In the best of times, I would have scoffed at the idea of a takeaway. I would have sat outdoors under a frangipani tree, ordered a cup of coffee, and nibbled on a brownie as I read about how rapidly things escalated for the protagonist of the novel I was reading. I would do this especially in a city like Mysuru whose laid back vibe matched my own attitude to dining.
Long regarded as a well-planned city with resident royalty, Mysuru’s reputation as a yoga destination, and its annual Dussehra celebration, draws yoga practitioners and tourists alike from across the world. It also draws world citizens like Dina Weber, David Belo and Ashwin Shetty who have set up artisan food brands in the land of impeccably wobbly haalbai and melt-in-the-mouth mysore pak.
But this is my first outstation trip from Chennai, my home where I had turned to pandemic-induced comfort-eating, doom-scrolling and video call fatigue for a year. I am grateful for the break, but understandably nervous, even though I am masked up and keep my distance from fellow customers at SAPA Sourdough and Pastry. I also fervently hope that the outlet doesn’t run out of the fine fare I had heard so much about.
The SA in the SAPA derives from sauer, the German word for ‘sour.’ I learn that it is the brainchild of Dina Weber whose journey began in her mother’s kitchen in Germany and took her across Asia as a volunteer, exposing her to permaculture, organic farming and sustainability.
Weber encountered her first sourdough starter in 2015 in Goa and baked her first loaf in Leh, Ladakh. “The first bread came out so well,” she recounts. “But I was not able to recreate that until after 20-30 more loaves!” Moving to Mysuru five years ago, the 26-year-old eventually began a weekly pre-order service and held regular bake sales. “There are people who look at the health aspect of our breads,” says Weber, “but I feel that for our customers, it’s not about the sourdough. It’s about that hard crust of traditional European style bread. There is an emotional connect.”
SAPA Sourdough and Pastry grew incrementally to opening an outlet in March 2020 in what appears to be a renovated car garage with athangudi floor tiles in a house in V.V. Mohalla with fern green window frames, and a gate painted to match. It was with some reluctance that we tore ourselves away from the outdoor seating to feast our eyes instead, on an inviting array of quiches, tarts and fine pastries. A sourdough loaf sits by its lonesome self on the shelf, reserved for someone with the foresight to book in advance. Clearly, spontaneity is not a virtue when it comes to sourdough bread, and I settle for a takeaway of berry Bostock rusk, cherry and pistachio mousse tart, and walnut espresso dark chocolate cookie.
For the chocolate-based fare like my cookie, Weber uses single-origin artisan chocolate from Naviluna (formerly Earth Loaf), the first bean-to-bar chocolate house in India based in Mysuru. Established in 2012, the brand had been in the news recently for their Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to restore a heritage property in the city that will become their headquarters, chocolate factory and a brasserie.
“As far as I know,” writes David Belo, Director & Executive Chef at Naviluna, over an email “we were the first to introduce Gondhoraj limes (from Bengal and Assam) in chocolate back in 2015. Our jackfruit & black pepper was also a vernacular nod to the flavours of Karnataka and Kerala.” But their most unique recipe is probably the Bambooshyam bar released a few months ago, featuring fermented bamboo shoots from the Northeast, candied in a cigar infused date syrup caramel and blended with lemongrass. “This bar is definitely the most technical in terms of flavour matching we’ve done to date, and though I thought it would be more for our die-hard supporters, it has surprisingly been very successful with the general public. It also may or may not have been inspired by a girl I once met,” states Belo.
While we didn’t visit Naviluna this time, the next best thing was to pick up a bar of their chocolate at Minimal Coffee Roasters in Gokulam. We park across the street on 9th Cross Road and amble over to this nook with its distinct Japandi (Japanese and Scandinavian) style in the heart of Mysuru. The cosy outlet was a cool respite from the glare of sunshine outside, and my takeaway of a cold mocha was a perfect foil for the noontime heat of Mysuru. The flavour was on point and may have had something to do with how well chocolate combines with espresso and jaggery.
Ashwin Shetty, who co-founded Minimal Coffee Roasters, was away but later responded to my email on how they came to be the first small batch coffee roasters in Mysuru. “I have been in the coffee industry since 2013 and have always wanted to open a specialty coffee shop in India.” He quit his job in 2018 and started looking for a spot in the city, and eventually found a tiny space and made the existing tenant an offer he couldn’t refuse, to move out of the shop. Shetty and his wife Emma Tan’s vision came to be known as Minimal—a nod to the space size and the simplicity of great quality drinks at minimal pricing.
