In Pursuit of Rustic Flavours at Bengaluru’s Military Hotels

Donne biryani could very well be named Bengaluru's soul food.

Ruth Dsouza Prabhu

Tucked away in little bylanes, Bengaluru's 'Miltry hotels' are an eating experience like no other. With limited menus made from recipes that are in the safe-keeping of family members only, generations of satisfied customers have introduced these little restaurants to the next. 

Eating out in Bengaluru has long since become about the experience. Today, restaurants go to great lengths to ensure that theirs is an experience you will come back for repeatedly. Despite that, there is always a desire to go in for something that is rustic, fuss-free and fulfilling – and that is where the dining experience at Bengaluru 'Miltry' (as Bengaluru likes to call it) Hotels fits in perfectly.

The Story of ‘Miltry Hotels’

History is a little blurred when it comes to the origin of these miltry hotels, slightly misspelt in keeping with the local parlance and pronunciation. One talks of how these hotels sprung up to cater to the meat-eating armies of Shivaji Bhonsle. Perhaps the predominant Maratha influence is the reason meat gravies at these places are smooth – adhering to the Kolhapuri style of cooking.

Another speaks of how the bubonic plague wiped out most of Bengaluru in the early 1800s. Women and children who survived were sent back to distant villages to protect them from the illness. ‘Miltry’ hotels came up to provide sustenance to farmers who stayed back to tend to their fields.

A third story relates to how the soldiers of Tipu Sultan’s army and then later that of the British, in Bengaluru in 1806 wanted a meat-based diet. Old Bengaluru or what we know as the Cantonment area did not have any meat serving places. That is when these little restaurants came about. The prefix Hindu was primarily to denote that beef and pork were not served here.

Also read: The Best Eats of Namma Bengaluru

The Dining Experience

A dining experience at the miltry hotels is closely knit into the fabric of Bengaluru’s heritage and culture. These small spaces are best described as relics of an era gone by. They have certain features that clearly define themservice that starts as early as 6:30 AM, a limited menu that reads like a meat-lover’s dream and service that is nonchalant, often bordering on rude. This perhaps comes from the knowledge that their food speaks more for them than anything else. 

Kaima ball curry with idlis

There are quite a few of these ‘miltry’ hotels that dot the cityscape, many riding the wave of popularity that some of the original ones have carved for themselves. Among the older well-known ones is the S Govindrao (SGR) Miltry Hotel, now over 115 years old. Once in Cottonpet close to the traffic-logged Majestic Bus Terminus, the ambience would take you back half a century. A small blue wooden entryway led to two small rooms with tables to seat two. A brusque announcement of the day’s menu and you would soon be dipping your fingers into piping hot kaima ball curry with fluffy idlis. “Biryani is ready by 6:30 AM and we serve anyone who cares to walk in,” was the general attitude. Your patri (dried leaf mat plate) would suddenly be invaded by a big hand that pushes steaming biryani right under your noise and the silence, from the auto drivers, beat police, and local political honchos seated around you as you dig in, is noticeable. This remains much the same today, except this miltry hotel has moved location within Majestic, into a better and bigger space. 

Also read: Why Bengaluru loves her Biryani

Many of these little restaurants began in what was once a central and very visible location. Development all around them has now relegated many ‘miltry’ hotels into an obscure corner of a potholed road. N V Naidu Miltry Hotel lies in the heart of City Market and it is only their very visible signboard that announces their presence in the entire melee. You may walk past its entrance, especially if you are busy dodging humanity around it. Once inside, a broad corridor is lined with stone tables and chairs, again to seat two. Banana leaves materialise and the chicken fry with the mutton palav (pulao) you order appear in steel plates. By far, the secret recipe of the mutton palav here is worth begging for. Rest assured you will never get it. Never leave without slurping loudly on the lemon rasam that heralds the end of your meal here. 

Chicken Fry at Ranganna Miltry Hotel.

The dedicated patrons of Ranganna Miltry Hotel (RMH) in Jayanagar now find their fix of thale mamsa (head meat), paaya (trotter soup), kaima ball fry, besides the palavs and meat fries, at their sunlight filled outlet on the second floor of a building. This is a far cry from the hole-in-the-wall it once was when it began in 1967, all the way to late 2000s. The staff ushers you to the 'family room', which insists, via a notice, that you may enter only if you have a lady with you. If you’re a stag, the rest of the place is yours.

“All our spices come from K R Market and are ground here fresh,” proudly declares Muniranganna, the owner. When you are between mouthfuls of ragi mudde and kaima curry, Muniranganna will ask you if you have ever tasted anything as good as his food. Prod him a little and you will hear wrestling stories from his heyday. 

Shivaji Miltry Hotel, significantly old, has achieved cult status in the world of ‘miltry’ hotels. Close to rude service, people literally staring you down as you eat, hoping to grab your seat the instant you burp in satisfaction and piles of steaming mutton palav in donnes (leaf bowls) is what you will get here. Timing is key in getting what you have come for – whether it is takeaway, a seat or a donne full of palav. You share tables with blue collared workers, denim clad students and executives with their loosened ties.

Also read: Mutton biryani to comfort one's soul

Mutton pulao in donnes at Shivaji Miltry Hotel.
If a chicken meal is what you are looking for, then SGS Non-Veg Gundu Pulao close to Avenue Road is a popular favourite for its chicken palav. That’s about all they serve. Be prepared to wait in long queues for takeaway or simply carry your donne up to the open terrace and fight for space to stand and eat, or simply squat on the floor. 

Also read: All you need to know about Kannadiga's favourite beans - Avarebele

Most of these little ‘hotels’ have been in families for at least three generations and the recipes behind each of these dishes are a closely guarded secret. Keep in mind that most are closed on Mondays – in keeping with religious beliefs. Time has seen some of these places progress from wood fires to gas, dingy mud buildings to brick and mortar, seating on the floor to polished steel tables. But what remains the same is the passion behind the preparation and serving of food.

Images courtesy: Ruth Dsouza Prabhu
Featured image concept: Vartika Pahuja


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