Bangalore: Science and food

I have three posts remaining about my trip to India, and this is the next-to-penultimate one. I was invited to give two lectures in Bangalore (now called “Bengaluru,” but I’ll use the old name), hosted by the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, a lovely garden campus on the outskirts of this rapidly growing and confusing city.  First, as you enter the campus you see a stone with Nehru’s words engraved on it:

This is the faculty and student canteen, which serves lovely vegetarian food and where you can sit outside and eat, or simply have a tea or South Indian coffee:

The campus has won many awards for its landscaping, which are prominently displayed in the administration building:

My wonderful hosts on this visit were T. N. C. Vidya (left) and Amitabh Joshi (right), here posing with a picture of Nehru himself.  Amitabh is an evolutionary biologist and geneticist, Vidya—the “T. N. C.” is short for some very long South Indian words and often dropped—is an organismal, conservation and evolutionary biologist. There are several evolutionists on the staff, a welcome change from when I visited India several decades ago, a time there was only one evolutionary biologist I knew of in the whole country—in Mysore. I often wanted to do a sabbatical in India, but at the time when I had sabbaticals, there was really nobody to work with.

Part of Vidya’s work is on wild Indian elephants, and here she is with some of her subjects. I’ve importuned her to let me visit the elephants the next time I go to India.

Here’s a vegetarian lunch that several of us (including the Institute’s President) had at the canteen. There are several kinds of yogurt and veg dishes as well as two types of bread (the one at the top is made from rice flour), as well as sambar, the spicy soup near the center. As usual with these thali meals, portions were unlimited, with the staff coming around to refill your plates. Not shown: firni, or rice pudding, for dessert.

As I said, I gave two talks, though one (on “ways of knowing”) was at The Indian Academy of Sciences at Bangalore.  After my research talk on flies at the Nehru Institute, there were goodies served, and I was given a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Goodies and my bouquet are shown in the photo below.  There are always snacks after talks, and on this visit to India it was usually tea and samosas. This time, though, it was tea, cake, and french fries!

We had a simple but wonderful lunch at Hali Mane (“Village Home”), a place designed to mimic the inside of a South Indian home. We got there a bit early (lunchtime in India is about 1-1:30 pm), which is fortunate as it rapidly got crowded. This is scene from the balcony. People eat at standup tables, but there are sit-down places upstairs:

The menu, a panoply of great food. And it’s cheap: it’s about 66 rupees to the dollar now. As you can see, coffee is about 16¢ and an akki roti (see below) about 45¢. If you’re smart you go for the South Indian food on the left. Everybody seemed to.

This really is local food: my meal consisted of  akkit roti (left on the plate; a rice-flour bread), ragi roti (right on the plate; a millet bread, something I’d never had before), onion chutney, a dry condiment (puri), and a sweet bread called obbatu (in the fluted paper):

Amitabh and Vidya chowing down. Note: everyone eats with their right hands. If you go to India, that’s what you’re gonna do.

All washed down with frothy cup of strong South Indian coffee:

On the way back from lunch we passed an outlet of K. C. Das, the chain of sweet shops owned by Mr. Birenda Das, the subject of my children’s book. He actually came to my talk at the Indian Academy of Sciences, but I didn’t photograph him as he doesn’t like his picture taken (it was with great difficulty that we got him to allow us to photograph him for the book).

Here’s Birenda with one of his many cats, photographed in his home by my friend Shubhra Chakrabarti, who did the importuning. He wears traditional Indian clothing made from the finest cotton, and that’s what he wore to my lecture. It was good to see him, and I was sorry I couldn’t visit him and his cats, for I had to head to Trivandrum:

Outside Hali Mane people were lining up at its stall making sweet breads, of which they had many kinds:

“Holiga” is the same thing as obbatu. They’re about 30-50 cents each:

On the griddle:

Finally, we had a blowout dinner at Sattvam, which serves “sattvic cuisine“, not overly spiced and abjuring meat, onions, and garlic. This restaurant was buffet only, with a fantastic selection of tasty food. So forgive me while I show you a lot of photos, which show only part of what was on offer (I left out the Western style food).

The first “course” was a bowl of tangy tomato soup, served with a “tower of treats” that appear to be desserts. The tower was smoking from dry ice immersed in water. Amitabh looks dubious:

And then another small plate of appetizers before you hit the buffet. These small bites (I believe there’s a samosa-like item at upper left and paneer with pepper at lower right) were excellent:

And then we had to choose from this array (foods are labeled, click pictures to read the signs). Savory drinks were first:


Hot foods:

Desserts, with a trifle as a nod to the Raj:

Halwas (yum!):

My desserts (there was an ice cream station, too, with a marble mix-in slab, but I was too full to even try). The chocolate covered pineapple came from a chocolate fountain:

A well-fed table: Vidya, me, Geetha Gadagkar and Raghavendra Gadagkar, who studies the evolution of social behavior (photo by Amitabh). This was a pretty spiffy restaurant, but you notice that everyone still eats with their right hands.  Just as Chinese cuisine is designed to be eaten with chopsticks, Indian cuisine is meant to be eaten with the hands, using rice or bread as a vehicle to lift the food:

Thanks to Amitabh and Vidya for hosting me; may we meet again!


  1. GBJames
    Posted January 15, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    This has got me wondering….

    Are there any Indian restaurants in the US that are “authentic” enough to ask/allow diners to eat without cutlery?

