Placing it on the table, he added a droplet of water to anchor it in place. Miraculously, my headache had dissipated after savoring the coffee. I paid the bill, left the establishment feeling reinvigorated, retrieved my bicycle, and pedaled my way back home.

Those were the days when I had freshly arrived in Bangalore, embracing a new job, a new town, and an entirely new social milieu. Still in search of a permanent residence, I had taken up temporary lodgings as a paying guest in a hostel.

It was my friend Prakash who suggested, “It’s eight o’clock; let’s return to the hostel.” With that, I powered down my computer and rose from my seat. Prakash, too, was a recent arrival in Bangalore, and both of us found ourselves residing in the same hostel. As we made our way out, we chanced upon Kumari, a fellow resident of our hostel. She proposed a nearby restaurant.

“Have you had the pleasure of savoring the dosa at this place?” Kumari inquired.

Eager to explore, we all concurred, “Certainly.”

The restaurant boasted only a few tables, and we selected one of them. The lady running the establishment greeted Kumari warmly, inquiring,

“Good evening, how are you?”

 She appeared to be in her thirties or forties, and our conversation revealed her connection to a Telugu family that had relocated to Tamil Nadu.  Kumari promptly placed her order,

“I’ll have the masala dosa.”

Then, restaurant lady turned to us and asked, “What would you gentlemen prefer?”

Prakash opted for an egg dosa, and I inquired about the availability of an onion dosa.

“Indeed, sir, we offer onion dosa,” she assured us.

“Oru Masala, Motta, Onion,” she communicated to the cook, who happened to be her father.

As we engaged in discussions about Bangalore, it didn’t take long for us to divulge our culinary inclinations. While scrutinizing my plate, I noticed something amiss and inquired, “Pardon me, but isn’t this an onion dosa?”

The owner of the restaurant, looking at me with surprise, clarified, “Sir, indeed, this is an onion dosa.”

I felt a sudden pang of disappointment but continued to enjoy my meal, washed my hands, paid the bill, and returned to my room.

Four days later, on a Saturday evening, I resolved to dine at a renowned Carnatic restaurant named Sai Bhavan. When I ordered an onion dosa and explicitly inquired how they use onions in it, the person at the counter and Prakash exchanged puzzled glances.  We were handed a token at the food counter. As we waited, I explained to Prakash, who remained perplexed:

“In our hometown, an ‘Onion dosa’ typically signifies a regular dosa with onions added to it, much like a masala dosa with onions in the filling. However, here, the dosa is thicker, and onions are incorporated into the dosa batter. In our place, we refer to this as ‘Uthappam.’”

Months passed, and Sai Bhavan inaugurated an upper dining area. One Sunday, Prakash, Kumari, and I decided to dine there. As we awaited the waiter and engaged in animated conversation, he discerned that we were conversing in Telugu.

“Where do you folks hail from in Andhra?” he inquired with a beaming smile.

I replied, “We’re from Bandar.”

Upon hearing this, his expression turned more earnest as he remarked,

“I worked in Vijayawada for five years and visited your town a few times. The food in your town is absolutely exceptional.”

His words uplifted my spirits, and I inquired further, “Have you ever had the pleasure of savoring onion dosa in Vijayawada or Bandar?”

“Yes, sir, it’s exquisite at the restaurant where I used to work,” he affirmed.

I responded, “It’s been two years since I’ve had something like that.”

“Indeed, sir, they prepare it with great skill there,” he echoed.

He handed us the menu card and stepped inside. A few minutes later, he returned and said,

“Sir, I inquired, and our chef is confident that he can prepare an onion dosa exactly to your liking.”

I was elated and readily agreed.  In a short while, a generously sized, triangular plate of onion dosa was placed before me. I savored every morsel, relishing the flavors with each  mouthful. As a token of my appreciation, I left a tip of 50 rupees, and we departed the restaurant.

While walking home, Prakash remarked, “You truly have a deep fondness for onion dosa, don’t you?”

I smiled and replied, “No, Prakash, there’s a story behind it.”

Intrigued, he inquired, “Tell me more.”

“About ten or fifteen years ago, during my university days, a server at a restaurant recommended an onion dosa to me. It was absolutely fantastic. I started frequenting that restaurant daily, and it soon became a habit. Even if I didn’t place an order, the server would bring me whatever he deemed exceptional that day. A unique friendship blossomed between us, and I believe he knew my preferences nearly as well as my own mother. After completing my studies, I left the area, but I still cherish those memories of relishing onion dosa. When I relocated to Bangalore, I feared that I might lose those cherished recollections. Now, that fear has been dispelled.”

“A simple greeting, a faint smile now and then, can be remarkably uplifting. Others may not be able to solve our problems, but their smile and greetings can bestow upon us the courage to confront our challenges,”