During one of our trips through Karnataka, we visited Hampi to see the ancient city of Vijayanagar. What a fascinating city! Under a UNESCO mandate, extensive restorations are ongoing. The temples are awe inspiring! But for M, the best part of the trip was our stay in the nearby town of Hospet. A busy, dusty town at the crossroads of the Manganese ore trade. Here we made camp at the “Shanbhag International.” There was nothing international about this place. Even by Indian standards, it was an average “Hotel,” but importantly it had a few air-conditioned rooms.
And before you wonder, the Shanbhags here were no relatives of ours. But the owner was a Konkani and hovered around the front lobby in his uniform white munda, white jhabba with a pocket stuffed with a diary and a stack of folded paper, slicked hair and heavy black framed glasses. Could have been one of my uncles, and I referred to him as maam. Quite an entrepreneur. He owned two hotels diagonally across a busy intersection called “Shanbhag Circle,” about a block from the bus-stand. While we stayed at the “International,” the one across the street was Shanbhag Lodge with the Shanbhag Restaurant, catering to the middle class.
Here in the “International”, he had a Bar plus Non-veg Restaurant and our favorite, the “Shanbhag Fastfood.” The fastfood catered to poor laborers. Only high tables and no seating – you stand and eat. So folks are encouraged to eat and move-on. You pay first and get coupons, which you exchange for food at the counters. All snacks (dosas, idli, vada, etc) were 5 Rs and chai or coffee were 3 Rs. Really! M and I had our fill for under 25 Rs (slightly over 50 cents).
It was not the money, it was the experience of eating here. The spectacle of buying coupons, getting the food, standing and enjoying the delicious fare. During lunch he also served sambar-rice for 8 Rs. The place was packed as laborers crowded for a filling meal. For dinner (10 Rs) he served a simple thali and I saw entire families eating here. You could feed a family of five for about a dollar!
We were in Hospet for about four days, ate at all Shanbhag restaurants and had a gala time. Highly recommend if you are visiting Hampi. There is a western touristy hotel nearby, but what fun would that be!
Before the pics, I share an anecdote. Taking a break from the blazing sun, M took a nap in the room, while I wandered the local bazaar and came back to the room with a couple of mangoes and some grapes.
I said: “Heh, the lady who sold me these fruits was very nice.”
She groggily replied: “Of course they love you; you never bargain!”
I said: “M, let me explain and then you tell me if I should have bargained”:
“I saw this push cart with fruits tended by an elderly lady. In my basic Kannada, I asked her the prices and got two types of mangoes and some grapes. She tallied and it came to 60 Rs. So I give her 60 Rs. Then she looks at me again, nods and hands 25 Rs back to me, saying “saaku” (enough). I insisted she take the entire amount, but she refused.”
I asked: “So tell me, what should I have bargained with her for?”
At the Shanbhag Fastfood, dosas are made right in front of you. We salivated watching these brown!
M pursing her lips in anticipation!
A nice dosa was chased by hot kaapi!
Today, she doesn’t remember the temples we visited, or the palaces we were wow-ed by. But ask her where she would like to go and without hesitation she will say: Lets go back to Shanbhag International and eat dosas at Shanbhag Fastfood.
On this visit to India, we won’t actually go to Hospet, but we will certainly scour the South to find great places to eat, which steal our hearts and make us want to come back.
We will be in Mumbai for a few days, so if any of you want to go for an early morning run along Chowpatty, drop me a line.
Have a great Thanksgiving!