I came to Bangalore 13 years ago, and I came with quite a few apprehensions. Now when I look back, I still laugh at the fears I carried.
One such fear about Bangalore was the food that I would have to eat. Coming from places where Afghani Kabab, Mutton Keema, Shorshe Ilish (Hilsa fish in Mustard Gravy) and the likes ruled the roost, I thought of Dosa, Idli, and other South Indian dishes as ancillary.
So one day, while I was praying my anarchic breadbasket to accept the coconut chutney with dosa & idlis and looking for a junk food joint, I found myself standing in front of Shivaji Military Hotel in Jayanagar. So I went in. The place was clean, neatly arranged and crowded. I slipped through the crowd and found myself in front of the counter. Being new to the city, the language was a massive barrier but I grasped a few Kannada words from my classmates.
I looked at the menu and told the person who was taking orders ‘Ondu (one) mutton biryani’. The man told me to take a seat and the order will follow. When I turned around to find a seat, I realized that I might have to miss out on 1 or 2 post-lunch classes. But biryani was on the way, so it was worth it.
While my order came, I looked around at the crowd. People engrossed in conversation and their hands immersed in what looked like a cup made of palm leaf. Now when I go, I see more smartphones than conversations.
I waited for 10-15 minutes when my biryani came. Honestly, I was shocked. A palm leaf cup just a bit bigger than my hand, filled with normal rice with a hue that I would describe as olive-brownish, a banana leaf, a bowl each filled with pudina (mint) chutney and raita (curd mixed with water, cucumber, tomato & onions. I was wondering if they had served me something else, but since I was famished, I took the first morsel of rice and started munching. Though the rice was not basmati, my taste buds were detecting unique flavours and I liked them. After eating some rice, I took a morsel of mutton and “Oh My God!”
Being an aficionado of food cooked with love, I was surprised by the softness of the mutton. Moreover, the outcome of extensive marinating was that the spices seeped deep into the meat and the gravy was incredibly flavour-rich. The most unique thing about this biryani is that it did not have the flavour of tomato or onions. I was yet to understand the concept of this biryani, but it was love at first bite. I ate slowly, savouring every bite, every morsel and wanted to taste to stay in my mouth a bit longer.
The next shocker came when I went to pay the bill. Again with my rudimentary Kannada skills, I asked ‘Yeshtu (How much)?’ The person behind the counter told ‘tombattu (ninety)’ and it was miles ahead of my Kannada understanding skills. I then politely asked how much in Hindi and the person told me that it was 90 rupees only. I have the amount and came out of the hotel. I was elated with my lunch but shell-shocked at what I had to pay for it. Paying just 90 rupees for such amazing food was outright startling for me.
13 years later, mutton biryani in Shivaji Military Hotel is still absolutely delicious and yet not so pricey. Over the years I have learned that this style of biryani is called the donne biryani where means the plantain leaf cup in which the biryani is served. I have found a few more places that serve this marvellous delicacy.
First in the list is obviously my first favourite the Shivaji military Hotel, located in 8th Block Jayanagar. Timings are from 8:30 AM to 3 PM and the cost for 2 people is approximately Rs. 300. Lunch hours are crowded and I would recommend that you keep some spare time in hand.
In my search for good donne biryani, my second stop was the Ranganna Military Hotel, located in 7th Block Jayanagar (pretty close to Shivaji hotel). The hotel is open between 7:30 AM to 4 PM and 7 PM to 10 PM for 2 people; the price for lunch approximately stands at Rs. 250.
My final stop was New Govind Rao Military Hotel in Cottonpete. This hotel opens at 6:30 AM and goes on till 3 PM and in the evening hours are 7 PM o 11 PM. For dinner you can relish, you will have to shell out not more than Rs. 300 approximately.
I must say that all these places offer the same donne biryani which astonishingly tastes completely different because of the unique mixture of the spices. I have tried it at home and honestly, came nowhere close to these guys. Regardless of the fact that I have tried everything that these 3 hotels have to offer, I still visit one of these places at least once a month and I know for sure that this is a ritual I intend to follow for a better part of my life.
So if you are in Bangalore, do visit these places if you have not. If you have, then you know what I am talking about. People who are new to Bangalore or yet to step into this city, I hope I can reach you soon enough to let you know that donne biryani is something that you cannot miss.