There are two eyes on my plate. I can’t claim that they’re trying to make eye contact or anything ghoulish like that, because they’re nicely covered in a dark gravy and actually taste quite… interesting. Which is only to be expected when you go on a food walk through Shivajinagar, the old slaughterhouse and market area of Bengaluru. My mission: to try all the local “spare-part items”, otherwise known as offal, or “variety meats” according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Offal dishes are something of a Shivajinagar speciality—but to get the best of these, one must know where to go to and what to order, which is why a guide like Mansoor Ali comes in handy. I had often heard about incredible offal dishes to be had in town—the spicy liver at Andhra joints, the pork sorpotel of Goan kitchens, fish head curry in Odiya eateries, and grilled lamb hearts served on skewers in the city’s trendy nouvelle bars. But so far I had merely sampled the yummy chicken liver on toast at Koshy’s Parade Café, so when I heard about this spare-parts walk, I jumped at the opportunity.
Semantically speaking, offal encompasses most non-muscular, edible parts of an animal, though food cultures have different preferences and taboos about what is to be eaten and what is not. In some parts of the world, like U.S.A., chitterlings (hog intestines) and prairie oysters (bull bollocks) are part of rustic diets, while tripe (stomach tissue of bovine creatures) and pâté de foie gras (fattened goose liver) are two infamous components of French haute cuisine.
Our tour starts around 11a.m. on Broadway Road, which is a legendary destination among foodies, lined with grill houses, falooda stalls, and tea shops serving Suleimani chai. Chops of meat hang on skewers, covered in marinades ranging from deadly red to spooky white and scary green, while kebabs sizzle on coal grills, and keema samosas splutter in boiling oil. We begin at New Hilal, opposite the old Beef Market that was built in the 1930s, with plates of “sira”, the meaty parts of the head of the goat, served both as dry fry and in rich gravy with hot Kerala parathas. Apart from the eyes, the curry contains things such as tongue, which I find quite delicate with a spongy texture similar to shiitake mushrooms.
After the exhilarating eats at the New Hilal we gingerly tread down a congested street to the huge multi-floor Taj restaurant for goat trotters soup. Unfortunately, paya, I learn is an early morning dish. Mansoor consoles me by saying that eating the rich soup after noontime just leads to indigestion anyway. Instead, we have some tantalizing sweet egg pudding as a compensation before we move on to Saqlain Kabab Centre, another local gem where we have bowls of marrow soup (nalli), robust chunks of fried liver (kaliji), and barbecued kidneys (gurda). Unlike most other places on the walk, that offer AC or “family rooms” for its finer clientele, this is a really grubby place: no tablecloths and instead of napkins, we are given pages out of Times of India. But the food is superb, especially the nalli soup with melt-in-the-mouth chunks of gooey marrow.
Over brain masala and Iranian flat bread at Hamza Hotel on Broadway Street, I get chatty with my foodie companions. Somehow I had expected to attend a macho jamboree, with a bunch of hardcore carnivores out to challenge each others’ non-vegetarianism. But instead I’m largely surrounded by dainty madams though this lot also includes a pure vegetarian gentleman who doesn’t touch the food—it seems he is accompanying a non-veg friend out of curiosity. Another is a food-blogger who is obsessed with disinfecting the utensils, so I take a cue from her and follow suit. One lad feels that everything reminds him of his grandmother’s cooking except that granny’s offal came in “semi-gravy” as opposed to “dry fry”, which appears to be the vogue in Shivajinagar. For him, this outing is a trip back to his childhood in Tumkur. Yet another walker turns out to be an NRI nurse based in Minnesota; she has a healthy appetite, but does make the important point that offal shouldn’t be eaten too often. “Today’s lifestyles wouldn’t support this kind of diet,” she says.
“So what would be best from a medical point of view—once a year?” I ask.
“Twice a month is fine,” she says with a big smile.
Before we part, I ask Mansoor how come, since we’ve eaten almost every other weird animal part today, there is no scrotum on the menus? He blushes briefly and says that private parts are not eaten in India. “It is a very Egyptian thing,” he adds, so I presume he must have been to Egypt to sample it. But then the food-blogger pipes up and says that she has heard that people in Mumbai actually eat goat testicles. Then again people in Mumbai have always been wilder than us gentler folks in the south.
Updated in September 2017.
Bengaluru by Foot (www.bengalurubyfoot.com) conducts offal walks, in addition to other guided food tours in Bengaluru, such as the pure vegetarian masala dosa walk. Walks like the one described above last about 3.5 hr and are priced at ₹ 2,000 per head; includes as much food as you can eat.
The offal walk has some amount of trotting, though not too much as Shivajinagar is a compact area. The itinerary is flexible and depends on what is available and where, but generally about four restaurants are visited. Wear easy-to-clean shoes and carry a hand-sanitizer.
Zac O'Yeah is the author of the Bengaluru crime novel trilogy "Mr Majestic", "Hari, a Hero for Hire" and "Tropical Detective" (Pan Macmillan India) and his latest travel book is "A Walk Through Barygaza" (Amazon/Westland Books 2017).