On our way to Sirsi, on a hot summer afternoon in May, we stopped at Davengere, to sample the Benne Dosas which have made this tiny city so very famous on the Karnataka map. And of course, we wanted to have it at the most authentic place possible. After some scouting around in the busy city street, typical of small towns like this, with fruit vendors, flower sellers, goli soda carts, and small eateries, we gathered that the place to be at is GURURAJ CANTEEN.
We walked around, avoided the larger shops with bigger boards until we found out this hole in the wall shop. It was in a small alleyway, which ended with an astrologer’s shop. Guess our stars were not really in alignment, as we realized it won’t open for another hour. I was a little surprised with this odd opening time- 2:30 PM, but decided to wait patiently at a small tea shop outside. As time would refuse to pass, we also whiled the hour away sampling watermelons and pineapples from the carts near bus stand, drinking sugar cane juice, and lounging around the canteen. It’s the longest I have waited for food! And, I was wondering if it would be worth it…
By 2:15 pm regular customers started gathering around the shop. A lady was sweeping the floor outside; a small boy was further walking weirdly around the entrance. It had all the elements of magic waiting to happen, a la Wally World in the film Vacation, or maybe we were way too hungry and imaginative. We headed the queue and were first in to bag the corner bench as soon as the humble door opened.
The canteen is a one-room restaurant, with an old-temple-style low door. The seating was old school, very functional at best, with filament bulbs and old frames on the walls. On the right side of the room, there was a live kitchen with impressively modern set up, a batter mixing machine, and a workstation for the chef. The menu was minimal: Benne Dosa, Open Dosa, Khali Dosa. The most expensive item on the list cost 70 rupees – one plate of Benne (Butter) Masala Dosa with two dosas.
Within 15 minutes of opening up, a steady stream of customers started trickling in. Some waited for their turn while others came armed to parcel the food for lunch. We felt like the only outsiders (our touristy eyes and gear not helping), in what looked like a daily routine in this place, everything in clockwork precision.
As if we had earned it, we literally ordered everything on the menu. Benne Dosas are made with white butter, filled with fragrant spiced potato mix, served with a generous dollop of homemade butter. They served it with a vegetable palya (curry) and coconut chutney. It was crisp and delicious with the spicy accompaniments. A few restaurants in Bangalore prepare the dosas with ghee; though I prefer the ones made with white butter. We also had some open dosas as well which have podi sprinkled on them. Even though it was blazing hot and humid, we topped the meal with some filter coffee. It was indeed food for the gods, and worth all the wait, and then some.
Contrary to our expectation, we were treated warmly by the owners, and despite the claustrophobic nature of the place filled with eager customers, they smiled at us and entertained our queries and photo-ops.
It was a magical discovery of a hidden Dosa heaven, certainly much beyond what I expected. It was the stuff exciting road trips are made of.
Shree Gururaj Canteen (Menu, Prices in Rupees)
Benne Dosa 2 for 70 and 1 for 35
Open Dosa 40
Coffee, Paddu, Butter 36
2 coffee – 25
Extra butter 5; Extra curry 5
Tea 10 Coffee 10