Photographs: Prakash Kamath Kanthavar
Eating has never remained the same for Mangaloreans, and many fast food eateries have been catering to the needs of busy working class people mostly and a few foodies who demand quality and quantity at affordable prices.
Gone are the days when people used to prefer to sit lazily in a restaurant waiting for supposedly hot podis which sometimes turn out to be colder than ice!
Since mid Seventies, there were a handful of Podi joints as I remember. I was a regular at one shop near New Chithra Talkies, one near Mannagudda Gurji and one near Roopavani Talkies. Then the variety of podis and the quantity they used to make was limited.
Around mid Eighties, a shop in Car Street near Gokarn Mutt was opened by a young aspirant, who has tickled the taste buds of thousands of Mangaloreans with his clean, hygienic and tasty podis(Fritters).
Front View of The Shop (Left)
Jeev Gujje Podi!
Today, this shop is the most visited one in Mangalore for podis, and it has been featured in NDTV by veteran TV anchor Vinod Dua in their food show.
The owner of this shop is popularly known as ‘Balli’, and Balli’s Podi is a household name, popular not only in Mangalore but also the world over!
Rajesh Baliga or Balli is talk of the town when it comes to Podi. His magic formula of crisp, crunchy and tongue tickling Biscuit Rottis are by far, the best one could get in Mangalore. Other specialities like Vegetable Samosa and Buns are loved not only by most of the Household people in and around Car Street but also by many who live at a far distance.
Balli is unique in making these savory crispies for the simple reason that none of the items carry garlic or onion in them, making them widely acceptable, at the same time not giving scope for loss in taste by not adding those ingredients. Many Temple priests who are restricted from eating garlic and onion visit here and they confidently eat these podis.
I have been a regular at Balli’s shop since he opened business, and recently as I was talking to Prakash Kamath regarding the proposed new feature in Mangalorean.com, Prakash suggested that we should cover Balli first for the simple reason that here is a person who has proved to the world that hard work and team spirit pays.
Balli with his 6 boys have worked as one team sharing the chores equally among themselves, never wasting a moment and maintaining the same standard over the years. They don’t have holidays except on Sundays and a few religious festivals like Car Street Rathotsav, Ganesh Chaturthi and Sharada Mahotsav.
I went with Prakash to Balli’s shop and what we saw there is amazing but true! I had always seen the shop from the outside where they fry the podis and pack them.
Looking at the way they prepare the podis impressed me very much.
There are quite a few items that we could get there. Biscuit Rotti, Buns, Chettambade, Vegetable Samosa, Cabbage Ambade, Vegetable Bonda and Batata Ambade are prepared between 2.30P.M. and 5.30P.M. Biscuit Rottis, Samosas and Buns sell like hot cakes and you are lucky if you could get them after 4.30P.M. Biscuit Ambades are available between 4.30P.M. and 5.30P.M. From 5.30P.M. to 7.00P.M., different varieties of podis are available.
Other podi items include Cauliflower, Gulla, Potato, Sweet Potato, Raw Plantain, Jeev Gujje and Bhendi. Some of the items are seasonal or subject to availability of raw materials. Special Thojank(Thaikulo) Ambade is available in the rainy season, but we felt lucky to see them prepared early this year, thanks to unprecedented rains!
Clean vegetables and pure spices, flours and condiments are used to make the podis here.
Oil is changed frequently and two separate deep frying pans are used to make podis. "This is to ensure that the strong smell of cabbage and like ambades don’t get infiltrated into other delicacies" explains Balli.
Biscuit Rotti Churna
Biscuit Rotti Being prepared
Most of the customers here are middle class working people mostly in Government services, Banks, Insurance Companies and those working for private firms. Many Gujarathis are regulars here, especially to taste Biscuit Rottis and Samosas. Business class people from Bunder and Car Street area are seen almost daily after they close down their shops and return home.
"I prefer to have podi items with my daily Ganji at night. Ganji and Balli’s Podi are made for each other" says Mr. Pai, who owns several Petrol Pumps in the city. It is amazing, but true that many people after tasting Balli’s Podi have developed taste for Ganji at night!
Nagendra Shenoy has a different experience to share. He says "Apart from Taj Mahal, Balli’s Podi is the best thing that can happen in Mangalore in the recent past. I usually eat Batata Ambades or Vegetable Bondas and one or two variety of Podis here as and when I feel like. They are very tasty, hot and inexpensive!"
Yes. A Biscuit Rotti is sold for less than Rs.4/-, Samosa and Buns are also priced alike, Bondas and Ambades cost Rs.3.50 each, Podis cost Rs.6/- to 8/- per packet depending on the item and Thojank Ambades are priced at Rs.4/- each.
Balli’s daily turnover is between RS. 7000-8000 and he is an honest tax payer, keeping books of accounts on his daily purchases and sales.
These podis are usually washed down the throat with fresh and natural juices like Birinda, Lemon and Doodh Cold. Bottled aerated drinks are also available. Just across the street there is the Herbal Soda machine of Bhat and Joishy with a variety of sodas.
Sheik Anwar comes all the way from Rosario to taste these podis. He says, his children simply love the taste. Rama Bangera has a Tool Shop in Bunder and he makes it a point to pack four different kinds of podis to be shared with his workers at tea time.
Deepak Misquith who works for a call centre comes from distant Nanthoor to taste these podis. A self acclaimed foodie, he authenticates that these are the best one could find in Mangalore. He adds that whenever he has party with his friends they take variety of podis to serve as starters.
I did not fail to notice a few ladies who apparently had come to Car Street for shopping vegetables.
Vidya Kamath says -"They make podis even tastier and homely than I make them at home! I also feel relaxed when we have guests at home and I don’t get enough time to prepare tea time snacks."
Another lady who didn’t want to disclose her name was of the opinion that ladies get more time to concentrate on other work and helping their children to do their home work, and often men come home late in the evening and demand for some fried stuff to go along with drinks. Balli’s podis are instant solutions to such problems!
"It is the grace of Lord Venkatramana and the hard work of my boys, that I have been able to run this business since last 15 years without much difficulty and absolutely no complaints from customers!" – Balli feels proud and contented as he says thus.
Certainly, the face of fast food business has changed over the years in Mangalore.
Yet, there are not many Ballis around, at least in the last 15 years!
Author: Rajanikanth Shenoy- Kudpi