Time was when Mysore stuck to the straight and the narrow in matters of the palate. Today, however, Mysore offers every kind of cuisine from North Indian and Moghlai to American, Italian and even Thai food. There is also a liberal sprinkling of quick service restaurants, coffee shops, lounges, bakeries and ice cream joints. Most Indian eateries operate from 7.00 am or 8.00 am to 9.30 pm. Restaurants serving European and Western cuisine open at 10.30 am and remain open till 11.00 pm.
Mysore has given Indian cuisine at least four delectable offerings – the Mysore Pak, the Mysore Masala Dosa, Mysore Bonda and the Mysore Rasam.
Mysore Pak is a delicious, calorie-ridden dessert made from chick pea flour, sugar and clarified butter or ghee. One of the most difficult Indian sweets to make, the Mysore Pak, differentiates the cordon bleu Indian chef from the run-of-the-mill cooks; the reason being ‘that’ one crucial moment as the mixture froths, when it has to be taken off the flame, so that it turns out firm yet soft enough to melt in the mouth and not hard and brittle.
Mysore Masala Dosa is a pancake made from rice and lentil and stuffed with a potato filling spread on a bed of spice powder.
Mysore Bonda is a lentil dumpling which is seasoned with green chillies and black pepper and deep fried in oil.
Mysore Rasam is a pungent tamarind based drink made with tomatoes and lentils. It may be mixed with rice or drunk piping hot. You cannot leave Mysore without tasting these four, although you may have tasted them elsewhere in India.
Mysore cuisine is also famous for its ragi rotis (flat tortilla like bread made out of millet flour), akki rotis (made from rice flour), set dosa (named so because it is served in a set of three medium-sized fluffy dosas) and rava dosas (dosas made from cream of wheat or semolina).
A typical breakfast in Mysore offers idlis (steamed rice cakes), different varieties of dosas (flattened rice pan cakes shallow fried on a flat griddle), shavige bath (thin semolina noodles seasoned with chillies, mustard, cilantro and lime), rava idlis (steamed cakes made from cream of wheat and seasoned with cashewnuts and spices) and “uddin vada” (deep fried salted doughnuts made from gram). Another ubiquitous presence in the Mysorean’s breakfast is “pongal” which resembles a risotto of semi liquid consistency, made with lentils and rice, seasoned with black pepper and cumin seeds. These dishes are served with sambar (a spicy tamarind sauce with vegetables and lentils) and chutneys made from fresh coconut and green chillies or onions, cilantro and red chillies.
The typical Mysorean lunch is a complete balanced meal with a salad (kosumbari), lentils cooked to a soft mash (tovve), vegetables(palya), sambar, Mysore rasam, yoghurt, pickles and fried chips - all these eaten with hot steamed white rice – quite a mouthful, literally and figuratively!
Mysore leans heavily towards vegetarian cuisine and vegetarian hotels outnumber the non-vegetarian ones. Locals as well as tourists head for the age old favourites like Iyer's Mess, Gayathri Tiffin Room (GTR) or Akshaya at Hotel Dasaprakash.(Gandhi Square) for a steaming hot breakfast or a complete lunch. While these eateries may not be high on ambience, they do deliver on the taste front. The newer vegetarian eateries like Nalpak Hotel, Hotel Ramani's and Akshaya at Hotel Paradise serve the same traditional fare in more modern and less cluttered surroundings. Hotel RRR is a very popular hotel that is known to serve quality non vegetarian food consistently over two decades. However, most hotels have in-house restaurants that serve non-vegetarian food. It is safer to eat non-vegetarian food there.
Coffee is the drink of choice in Mysore. It comes piping hot in a conical cup which used to be and is still called ‘a tumbler’. It is a very integral part of the Mysorean ethos to meet up and pass the time of the day over a coffee which has been split “by two”. Badam Milk is another popular drink in Mysore. This milk based drink, flavoured with real almonds(badam), is served either piping hot or ice cold. A glass of ice cold Badam Milk is a pleasure many Mysoreans will vouch for.
The other clean, hygienic and tasty thirst quencher is the water of the tender coconut. It is a common sight to see vendors cycling along streets with a string of green tender coconuts. You can also find them heaped on pavements. Though the seller may not look very clean, this product is entirely untouched by his hand. It is quite an experience to see the seller pick out a tender coconut; knock it to hear the quantity of water and get into attack position. He proceeds to shave off the top of the coconut till the tender part is exposed. He then cuts a small circular disc off the top of the coconut and hands it to you. After you have drunk all the coconut water, he splits the coconut into two halves, scrapes out the tender coconut pulp with another knife and hands it back to you – a process where the end product is entirely untouched by human hands!
Coffee Bars like Cafe Coffee Day, Cafe Pascucciand Barista serve both vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks. They open at 11.00 am and stay open till late in the night. Pizza Hut, Pizza Corner, Domino's Pizza and MacDonald's serve pizzas, soups, salads and burgers. Then there are small,personalized boutique restaurants, like the Austrian Cafe near Kalidasa Road, that cater to the Western palate.
Pubs and Bars
The connotation of the word ‘bar’ in Mysore is wide and could mean a coffee bar or a cool bar that serves soft drinks and fruit juices! It is safest to stick to the restaurant of the hotel for your sun downer! Most international brands of liquor are available in Mysore, both in bars across the city and at bars of reputed hotels. There are no laws prohibiting consumption and sale of liquor.
Club Hookah at Nazarabad, located inside Planet X, is said to be the most happening nightclub in Mysore. Opium Pub and Bopy’s Pub are other names that pop up often.
Mysore is dotted with eateries, many of them with their olde worlde charm intact. Food, quite simply, is not an issue in Mysore.
- It is advisable to stick to bottled mineral water. You can buy it at provision stores by the carton, as hotels charge a great deal more for the same bottles. Aquafina, Kinley, Kingfisher and Bisleri are the most reliable brands and are priced at Rs.15 per litre.
- Street Food is tasty but you must have a resilient stomach. Ask the vendor to serve you on a husk plate or on a plantain leaf.
- Keep alert even when you are in pubs and bars.
- Avoid accepting food and drink from strangers.
- Try to eat non-vegetarian food from established restaurants only.