Coffee and Biscuits Udipi Style. Swagath Refreshments, Fort

MumbaiCentral, the lawyer who tweets, and I share a common passion for food. We both work at Fort right now. We caught up for lunch at Modern Lunch Home a few days back. The first of many I both hope. Turned out that she is quite an encyclopedia on food. One of the things that she told me about was something called Biscuit Ambade at Swagath. Swagath is an Udipi restaurant in one of the by lanes of Fort. She told me that Biscuit Ambade was similar to a 'Bonda'. As a Philistinic Bengali I had no idea what she was talking of. I had a vague idea that Bondas were large deep fried ball- like fritters. Stuffed with potatoes. She also told me that these are fried at 4.30 PM and get over soon after that. On asking, MumbaiCentral assured me that Biscuit Almade wasn't related to Suresh Kalmadi!

I was intrigued and went in search of biscuit ambades the very evening Mumbai Central told me about them. Swagath was a typical Udipi restaurant. Simple, functional furniture. Clean. Tables constantly mopped. Not smelly at all. Clientele consisted of office goers eating with serious yet content faces. Gearing up for the long train ride home. It was a busy place. Efficient waiters turning the tables quickly with a hawk eye on customers. No fuss. No mess. Satisfaction guaranteed. Time was at such a premium that the guy at the counter hardly had time to talk to me. Over a couple of visits I learnt that the restaurant was about twenty to thirty years old, opened sometime in the seventies and that it was an Udipi joint. That's it. No friendly garrulous Irani cafe owners here.

The waiter told me that there were biscuit ambades but that they were cold. It was close to 7 PM after all. I ordered a Mysore Sada Dosa. The dosa arrived. Didn't look unusual.

I bit into it and sunk into its velvet spell. This was a celestial dosa with a slight crunch in the base and a very soft and soulful surface above that. The red masala was quite erudite. A distinguished taste. The sort of dosa which makes you want to eat, pray AND love. Believe me, it takes a lot for a non vegetarian Bengali such as me, to sing paeans for a dosa. The dosa at Rs 23 (half a USD) cost half of what the dosas at Shiv Sagar Bandra do. Tasted thrice as good.

I next went there at 6.30 PM. This time the biscuit ambades weren't even cold. They were over! I ordered an Ulundu Dosa which I was told was made with udad daal and rice batter (as Miri told me). The waiter got the dosa. I looked at it and said that it was an uthapam. The waiter smiled and said that it different.

He was right. It did taste different. Sightly sour. Slightly crunchy with a soft heart. my taste buds danced in joy. Once again I was delightfully surprised.

Next time I went some mates from work at around 6 PM. Biscuit ambade was over. We went to Yazdani Bakery and had a rollicking time there.

I was ravenous when I returned to Fort after my trip to Calcutta. I went to Ideal Corner and had a chilli chicken and fried rice which somewhat satiated me. I was hungry again in a couple of hours. I went down to Swagath. 

It was 5.30 PM. Wonder of wonders. Biscuit Amabde was there. The urban legend did exist. What seemed as improbable as a Rajnikanth stunt was now laid in front of me.

I was unfortunately underwhelmed. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Plus they were served cold. As MumbaiCentral told me earlier, they were fried an hour back. It was evidently a popular snack. I saw others order it too. To me they tasted like cold medu vadas in a different shape. Definitely didn't inspire the sort of awe that the fresh and piping hot mysore sada dosa and ulundu dosa had inspired. It was a rather average experience. I guess I need to come back at 4.30 PM someday and have them off the frying pan. This time with MumbaiCentral.

I had ordered a filter coffee too as I had got into a full South Indian Malgudi Days mood. Well, Swami and his friends didn't seem to be there. And I begun to regret my decision. The milky coffee in a glass, possibly sugar laden, didn't seem to be a good idea. I, after all, am a black coffee with a spot of milk and a dash of sugar person. I was sure I would be disappointed.

