The Iyengar bakery

Here’s my first medium post.. please be patient with some of my ramblings :)

I grew up in Bangalore in the 90's, when Bangalore was not yet the Silicon Valley of India. One thing that has become a part of Bangalore’s vanishing past are the Iyengar bakeries dotted across the city. The best treat that us kids looked up to then was a cream bun at the nearest bakery. We were guaranteed fresh and soft buns and the smell of freshly baked bread whenever we passed by.

I, along with most people I know, have moved on to exotic macarons, creme brulee, tiramisu etc. We comment on the texture of the macaron as if we were judges in Masterchef. We try to out-pronounce the french in each item. I think I may have overdone it in the recent past, and it’s now triggered an impulse in me to go all Indian.

As part of Project Sweet Tooth 2.0, I visited one of my old haunts last week (“Belur Iyengar’s Bakery” in Vijayanagar). It was like being back in school! (except, instead of mom telling me to go easy on the wallet, it was the wife :)). Well, some things don’t change, I thought, and proceeded to order everything that caught my fancy. Sweet buns, coconut biscuits, “Om” biscuits, “dil pasand”, “khara bun”… so on and so forth.

So, the baker, noticing my unnatural enthusiasm for checking the texture of each item, started explaining how things were made in his time. It was a fascinating story! There are so many steps that go into making something simple like an om biscuit!

He then told me his story of how he became a baker — He was apparently an apprentice with a famous baker in Malleshwaram (a Mr. Narayana Iyengar), and that man was a tough guru. “Get up early in the morning”, “bathe before you enter the kitchen”, “roll the dough correctly”, “don’t cut biscuits from the tray, nurse them out”. The apprentices learnt the hard way how to make a good bun, and in the decades since, have started their own Iyengar bakeries.

After bidding adieu to my new friend (and consuming all of his delicious products), I’ve come to realize that this is what I miss the most about shopping nowadays. When the owner of an establishment talks to you, you get that human connection, and that builds loyalty like nothing else. You feel cared for, you feel special. Irrespective of what we say about the predictability of large chains or the advantages of an online marketplace, there is a, I don’t know, warmth, in mom-and-pop shops.

I hope that these bakeries endure the e-volution of commerce in India and come out with their human aspect intact.