Mysuru may not be my favourite city for food in Karnataka. I'm more partial to the state's Southern coast with scrumptious local specialties in towns like Udupi and Kundapura. And yet Mysuru is where two of my favourite delicacies originated, both from the royal kitchens in Mysore Palace. The first is the eponymous Mysore Pak that sweet shops across Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have made their own. Most local legends tell the story of Kakasura Madappa, a cook in Mysore's royal kitchen who invented the Mysore Pak to comply with the Mysore Maharaja's wishes. I always stop at Guru Sweets a local sweet shop with an eight-decade long legacy that's now run by Kakasura Madappa's great grandsons. The other inevitable pit-stop is Mahesh Prasad, a busy restaurant in the city's Lakshmipuram neighbourhood where the Bisi Bele Bath is always served 'bisi'.
If there's one thing traditional South Indian restaurants can't get away with in Mysuru or Bengaluru, it's food that's served lukewarm. Anyone with a Bengaluru connection is used to everything from chow chow bath to masala dose served piping hot or simply 'Bisi'. It's why one of the state's most popular rice dishes includes the 'bisi' (hot) prefix almost suggesting that you dare not serve this dish at any other temperature. For me, this is comfort food - a dish like an Ambur or Hyderabad biryani that was invented for Sunday afternoons. Where a siesta is usually the next logical step. It's a dish that's etched in my summer vacation memories in my city of birth - Bengaluru. The last time I tried the dish was at Caraway Kitchen, the all-day diner at the Conrad Bengaluru where authentic local cuisine from Karnataka gets a fair share of the spotlight.
The Bisi Bele Bath is one dish that deserves this spotlight, not just at the Conrad. 'Bele' refers to lentil and this flavourful dish combines rice, lentils and a medley of fragrant spices that is usually drenched in ghee. Many restaurants in Bengaluru and iconic establishments like Mahesh Prasad in Mysuru top the bisi bele bath with boondi. The key to the Bisi Bele Bath is the masala that brings together an assortment of spices. Many traditional 'condiment' shops in Bengaluru including popular stores like Raghavendra Condiment stores in Malleshwaram sell this powder. You can also buy it in supermarkets or online platforms across India or make your own powder (see recipe).
Bisi Bele Bath Recipe
Recipe Courtesy: Praveen Shetty, Executive Chef, Conrad Bengaluru.
To pressure cook:
. Rice 1 cup
. Toor dal 1/2 cup
. Water 4 cups
. Vegetables dice (You could use carrot, beans, capsicum)
. Ghee: 2 teaspoons
. Mustard seeds: 1 teaspoons
. Red chili: 2
. Cashew nuts: 5 -6
. Turmeric powder: 1 teaspoon
. Bisi bele bath masala: 2 tablespoon
. Tamarind pulp: 1 teaspoon
. Tomato: 3
. Spicy boondi for garnish
Bisi bele bath masala
. Coriander seeds 4 tsp
. Channa dal 4 tsp
. Urad dal 2 tsp
. 10 bydagi chili
. Cumin seeds 1 tsp
. Black pepper 1 tsp
. Cardamom 3 nos
. Cinnamon 1 inch
. Cloves 3 nos
. Poppy seeds 1 tsp
. Fenugreek seeds 1tsp
. Curry leaves 2 spring
. Asafoetida 1 tsp
. Dried coconut 3 tsp
To make the bisi bele bath masala:
1. Dry roast all above ingredients in a pan one by one.
2. Keep it for cooling.
3. Grind to a fine powder and keep it in air tight container.
1. Cook dal and rice with vegetables, and 1 tsp salt .
2. Prepare the tempering, heat oil in a pan add mustard seeds, cashew nuts, dry chili, fry well.
3. Add tomato paste with tamarind cook well.,
4. Add turmeric powder and bisi bele bath powder mix well.
5. Cook it for few minutes till raw smell goes off.
6. Add the tempering with dal rice mixture and mix well with remaining ghee.
7. Mix well. Top it with boondi and serve hot (bisi!)
This scrumptious dish is a meal by itself but you can opt to serve it with accompaniments that vary from home to home. I'd recommend a okra pachadi or South Indian-style bhindi raita or potato wafers or even a crispy roast potato palya (stir-fry) with it. If you'd like a healthy option to balance the rich bisi bele bath, try it with the popular Karnataka salad - Kosambari. If ever you try making Bisi Bele Bath at home, you can be sure of fragrant aromas wafting from your kitchen. That's an aroma that instantly transports me back to my childhood and Sunday afternoons in Bengaluru.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.