I took a tentative sip. I woke up with a jolt as the coffee hurtled through my system. This was serious, grown up stuff. Very strong. Very firm. Very deep. I could almost hear Amitabh Bachchan's baritone from the seventies in the background as I gleefully lapped up the coffee. I was sold. This was one of the most delightful coffees that I have had in ages. For all of thirteen Rupees ( not even worth converting into USD). I went back to work refreshed, rejuvenated, recharged. A coffee break of just about twenty minutes in case anyone from work is reading this.

I am sure you know where I will be the next time I need a sun downer at Fort.

18/9/2010 Update: I now have my regular table at Swagath. I go there for filter coffee and dosa before I head home. Today I showed a copy of this blog post to Chandru (arm on the shoulder of the cashier with the striped shirt) who normally waits on my table. He got very excited and showed it to his friends. The look of glee on their faces was one of the most memorable moments of blogging for me. The ones who had not been photographed for the post  wanted to get photographed this time.


Unknown said…
Oh Dude! You win my heart again. Coffee as deep as Amitabh Bachchan's voice. I want so bad.. Did I tell you i hate Goregaon? I just sat whining abt how I want some Muska bun and chai. No such luck. On the brighter side I loved the sandesh - the one with the honey core center...
Scarlett said…
I want dosa too :( There are no good South Indian places here. There's a ghastly 'Bombay Shiv Sagar' though!
Miri said…
Ulundu means urad dal - this one is made from rice and urad dal batter, the same ingredients with which one makes regular dosais - but the proportion differs.

Filter coffee is the only coffee I drink - and then only when it is madeb by Mom or a particular cousin. Which means I have coffee twice a year. It can put hair on your chest ;)
Pinku said…
such a lovely post...

that mysore dosa does look tempting and I must really congratulate you for your doggedness in tracking down that fritter...even if the results be not that mind blowing.
Moonshine said…
This is the one time that I am feeling infinitely superior!!!!!! Being here in bangalore :)

I have filter coffee every other day.. actually it is available in office.. at the shop downstairs....everywhere!!!!

And nothing to beat a hot crispy dosha to satisfy hunger pangs!!! Udipi joints are fun..
arpana said…
Equally sumptuous food as well as post!
Bong Mom said…
"Believe me, it takes a lot for a non vegetarian Bengali such as me, to sing paeans for a dosa"

So true, how I have to lure the hubby if I want to go out for a Dosa Dinner on Saturday.

But that Kalmadi's cousin is nothing I have ever heard of
Nalini Hebbar said…
the same rice and urad dal in diff proportions give you a new about ingenuity!
your post is cant beat the south for 'tiffin' varieties!
Abhishek said…
My Favourite is always Masala Dosa.
I have not had my Breakfast yet and your post had made be hungry.
I am a vegetarian and first time to your blog, will venture your blog for more.
Best Wishes !
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Hey Curry Spice, I am savouring every moment here till I return to the suburbs. Glad you liked the sandesh. That would have been a jaggery syrup filling

Scarlett, what about near Lake Market. A Tamil area in Calcutta

@Miri, thanks. I must update. yes, the filter coffee was quite deep :)

@Abhishek, thanks and welcome. This was one of the rare posts where animals were not hurt though

@Aparna, thanks

@Pinku, all for a good cause

@Moonshine, this was downstairs for me too :) And I get Parsi food, Gomantak food, conti, Mangalorean food... all downstairs :)

@Bong Mom: Between you and me, luchi chholar daal for me anyday

@Nalini, amazing isn't it. I think Jamie Oliver calls this 'Food Families'. I love South indian snacks
Anonymous said…
Came across this during a random goodle search and was curious what biscuit ambade was as we don't have anything by that name in Mangalore After seeing the pic, it was clear. The Manglorean name for 'biscuit ambade' is "goli baje". Goli, I think comes from 'round' and baje for anything fried. A lot of eateries in Matunga especially Sharada Bhavan (opp. Station) make it well too.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
thanks for sharing this info