The Mavalli Tiffin Room has been at its present location on Lalbagh Road since 1960, but its history goes back 40 more years. MTR as it is commonly referred is a Bengaluru landmark and deservedly so. It was my first meal in India and it was not at all what I expected. I had read several online reviews of the restaurant (many call MTR is the best restaurant in India) and was expecting a dish called rava idli, which as far as I can tell is a vegetarian rice cake stuffed or mixed with vegetables. Apparently this is only a breakfast food, and thus I was treated to a traditional lunch.
The restaurant charges a flat fee of approximately $3 a person, I paid and was handed a ticket and told to go upstairs. I didn’t see a menu and had no idea what I was eating (or if I had actually just paid for lunch). A barefoot man pointed me to a bench and told me to wait. There were eight other people waiting and I was clearly the only foreign tourist in the restaurant. After a few more people arrived and maybe ten minutes of waiting, the barefoot host sat everyone down at a few tables, for what I could guess was going to be family style dining.
I was seated at a small table with one other person and it was lucky for me that he was my dining companion. Abhinav Dey is a young entrepreneur from Vadodara, India. He was in Bangalore for business and decided to go to MTR for lunch. He became my de-facto meal guide and explained the food and showed me how to eat.
The MTR dining hall looks like it has not been updated since opening. The tables were non-descript and we sat in red plastic chairs. Most concerning to me was the loin cloth wearing barefoot waiters. The waiter put a silver Thali platter down in front of each us and handed us both glasses of water which Abhinav quickly warned me about drinking (although the thought of drinking this water never entered my mind).
Minutes later waiters started brining us selection after selection of delicious Indian food. A stream of different waiters would place or scoop food from buckets onto our Thali dishes. Abhinav explained as best as he could what I was eating but then asked me if I read the menu on the white board downstairs (pictured below). I didn’t see the white board, but even if I did I would not have had a clue what each dish was or that this was the menu for upstairs. Over the course of a half hour we were served fifteen dishes and each was unique and delicious. Abhinav did his best to educate me on what I was eating and how to eat it (dip into the dish with bread or scoop with fingers).
My plan is to go back to MTR for breakfast to try a rava idli. If the lunch was this good, I can only imagine how good their renown breakfast will be. As for the barefoot waiters, about 12 hours has passed since lunch and I’m happy to report that I feel fine. But take Abhinav’s advice and don’t drink the water.