Quite often people who move from the North to a city like Bengaluru, or are simply visiting have this notion that the South Indian city stands no comparison in terms of food to the popular dishes in a place like Delhi. While it may be somewhat understandable where this opinion comes from, there is disproportionate attention given to North Indian cuisine and a lack of representation for its South Indian counterparts in the mainstream narrative. A large contributing factor is that most people may not have explored the culinary wonders of South India fully.
Bengaluru goes beyond the (irresistible) dosas and idlis and puts on offer dishes that many would have never heard of. There exists royalty in the city when it comes to certain biryanis and non-vegetarian dishes and it goes by the name of Military Hotels.
Along with the many culinary gems of the city, Military Hotels is a group for those that have been around for a long time, but its charm is all the more for those coming across them for the first time. But how did they come to be?
There exist several possible origin stories, but the base of most of these remains that they were essentially meant to feed soldiers, hence the word ‘military’ in the name itself. A belief stated by historian Suresh Jayaram says that after Bengaluru was conquered in 1638, the Maratha descendants of Shahaji Bhonsle settled and began running these restaurants. The first of these hotels are believed to be Shivaji Military Hotel in Jayanagar.
To sustain the appetites and required nutrition of soldiers, who obviously were in need for energy and good health, these Military Hotels would place focus on meat dishes, full of protein. Mansoor Ali, who conducts heritage and history walks in the city mentions to The Hindu that these hotels were set up for the Maratha armies in the 17th Century, and their influence can be seen in the food. “The Mughals invented the biryani, as it was simple to carry and provided the soldiers with enough protein to fight long drawn out military campaigns,” he says.
These meat-forward dishes would usually not feature in a Hindu establishment, but the need called for it. Hotels’ names would usually be prefixed with ‘Hindu’ to specify that no beef or pork would be served there. These are some of the very few places where one could enjoy the usual delicacies of dosas, but also have the option of wiping clean a bowl of keema curry, paaya, or the much-loved donne biryani.
Another origin story hints that the Military Hotels came as a result of having to feed the farmers whose families had left Bengaluru due to the bubonic plague in the 1800s. Some also believe these hotels served Tipu Sultan’s soldiers.
To date, Military Hotels put out some of the best non-vegetarian dishes the city has on offer. These are not fancy restaurants and the preparation of foods is as authentic as it gets, including the selection of native and local ingredients. Recipes are guarded with their lives and no part of the dish is easy to replicate.
Bengaluru’s food culture, superficially, is defined by its impeccable dosas, idlis, sambar, and of course, filter coffee. However, going beyond these run-of-the-mill food items and looking deeper into the city’s history allows us to uncover a whole new culinary experience. Not for the faint-hearted, these Military Hotels and their food are second to none. A mark of what once was Bangalore, Military Hotels and their meaty, heavy, fulfilling food gives us a deliciously nostalgic escapade.
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