April's Notes From The Road: Bangalore (2008)

I’m in Bangalore (Bengaluru) now, whose name is a transliteration of benda kaal-ooru which means “city of boiled beans” in the native Kannada language. I haven’t encountered many beans yet (other than yummy toasted chickpeas from street vendors), but I have been delighted with the mild climate, numerous green spaces and parks (Bangalore is also known as Garden City) and birds chirping everywhere. It almost makes the traffic, exhaust and constant hubbub fade away. Only almost though – because it still takes up to 10 minutes just to find enough space to cross the street without getting hit by an oncoming bicycle, tuk-tuk, car, truck or loitering animal.

I’m here working at the Unitus offices now, so not much time to explore the city. Then again, many locals say that generally speaking, there’s not much to see other than a couple of enormous parks. That is because Bangalore was founded relatively recently – about 150 years ago – by the British as a cooler place for the raj. The historical monuments and grand palaces are in Mysore, which is about three hours away by train. I’m going there this weekend. What’s more, many of the parks for which Bangalore is famous have been snapped up in recent years by property developers. But still, it is a joy to walk around and be surrounded by trees, flowers and color. My arrival into town just before sunrise several days ago left perhaps the most indelible record of this: on the tuk-tuk ride to my hotel, we went through the city’s Rose Market which was teeming with people, chai carts and flowers of all varieties. In the pre-dawn darkness one could vaguely make out the colors, but the scent of roses permeated the air and was almost powerful enough to out-fragrance the smell of garbage. Again, only almost! It was a magical way to greet the city.

Work is great – that’s all that needs to be said for now. Speaking of microfinance work earlier in the trip, here is the link to Jerry’s “Microfinance and Social Media” presentation from the IDLO Chennai course last week. Excellent!

Given a relative lack of travel adventures (other than noticing the differences between U.S. and Indian water coolers, office supplies and the like), I’ll take advantage of the opportunity to finally write a short summary of Indian breads. I still have not quite figured out (and definitely have not tasted) all of them and remain baffled at how often what looks like the same type of bread to me goes by different names in neighboring restaurants. So I can’t even say it’s a regional thing… Here is what I have deduced so far:

  • Appam: fermented rice flour bread common at breakfast in Sri Lanka, when stuffed with other ingredients it’s called a “hopper”
  • Chapati: unleavened bread, resembles a whole-wheat tortilla and may be brushed with ghee (clarified butter), commonly eaten with dal (thick lentil soup) or curried vegetables and is used to sop up whatever is left at the end of a meal
  • Dosa: classic South Indian crepe, made from rice flour and lentil bean flour, skillet-fried, folded and served plain or with a variety of chutneys and fillings (“Mysore dosa” has coconut and onion chutneys, and “Bangalore dosa” has a red cumin-garlic paste)
  • Naan: puffy leavened bread that most closely resembles pita bread, may be made with milk or yogurt and baked in a tandoor (clay oven), then is brushed with ghee and often stuffed with meat, potatoes or nuts and raisins
  • Paratha: unleavened griddle cake (like flatbread) that is pan-fried in ghee and may be stuffed with vegetables (cauliflower is a favorite), potatoes or paneer (soft fermented cheese), comes in all shapes (round, square, triangular)
  • Pathiri: rice flour pancake found in Kerala, baked in a flat pan and may be soaked in coconut milk to keep moist
  • Phulka: slightly more bubbly, puffy chapati
  • Roti: bread generally, or griddled flaky round loaves – perhaps the most generic term for bread of all

On that note, time to fetch some daily bread (and maybe some beans too)!