A Taste of Mysuru, One Dish at a Time

From shopping for your own ingredients to cooking with locals, a culinary tour is a fun new way to experience a city

Arathi Menon

What’s the best way to know a city—it’s culture and traditions? You could take a tour around the historical spots and monuments, strike up a conversation with a local, read books on the city, attend a festival or simply walk down a busy road and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the city.

Or, here's a better idea: Walk into a local household, interact with the family members, invade their kitchen, cook and sit around the dining table with them for a hearty meal. The idea isn’t that far-fetched anymore with organised tours to local homes becoming the new normal in tourism circles. So when the idea of a Culinary Tour of Mysuru was floated by Royal Mysore Walks, the city's bespoke tour group organiser, there was good reason to join. 

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Be it the dinner table or the kitchen, a family comes together around food. There’s so much one can learn about a place and its culture by just spending time in a home with locals. This is the sentiment that led Vinay Parameshwarappa, the founder of Royal Mysore Walks, to conceptualise and curate this tour three years ago after being wowed by a similar concept in Italy where he was hosted by a local family. In the last three years, his company has hosted around 1000 people, he says, a testimony to the popularity of the tour.

 As I hop into the culinary wagon with eight American Roadscholars (no, they are not students of a university but members of a travel group by that name), I have no idea what to expect—perhaps the ideal state of mind for a virgin experience. Like every other part of the city, Mysuru too has an identity of its own that is somewhat removed from the rest of Karnataka. What will we explore or experience by cooking with a homemaker and eating with the family members? Well, we are just about to find that out.

At 4:30 pm, we gather at Devaraja Market, the oldest market in the city that dates back to pre-colonial era where all kinds of traders come to sell their wares. We are given a list of ingredients to buy for the cook off. Kainath Junaidi, our young guide, explains each ingredient for the benefit of the foreign guests and bargains like a pro with sellers.

The shopping bag begins to get heavy and we make a brief pit-stop at the “banana lane” to taste Mysore’s famous Nanjangud Rasabale (also banapple because it tastes distinctly like apples). Roger, our co-traveller is amazed at the size of the market, and makes a quick comparison to the farmers’ markets in the US. “This is huge. Nothing like this,” he mutters.

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With shopping done, we hop into three different autorickshaws and head to N R Mohalla where Kainath’s mother, 49-year-old Hufsa is waiting to greet us. We are served masala tea. The conversation flits effortlessly from the sponge painting on the wall and the heat and the traffic to arranged marriages, India’s environmental problems and why the widowed Hufsa has still not made the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

 Soon, vegetables come washed and ready to be peeled and chopped. On the menu, we have the quintessentially-Karnataka salad Kosambari, masala dosa and the sweet semolina dish, Kesari Baath. Nuggets of useful information are shared, how the dishes are prepared, the oil used, how much is good enough, and yea, how to eat all of this. Everyone gets to try their hands at making dosas before the food gets served on plantain leaves. More laughs, attempts to eat with fingers, slurp the sambar. After the meal, the guests are gifted a book of recipes and a spice box. 

Royal Myrusu Walks ties up with homemakers who are willing to cook and host visitors. Hufsa, who has hosted about five groups in her home so far, says she loves to host and interact with small groups of visitors, especially Westerners. She feels they are kind, curious and open to new experiences. She also appreciates the cultural exchanges that happen during these brief visits.

Vinay sums it up well. “In India, making food is a thankless job. This is a chance for many homemakers to feel appreciated”. For the visitors, it is an immersive experience to sit around the dining table with a family and experience the sights, sounds and smells like a local. 


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