But a year ago, things did not look promising. The pandemic and the lockdowns took a toll on these businesses, especially as all three were just embarking on new phases.
Belo was preoccupied raising capital during the preceding financial year, making it a weaker year for sales and revenues going into the lockdown. He was faced with the very difficult choice of taking an emergency flight back to South Africa to be with his family or staying in Mysuru to navigate his way through the crisis.
Shetty had to clear out coffee stock at a discount. “We managed to stay afloat, as we’re tiny in operations.”
Weber managed to get a delivery pass for essential services because they were making bread. “I baked alone. My husband delivered. It kept us going for a bit but it’s not the same.” The number of people stopping by for the experience is much more than the number of people that order bread home twice a week.
But Belo, Shetty and Weber keep this artisan food ecosystem in Mysuru ticking by building on synergies where they can. Shetty, for instance, is also a regular customer at SAPA, retails Naviluna’s bars at his café, and uses Naviluna for Minimal’s chocolate-based beverages, like the Iced Mocha I sampled.
“Mysuru is very small,” says Weber, “so you know exactly what the others are doing. We hang out together. And I think we all agree that if we work together, we can put Mysuru on the map. It’s about community, not competition.”
Back home, suitably chastened by the accounts of the rough times the pandemic has wreaked on these businesses, I admonish myself for my earlier petulance at not being able to hang out at cafés. The best we could do, under the circumstances, was accept what we had, and share what we could, even if I did it with great reluctance with the significant other in the case of the takeaway from SAPA. The walnut espresso cookie was a robust hit of dark chocolate, and the berry Bostock rusk’s crust yielded to the slightest pressure. The tart was gloriously messy to share and had the brightness from the cherry, along with a mousse that tasted at once airy in texture, and earthy in its pistachio nuttiness.
Finally, I unwrapped Naviluna’s tastefully packaged Longum Pepper, Lime and Orange Dark chocolate bar whose flavours were well-balanced between the dark chocolate, the blended lime and the candied orange.
I relished the hit of pippali in the chocolate, while gazing out of my window at a magnificent Gulmohar in riotous bloom in March. While we went about our altered lives, blithely unaware that we were in that sweet interlude between the first wave of a pandemic, and the savage impending second, spring had arrived in Mysuru.
In hindsight, this would indeed be the best of times for a while to come.
*Note: At the time of publishing this article, dine-in is not permitted under the lockdown rules in Mysuru. Takeaway or ordering ahead would be the next best options.
Earth Loaf Artisan & Raw PVT LTD
439 Hebbal INDLA Area, Mysore, KA, 570016, India
Until their new premises and brasserie opens, you can order online from their website or from stockists across India listed on the website. Play it safe with the Longum Pepper, Lime & Orange bar or give the Bambooshyam bar a shot.
naviluna.in; Rs800 approximately for two chocolate bars.
1A, 13th Cross, Kalidasa Road, V.V Mohalla, Jayalakshmipuram, Mysuru, Karnataka 570012
Apart from their sourdough (preorder details on their Instagram bio), a classic that everybody loves is the sea salt caramel and chocolate tart.
www.sapabakery.com; Rs800-1000 approximately for two.
219, 9th Cross Rd, Gokulam 3rd Stage, Gokulam, Mysuru, Karnataka 570002
Head here for the Flat white, Iced Mocha and Matcha sourced from Uji Japan (hot/cold).
www.facebook.com/minimal.coffeeco; Rs450 approximately for two.
Only a small-batch gelato is made against orders. Belgian dark chocolate is popular, and mango is a seasonal favourite. Vegan and sugar free options are available in chocolate and fruit flavours like musk melon and mango.
Ajay Nesargi +9198806 29621; Rs900 per kilo with a minimum order of 300 grams.
228/3 Gokulam Main Road, Near Ganapathi Temple, Mysore 570002
Head here for Kombucha, smoothies, pasta and sourdough pizzas.
www.depthngreencafe.com; Rs700-1000 approximately for two.
Order pickles, jams, preserves, bakes, dry goods, spices and a range of handcrafted natural cheese here.
+919663847010; email@example.com; Breads from Rs200 per loaf .
Saritha Rao Rayachoti loves stories, afternoon naps and wild goose chases for vegetarian food in strange lands. During the pandemic, she is known to have scratched her travel itch by living out of a pink suitcase called Rosie, named after the character in R.K. Narayan's 'The Guide'.