Abida Husna on breakfast in Mysore and the best places to eat in that city of palaces
We were very lucky to have been shown around Mysore food market by Abida Husna, of Royal Mysore Walks – Aabi was by far the most interesting, knowledgeable and enthusiastic of the eight or so guides we had so I took the opportunity to ask her to be a Saucy Dressings guest contributor and she kindly agreed.
Aabi describes herself as a teacher by choice and a full-time foodie. Her ambition, once she’s travelled around India herself, is to set up a farm-cum-café – where she can grow her own produce, and enjoy watching her customers enjoy the fruits of her labour.
Greetings from India, and from my own little city of palaces – Mysore. I had no idea that these sort of experiential tours existed until a friend introduced me to Royal Mysore Walks. Now I’m one of a team, and we’re all passionately crazy about Mysore, and helping people to really enjoy and appreciate all it has to offer.
Of course, you can never really fully understand a place until you’ve had a chance to savour some of the best of the food there is on offer. We have exotic fruits grown in the countryside around the city (see Mysore Market for more on those) and coffee, grown and roasted here – a wonderful aroma. There’s spicy fast food and there’s sweet coconut water.
But it’s all about breakfast in Mysore. A must is the Mysore masala dosa. It was invented by our ancestors back in 600 AD, and there’s a recipe for it in the Manasollasa – a twelfth century encyclopaedia written in Sanskrit and commissioned by Someshvara III – the ruler of Karnataka in those days. It’s a crispy, thin pancake with a mysteriously good taste and flavour.
And it needs to be washed down with the coffee. Oh no, not the one you get at CCD. I’m talking of the one we locals start our day with- Mysore filter coffee! It’s a heavenly mixture of cocoa and a bittering agent called chicory.
Another famous breakfast dish is the idli – a savoury cake. A batter made of rice and fermented (more easily digested) black lentils is steamed in order to form the cake.
A lot of the food in this part of India is rice-based. At lunch you might eat kosambri – a salad of lentils, carrots and cucumber; a palya, parboiled vegetables in a spicy curry-type sauce; a tomato gojju – essentially a sort of tomato curry made with fenugreek, mustard seeds, chillies and jaggery; or you might be thankful for a tovve – a relatively mild dish of daal.
A very famous dish in Mysore is bisi bele bath. This is a mix of rice, lentils, coconut and tamarind, but it does not contain onions or garlic.
A sweet ending to the meal might be a pastry such as a chiroti, or a piece of Mysore pak – local fudge.
The magical Mysore masala dosa
These are the places we recommend to try the best and most authentic Mysore masala dosa:
Hotel Vinayaka Mylari
Make sure you go to one of the two original Vinayaka Mylari hotels – they are both close to each other on Nazarbad Main Road. The dosas are soft and at the same time crispy. The chutney is a little less hot than the usual, with an excellent taste and a grated cotton texture. It’s very popular so our advice is to get here early – it opens at 6.30 am! You’ll definitely need some of the famous filter coffee if you arrive then!
If you find it’s full, there’s an additional room on the first floor at the back in one of the hotels.
Shop No. 79, Near Police Station, Nazarbad Main Rd, Doora, Mysuru, Karnataka 570010, India
Phone: +91 94486 08710
GTR (Gayatri Tiffin Room)
GTR also has a very good reputation. You can sit down here to enjoy your dosa, and there’s an additional family room upstairs if you find they’re a bit strapped for space.
The dosas here are as soft and crispy as they should be – slightly more soft than crispy. The coconut chutney is quite different to the norm – more of an Udupi style (Udupi is sleepy coastal town in Karnataka, famous for dosas, which specialises in vegetarian food – and which uses a lot of mustard seeds and chilli).
An essential order to go with the hot, spicy chutney is a vada, a sort of fried doughnut.
And GTR is also famous for its kesari bhath, a sweet Indian dish made of semolina, sugar, ghee, water and milk. If the heat of the coconut chutney proves too much of good thing, kesari bhath will prove a calming antidote.
GTR is closed on Mondays.
Chamundipuram Main Road, Narayan Shasthri Rd, Chamundipuram, Bettadpura, Mysuru, Karnataka 570004, India
Phone: +91 90081 87913
Formerly the Cosmopolitan Club, this restaurant used to be (and still is) a meeting place for the rich and famous of Mysore. It’s spacious and less crowded. Its USP is the sambar – a lentil-based stew made with tamarind. It’s also famous for badam halwa, a sweet dish made of almond paste.
If you like your dosas crispy, this is the place to go.