    • Posted January 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      I always use my hands in Chicago’s Indian restaurants. I’ve never had a problem doing that, and nobody on the staff has commented. I haven’t seen a restaurant ASK diners to eat without cutlery, for that’s a no-go proposition in the US!

      • GBJames
        Posted January 15, 2018 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Have you ever seen anyone else do that?

        (I’ve never seen this in Milwaukee or out in the SF Bay Area.)

        • Posted January 15, 2018 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

          I don’t recall, but i bet it happens on Devon Avenue, where I usually eat and the population is largely Indian. No worse eating with your hands in an Indian restaurant than eating with chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant!

    • Christopher
      Posted January 15, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      It’s nice to know that, like pretty much every non-Indian, I e been eating my favorite food incorrectly. I eat with both hands, usually a form in one hand, naan in the other, and I eat naan AND rice with pretty much every dish. Oops. I eat like a child, apparently. Luckily, a quick search shows a plethora of YouTube videos on how to eat Indian food properly.

    • Posted January 15, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      In the Little India part of Artesia, a suburb of Los Angeles, I see people eat with their hand all the time. I try to eat with my hand but often give up and use a fork to avoid embarrassment. Sometimes I see families where the teenage kids eat with forks and the older folk with their hand. All that said, I have yet to see a restaurant where they don’t put out forks as part of the place setting.

  2. Barry Lyons
    Posted January 15, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Two things:

    a) I could eat Indian food FOREVER.

    b) I remember reading many years ago about a biography of Nehru. I don’t recall which book that might’ve been, but now you’ve restoked my interest — is “restoked” a word? It is now — in finding it. It might’ve been “Nehru: The Invention of India”, but I’m not sure.

    • Posted January 15, 2018 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Second that. Forever. Sorry Mexico and Italy and France and China and Thailand and Japan and Mediterranean. India is numero uno for food.

  3. Mark R.
    Posted January 15, 2018 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for another great virtual tour of India.

    So I imagine you slurp soup straight from the bowl? I hope you can use both hands as scalding soup can be a hazard. Maybe that’s why all the bowls look on the small side…to be used with the right hand only. As a lefty, I think I’d have a messy time eating in India.

    • Posted January 15, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      It depends. In that restaurant you use a spoon. Also a spoon for dahi (yogurt) as there’s no way to eat plain yogurt with your hands. Some desserts, like gulab jamun in syrup or rasmalai, also mandate utensils, and you’ll get them when you order them.

      It is messy for everyone; that’s why all Indian restaurants have a sink (and usually soap) to wash your hands before and after eating.

      • Mark R.
        Posted January 15, 2018 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        Interesting…I can see how a spoon would be hard to relinquish with soup, raita and some of those gooey desserts.

        Messy food is fun though. Sloppy Joe understood. 🙂

  4. Posted January 15, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    … this is the next-to-penultimate one.

    There’s even a word for that, “antepenultimate”, though I’ve only ever seen it used in a Flanders and Swann song.

    • Derek Freyberg
      Posted January 15, 2018 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Ah, Flanders & Swann: I grew up with recordings of some of their performances.
      Speaking of “Madeira M’Dear”, I believe there is a term for the verb with several objects “the cat, the wine, his cigar and the lamps” in “And he said as he hastened to put out the cat,
      The wine, his cigar and the lamps”; but I’ve forgotten it.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 15, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    This looks more like a food festival than anything. There was the nice cat however.

    • Posted January 15, 2018 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      No, I spent a lot more time talking science than eating food. It’s just that there aren’t many photos of the former for obvious reasons. And I don’t have many “street life” photos because when I wasn’t eating, I was talking science.

  6. Posted January 15, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    And even a word for the one before antepenultimate!: preantepenultimate. See

    • Posted January 17, 2018 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      Careful – highly addictive. If you enter that site, you may never leave…

      Whatever you do, don’t click on “Index”.

      • Posted January 17, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        I haven’t been back to that site but now you have me wondering. Index click!

  7. BJ
    Posted January 15, 2018 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful campus! I notice no ground in the pictures is paved. Is this the case with most roads/cleared walking spaces in India/certain places?

  8. Robert Nola
    Posted January 15, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    So how do left-handers like me get on in India when it comes to eating? Or are we oppressed, once more, by right-handers?
    Nice of Nehru to praise science. But worshiping at its shrine is quite the wrong attitude to take. No critical assessment of anything?

    • Posted January 15, 2018 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      I think you have to eat facing backwards so it looks like you are using your right hand. 😉

    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 15, 2018 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      I think I could manage eating with my right hand, but when it comes to something like the soup commented on above, to be eaten with a spoon, that would be a problem.

      Relatedly, I was thinking earlier that it’s a good thing chopsticks go with China et al and not India. I doubt I’d be able to eat righthanded with chopsticks.

      There must be more pressure on natural left-handed kids in India than anywhere else, but I haven’t seen any commentary on this.

  9. Posted January 15, 2018 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    As if I’m not hungry enough, PCC-E shows up with a food post.

    I imagine I’ll have a hard time eating in India. I’m a righty but I use my left hand for burgwrs and stuff.

  10. chrism
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I’m so jealous. I loved the Indian restaurants in London, but since moving to the wilds of NS I’m bereft. I have to get my fix on the occasional trip to Toronto.

  11. Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    A lovely campus, and with lovely food. Shades of UBC. I guess it is the green and the Asian cuisine. (I didn’t mean that rhyme, but hey, whatever works. :)!)

    The street-stuff and restaraunts are great too.

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