In his twenties, my ajja (grandfather) frequented a small eatery for breakfast near his office in Hyderabad. His order was not from the menu and remained unchanged during his time in the city: masala dosa with very less masala-- an odd enough choice for people to turn their heads. Soon, other costumers would ask for the same and eventually, it became popular as Manjappa dosa, named after ajja. More than a decade later, he went to the place with my grandmother and their two children, and couldn’t believe that a place that he had left years ago remembered him through the namesake dish. That’s the thing I love about food, the stories they often come with.
Once in a while, one comes across centuries-old foods named after people; some after regions, like Lakadong turmeric; and others after the twists they sportingly adopted over the years like podi idli . It’s fascinating how food makes people feel, and how easily it becomes more than recipes. Once a name catches on, it’s almost impossible to separate it from the dish. While my hunt to find the Hyderabad eatery may take a while, here are some foods that come with stories.
Once for a potluck picnic, I took on the task of making Mangalore buns. When a friend called to ask if a new kind of cheese would complement them or if they were more similar to pav, I laughed and walked into the potluck with buns that don’t look anything like buns; more like thick puris. That’s the thing with Mangalore buns: they always need an explanation.
It is said that these buns originated as a way to rescue overly ripened bananas from waste. Some cooks in hotel in Udupi, near Mangalore, mashed the bananas, added flour, and deep-fried them. And thus, the sweet snack was born, as shared by Bengaluru-based city chronicler Mansoor Ali with The Hindu in the story published in 2016. But why buns? Well, it is mostly because of how soft and fluffy they are when hot. The Mangalore buns are served with coconut chutney and vegetable kurma.
A gift from the port town of Thoothukudi (previously known as Tuticorin), these white cone-shaped macaroons are said to have been brought to the region by the Portuguese. The macaroons that can be traced to France and Italy have been modified according to the availability and access to ingredients. Its tale of origin gives it an elitist touch while its popularity brings a sense of familiarity resulting in a multifaceted food story. Although made with egg whites and sugar as their European counterparts, the main ingredient is different. Almonds are are usually used in the original recipe, which Thoothukudi macarons have cashews that are locally available.
These hat-shaped macaroons are usually baked in wood-fired ovens and involve an intricate technique that cannot be replicated easily. Hence, they remain a Thoothukudi special.
Davangere benne dosa
In 1927, as a droughthit Bidaki village in the Belgavi region of Karnataka, Chennamma’s family migrated to Davanagere. To earn a living, Chennamma set up a stall outside the bustling Salavagi Drama Theatre and sold dosas with a dollop of ghee and other snacks. These dosas were made of finger millet or ragi, a more affordable grain compared to dosa rice for makers and buyers.
In no time, the dosas gained immense popularity, and word-of-mouth brought customers from afar. Eventually, it was turned into a small eatery that Chennamma’s sons took over after a decade. With a newer generation, different perspectives came in: the ghee was replaced with butter and the finger millet with white dosa rice. This new recipe became popular as Davangere Benne Dosa, notes a story published by Bangalore Mirror in 2017.
Shanthappa Benne Dose Davangere set up in 1944 by one of Chennamma’s sons remians a popular destination to savour these special dosas.
When you think of Christmas cakes, you might imagine the quintessential plum cake or a version of a fruit cake. What might not come to mind is a cake made of a vegetable. If you made a face, well, I did too. But surprisingly, the star ingredient of the popular Allahabadi cake is ash guard. This twist of using the famous ‘petha’ of Agra, is attributed to a Muslim baker and an Anglo lady of Allahabad, according to Hindustan Times in 2021.
The cake is made with ground spice, a generous amount of ghee, marmalade, rum-soaked dry fruits, flour, and candied ash gourd. This rendition of Christmas cake is one that might feel familiar with every bite.
The legacy of Mumbai’s most popular sweet, Mahim halwa spans more than 150 years and is different from the usual halwa one might come across. These are flat and square-shaped. The thin slabs are layered to build the sweet. The halwa was a chance discovery by Giridhar Mavji, who was called ‘budha kaka’ by the locals, a name that has now made its place on the 230-year-old sweet shop’s signboard, Joshi Budhakaka Mahim Halwawala, the makers of Mahim halwa.
Mavji while experimenting with sweets, tried making the Karachi halwa--made of corn flour-- with wheat flour and discovered different ways to add flavours influenced by his Bhavangiri roots and from the local community, Ramchandra Joshi, the seventh generation of the establishment told DNA in a story published in 2017. The halwa was named after the place where it was created, Mahim. The Mahim halwa is made using semolina, cut into think squares and layered using wax papers.