Closed on Tuesdays
Vani Vilas Double Rd, Sunnadakeri, KR Mohalla, Rahmania Mohalla, Mysuru, Karnataka 570004, India
Phone: +91 821 242 4811
This is my colleague Vinay’s favourite place for dosa. Be careful, there are lots of Dosa Points – the one to go to is on Devaraja Urs Road, easily identifiable by the crowd outside it.
There’s nowhere to sit down here, you just collect your dosa and wander outside to eat it – most Indians consider dosas to be just a light snack, not a proper meal.
The kitchen is open here, so you can see how the dosa is made. Unlike the Mylari where there is less choice there is a wide range of different kinds of dosa on offer here. The butter masala dosa is the best, but you might also like to try an open masala – a dosa with coconut chutney spread over it. In India coconut chutney is not a sort of savoury jam like the chutneys in Europe, but more of a mix of grated coconut, ginger, chilli and mustard seeds.
Opens 07:30 am to 11:30 am, 04:00 pm to 08:00 pm. This Dosa Point is closed on Tuesdays.
In addition to the masala dosa I mention above, Mysore serves up some of the best biriyani dishes in India. In case you don’t know, biriyani is a kind of Indian version of pilaf – originally brought into India from Persia by the Mughals (see All About Pilaf). Basmati rice, is flavoured with spices (the spices used depend upon the place the biriyani is made) and layered with fried meat or vegetables. Then the dish is covered, the lid sealed with dough, and the biriyani is cooked slowly.
The best places in Mysore for biriyani are:
This hotel has a loyal clientele who go back again and again – the quality of the food here is truly exceptional. It’s situated close to St Philomena’s cathedral in Lashkar Mohalla. There are two buildings so it’s usually easy to find a seat. They serve a drink made out of pure ginger extract called ‘hana’ which is not to be missed. The biriyani there is mutton (only mutton) and this restaurant is famous for it.
Opens Sundays at 9.00 am and Tuesdays and Fridays at 1 pm. Check these hours – they change frequently.
1, Kanthraj Road, Park Road, 21st West Cross,, Near St. Philomena’s Church, Lashkar Mohalla, Mysuru, Karnataka 570001, India
Phone: +91 98459 50548
The Hotel Hanumanthu is also a well-known place for meat. Founded in 1930 it still has a homely atmosphere. It’s situated in the business district of Mandi Mohalla. All the food is cooked over firewood which gives a smoky flavour. They call their biriyanis ‘pulavs’, with the chicken pulav being particularly popular.
Opens Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday- 7am to 10:30am, 12 pm to 4:30pm, 6pm to 10pm.Thursday-12pm to 4:30pm, 6pm to 10pm.Saturday- 12pm to 4pm. Check these hours – they change frequently.
1720, Akbar Rd Cross, Lashkar Mohalla, Mandi Mohalla, Mysuru, Karnataka 570021, India
Phone: +91 99004 10075
Some locals (including some of my colleagues) say this is the best place in Mysore for its mutton biriyani. There are two east coast (Andhra) style restaurants, with the one in Gandhi Square having a lot more ambiance than the other. Everything is served on banana leaves (see Marvellous Mysteries at Mysore Market to find out why). They serve all types of biriyani here – meat, fish and chicken – and the vegetable thali are also highly recommended. A bit more expensive than the other two restaurants mentioned above, but worth the extra money.
Opens every day- 11:30 am to 4:30 pm, 7 pm to 11 pm
Gandhi Square, Near Mahatma Gandhi Statue, Chamrajpur, Lashkar Mohalla, Mandi Mohalla, Mysuru, Karnataka 570001
Phone: +91 821 244 1979
We think the top three cafés in Mysore are:
The Old House
An informal, outdoorsy, bistro type of café, famous for its pizzas made in a wood-fired oven. Lots of salads and a good selection of vegan food. The only downside is that sometimes the service is a bit slow.
Shop No. # 451, JLB Road, Near Big Bazar, Chamarajapuram Mohalla, Mysuru, Karnataka 570004, India
Phone: +91 821 233 3255
This café is located outside the city in a quiet residential district. There’s lots of space so this is a good place for larger groups to meet. Live music and beer. Can be a bit difficult to find.
22nd Cross, C Block, Garudachara Farm house, Vijaynagar, 3rd Stage, Mysuru, Karnataka 570017
Phone: +91 77605 20567
No fixed menu here – the food changes every day with the specials being written up on a white board. Welcoming, retro ambience. This café serves Punjabi (from the far north of India) food.
3rd Main Rd, Vani Vilas Mohalla, Mysuru, Karnataka 570002, India
Phone: +91 94498 18668