A tradition from yore

A tradition from yore

A warm smell hovers in the air — it’s filled with spices that taint the boiling vegetables and grains as they stew to perfection.

It is these flavours that make ‘Mavalli Tiffin Room’ the quintessential South Indian diner and an old Bengaluru relic. Located on Lalbagh Road, the eatery has been a part of the City’s foundation since the early ‘20s. It was initially built on Lalbagh Fort Road in 1924 by Parameshwara Maiya and his brother Ganappayya Maiya.

They called the small restaurant ‘Brahmin Coffee Club’ and served ‘idli’ and coffee.  Since then, ‘MTR’, as it is popularly known, has come a long way. Yagnanarayana Maiya, the third brother, also joined the business a few years later, and helped make the business more enterprising.

He decided to rename the restaurant to ‘Mavalli Tiffin Room’ after the locality it was situated in. It wasn’t until 1960 that ‘MTR’ moved to its current home.  While most restaurants in the City have found the first excuse to revamp and refurbish their look, ‘MTR’ prefers to stay the same, even as the plaster on walls slowly crumble.

Hema Malini Maiya, a part­ner at the restaurant, says that they deliberately keep from remodelling because it attracts more customers. “Although the rest of Bengaluru has changed, we don’t plan to. There is so little left of old Bengaluru. While we have expanded, the main MTR will never change.”

The same policy is applied to their recipes; ‘MTR’ don’t ever change their recipe. “If we change the recipe, we will hear about it from the people. There are people who have been coming here for over 40 years. Even if the cutlery and crockery changes, our customers make a fuss!” she says.

Narrating a funny incident, she says, “We get all our cups and plates from a vendor in Gujarat. Once, we couldn’t procure the cups so we got something else. People started protesting and said that they didn’t feel like they were drinking coffee in those cups! We had to finally go to a different vendor, get a special mould made for us and everything was alright.”   

Known for their ‘rava idli’, ‘kharabhath’, ‘kesaribhath’, ‘rava dosa’, ‘bisibelebhath’ and coffee, the cooks of ‘MTR’ are trained from scratch to be perfect at what they do. There are some cooks who have been there for over 30 years.

“We never take trained chefs into our kitchen, we tried that and it failed. We have our set recipes that have to be followed and most trained chefs can’t unlearn what they already know. Instead, we take young boys who have no training and give them training in our kitchens,” says Hema. She adds, “There are different cooks for making ‘idli’, ‘dosa’, coffee, chutney... a cook must specialise in one area alone.”  

People flock to ‘MTR’ early morning, from all areas of Bengaluru to taste the scrumptious meals. Vasu, who has been a regular for the past 40 years, says, “I like the food here, I can’t think of eating anywhere else, I’m comfortable here. Other places aren’t as fresh. I have the ‘kesaribhath’, ‘dosa’ or ‘idli’ and coffee.”

Vijay Kumar, an interior designer who has been a regular for the past 42 years, says, “It is the best vegetarian restaurant that serves quality food. I think of myself as a food critic and I have eaten out in many places, and I think this is the best I have come across so far.”

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