Mention the words “Iyengar Bakery” to any Bangalorean and he or she will lapse into a reverie filled with dreams of hot puffs, potato buns and benne biscuits (butter biscuits). These neighborhood institutions have served generations of customers while maintaining an old world charm. There is nothing like the aroma of fresh baked bread and when you add cakes, rusks and puffs to the mix, the result is an intoxicating blend of aromas that draws hungry customers inexorably to the bakeries.
Growing up in Kumara Park in the seventies, our bakery of choice was the Lakshmi Janardhana Bakery in Seshadripuram, simply called “Janardhana Bakery”. Those were the days when as hungry school boys, the tiffin or “tea” between lunch and dinner was a full fledged meal. My mother made dosas, sandwiches or aloo parathas. The food was digested after a game of football or cricket and we were ready for dinner in three hours or so! On those occasions when my mother did not have time to prepare a snack, she would give me some money to get some goodies from the bakery.
The trip to the bakery was a fairly short one but in the mind of a young schoolboy quite an adventurous one. I had to negotiate the “down” to get to the bakery. The “down” was a short stretch of a hill slope that had a winding path leading down to Seshadripuram. As I hurried down the slope, I had to decide what I wanted to buy. Puffs were the favorites. These were crispy and spicy, puffed pastry sheets filled with spicy vegetables, usually green beans. These could be pretty filling too. A variation of the puff was the cream puff – triangular turnovers that did not have a stuffing but had a thick layer of icing on two sides. There was Khara bread, “Khara” literally meaning spicy in Kannada as well as regular bread. Fresh baked loaves of bread that would be sliced upon order and wrapped in a newspaper that was bound by twine. Then there were the buns – sweet bun, khara bun and potato bun. The potato buns were something else! Delectable, soft buns baked with a spicy potato mixture.
I had to get to the bakery at about 4 pm when the first batches of puffs would come out piping hot from the oven. As I turned around the corner, the aromas from the bakery would waft over and I would quicken my step. There would be a crowd at the bakery and I would jostle my way in armed with a list of orders from my family. There were moments of indecision when one of the items was unavailable or I changed my mind at the last moment. In either case, there was really no reason to be disappointed as the substitutes were equally delicious. I would then hurry back home and we would all sit down to enjoy the treats. Sometimes there would be extras or somebody would change their mind and I would happily dig into the leftovers.
While we stuck to a fairly select menu, there would be exceptions especially when my cousins visited from Bombay. These were times when we would try other items. There were different varieties of cakes, the “apple cake” was my favorite. Flaky pastries such as Dil Khush (literally meaning “happy heart”), a pastry filled with coconut and Dil Pasand (something that the heart likes) a pastry filled with tutti frutti were also fair game. The biscuits just melted in our mouths. Benne Biscuit (butter biscuit), the sweet biscuits were an eternal favorite and the khara biscuit was the savory one. If you were not in the mood for any of these, there was the ever dependable rusk that would be eaten dipped in tea or coffee.
We left Kumara Park in 1981 and over the years we made occasional visits to the bakery. On my trip home recently, I stopped by at the bakery on a Friday morning. The old order had changed and the bakery was now being run by the next generation. Mr Madhu did not recognize me but he knew my father and brother well. He was gracious enough to make time to talk to us about the bakery. He said that the bakery had been started in 1968 by his father Mr Varadaraja Iyengar who had moved to Bangalore from Hassan, part of a generation of Iyengar Brahmins who set up bakeries all over Bangalore. Over the years, the bakery has been renamed to “Srinivasa Brahmins Bakery”. Items such as puffs and khara buns are baked in the afternoons, the maximum demand for them being in the evenings whereas bread, biscuits and cakes are available throughout the day.
These bakeries give a different meaning to the word “fresh”. They are a throwback to the days when “fresh” translated to baked on the same day as opposed to commercially available bread that has a shelf life of weeks. We went home with a wonderful smorgasbord of khara bread, dil khush, apple cake, rusk and a variety of biscuits – all a gift from Mr Madhu. He absolutely refused to accept payment stating that you cannot put a price on affection. I am happy to report that the quality of items has not changed and they are as delicious as I remembered them. The rusk was crisp and fresh. The khara bread was just as I remembered it, the right amount of spice that allowed me to eat the bread without any accompaniment. I left the apple cake for the end. It was moist and utterly delicious. One bite transported me back to the late seventies when as a skinny boy, armed with a couple of Rupees, I made the trek over the “downs” to Janardhana Bakery. All is well!