Ever wondered why are there only fast food restaurants? Why is there no place where you can eat slowly? Should we change our pace? Where have the Udipi, the Mysore cafes gone? Rarely does one see a Sarada Bhavan or a Dhanalaxmi Vilas.
There are very, very few such 'budget' places, serving idlis and vadais. Only the posh restaurants have them -- even there rarely after 10 or 11 am. In the evening only large pooris -- slightly smaller than a dish antenna -- served with a gravy spiced with ginger and garlic and chillies, supposed to be made as in Rajasthan. Far from it. Throughout that faraway State, never have I tasted such hot stuff as is dished out here.
Today a good many 'fast food' eateries are on the road. Is it cooked 'fast', served 'fast' or has it to be eaten 'fast' i.e. swallowed? These joints are in different forms. Some are as big as the yesteryear cafes mentioned above, some just a 20 ft x 15 ft shed, with a counter and opening into the road.
You get your order, move to the pavement (if there is one) or the road, eat, and wash your fingers from a Sintex barrel (which once might have contained liquid glucose) of water, a mug hanging on the rim.
These 'joints' (how did that word come into use?) serve mostly pooris and mashed potato-- that combination has been known for ages. The early bird may get pongal with vadai, dishes made for each other and, strangely, not changed. The customers include office-goers, bachelors, or those who leave home early.
'We come here nearly every day. No other go,' every one of them said.
'We have got used to this breakfast,' they added. They did not like standing and eating. These places promise food cheap and instant, for gratification but without nourishment.
The man, referred to a few lines above, said: Where have all the 'hotels' gone?
We hunted up a Ramanatha Rao whom we (G Krishnan and this writer) have known for years. He used to run a Narayanan Lunch Home (after K Narayanan who sold it on retirement). Rao (we called him 'oorka' Rao, he was from AP and started as a cleaner and known for the amount of fiery pickles he would eat) said he 'reluctantly' sold his cafe only because of shortage of workers.
Further enquiries showed that a number of such cafes had shut because of this problem. A few that have survived (as one owner put it) hire men and women workers part- time.
KV Krishnaswami, another one-time hotelier, said he had to sell his establishment because he could not get a regular supply of vegetables. His was a small business and getting brinjals and drumsticks (for the sambhar) plus groceries turned unmanageable. Even for him. Like most men in this business KVK was as slippery as an eel. He tried to run a non-veg restaurant selling dishes with unusual critters, but soon ran out of crows that he used to catch!
Today, many of them work as maids, the girls work in small units which make groundnut balls, pack them in their tens, fill small sachets with pickles -- those are for the tipplers -- boys work in book- binding sheds. (damn prevention of child labour).
Why, then, will the small Udipi restaurants not shut?