From a very young age I was always curious to know what "Military" Hotel is, which I happened to find at various spots around the city. As I grew, so did my curiosity.After numerous questions and answers, I realized, it did not have any connection to the Indian Army but it did have connections to the Maratha Army instead.
According to sources, after the Maratha ruler Shahaji Bhonsle conquered the then Bangalore in the year 1638, some men of his started running hotels and as they were military people, these hotels came to be known as military hotels. There are also a section of people who think that these hotels used to cater to the soldiers of Bangalore, both Britishers as well as Indian, and that's how they got their name.
As I step away from the chaos of the traffic around the Majestic area and I enter a small wooden door painted blue in Cottonpet. At an instant, I am taken back in time, when soot covered the walls of brick and homes, with red oxide flooring. I feel like I had come to my grandmother's home, but actually I was at S. Govindrao Military Hotel.
As the server makes a short announcement of the day's menu, I get my hands on fluffy idlis into hot kheema curry. The firmness of the meatballs conceals the softness of the hand-beaten meat as it arouses a medley of flavours in my tongue, very soon my dried-leaf plate is filled with a humongous serving of mutton biryani in it.
The trademark of these family run eateries is the limited menu which comprises of dishes made from close-guarded recipes. These eateries are generally tucked away into the bylanes of the city, which are mostly in the once prominent parts of town such as Kalasipalya, Majestic, the Pete areas and Malleshwaram.
At the heart of the busy City Market or K R Market is the N V Naidu Military Hotel, a small entrance takes you into a broad corridor which has stone tables and chairs. A favourite amongst many here is the pepper chicken fry which is best paired with the hot mutton palav. The meat can be torn away from the bone with just two fingers.
Despite the delicious and wholesome meals served at these military hotels their popularity cuts across the different class lines of the society. It is rare to find the residue of Bengaluru's culinary history on the top of any recommendation list. To add on there isn't a definitive historical account of their origin either.
According to some, the military hotels made their appearances sometime around the 17th century to cater Shahji Bhonsle and his successor Shivaji's meat eating armies.
Another legend goes that when the bubonic plague hit Bengaluru in the late 1800s, the women and children were sent away to distant villages and the military hotels began to provide nourishment to the farmers who stayed back to tend to their fields.
Another story which marks their foundation in the early 19th century, when they began to feed the warring armies of Tipu Sultan and later the British. Old Bangalore, or the Cantonment area did not have any meat serving places other than the military hotels.
One would notice the prefix "Hindu" in these hotels which denotes that they do not serve beef and pork at their establishments. Country liquor was once in the menu of most military hotels, but now, however the filling meals take control and alcohol is no longer served.
With the passage of time, the hotels have always remained true to its. The patrons still come in large number to Gowdru's in Indiranagar, Chandu's in Malleshwaram and several others.
Ranganna Military Hotel has migrated to a new swanky outlet at a commercial complex in Jayanagar which has laid-back atmosphere. Diners still come here for their share of thale mamsa or the head meat, the paaya which is the trotter soup and the Kaima ball fry.
At the esteemed Shivaji Military Hotel, the mounds of aromatic mutton palav are brought out in 'donnes' which makes me forget the impatient eyes of the waiting patron who stare at me, hoping to grab my seat at the moment I burp in satisfaction.