Tuesday 11 December 2012

The tale of a Royal dish-the Mysore Pak and the Bisi Bele Bath

It was another day at the Mysore Palace and the reigning King, Nalawadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1884-1940), was about to sit for lunch.
It  was the early years of the 20th century. The then royal cook, Kakasura Madappa, had just completed the preparation for the royal palate. He liked dishing out different dishes to the King who in turn appreciated them.
On that particular day, Kakasura decided to come out with a new sweet dish. He had just mixed besan, ghee and sugar and was preparing a sweet syrup when he was called to serve the King.
Even as the other dishes were being served to the King, Kakasura served the sweet he had prepared. The King tasted it and was extremely delighted. He had never before tasted the dish and it just melted in his mouth.
What is this dish and how did you prepare it, he asked Kakasura. The cook, thoroughly pleased that his experiment had succeeded, said it was Mysore Paka. He had hit on the name at the spur of the moment.  Paka in Kannada and it means a sweet concoction.
The sweet soon came out of the Royal Palace and spread rapidly. Royals, noblemen and commoners alike soon started preparing Mysore Paka and the name struck.
Meanwhile, Kakasura refined the sweet and the Mysore Pak that came out of his hands included chick pea flour, ghee (clarified butter).  It soon became  a famous royal sweet and the name Mysore Pak spread beyond the boundaries of Mysore.   
The king then asked Kakasura to set up a shop outside the Amba Vilas Palace grounds so that his subjects too could taste the Pak.
Thus was born Guru Sweets on Sayaji Rao Road in Mysore in 1957. The royal cook-Kakasura-passed away in 1964, aged 70 and by then Mysore Pak had become one of the main sweets in the Indian palate. His son, Basavanna, continued the family tradition. His descendents still operate the shop and the Mysore Pak of this shop has a unique and distinct taste.
Today, there are several varieties of Mysore Pak, each with its distinct flavour and taste. The Pak has also transcended the borders of Karnataka and it is very commonly available all over India. But a majority of the buyers of Mysore Pak are not aware that it originated in the Royal kitchens of Mysore and that it was prepared by accident.    
There are at least three other dishes which trace their origin to Mysore-the Mysore Masala Dosa, Bisi Bele Bath and the Mysore Saaru (rasam). All the three from Mysore taste differently from their competitors.
The Masala Dosa too originated in Mysore and this Dosa is much different from the Davangere Bene Dosa, Udupi Dosa  or even Madras Dosa.  My friends would have me believe that Dosa originated in Udupi. I would go for Mysore as I am a Mysorean.
The Mysore Dosa is soft on the inside and crisp on the out side. The Urad dal that is used makes all the difference to the taste and even look.
Another Mysore invention is the Set Dosa with Saagu and chutney.
By the way, dosa is described in Sangam literature of Tamil Nadu of the 6th century AD. In Karnataka, the first written mention of the Dosa is by a King, Chalukya Someshwara the third in his book written in 1057 called Manasollasa.
Similarly, the Mysore Saaru (Rasam) is very distinct from others like the Madras Rasam. The Saaru has a taste of  pepper and the rasam powder has methi seeds to give it a mouth watering flavour.
Wel, what more can I say If you are in Mysorem check out the many eateries and wash down the Masal Dosa with a hot cup of Mysore filter coffee that R K Narayan and others so loved.
By the way, another Mysore speciality, the Bisi Bele Bath, fondly called concrete for the heaviness, also originated in Mysore.
This dish too was invented in the Mysore Palace 300 years ago as a vegetable free piping hot dish. A Kannada writer, K.T. Acharya, has traced the bath to a 10th century dish called Kattaogara. The Kattogara, he says in his book, “A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food,” was rice mixed with ghee, salt and garlic.
However, Mysoreans say the dish is theirs and it originated within the Wodeyar palace first as a non-vegetable dish with a different taste and ingredients such as cloves, Turmeric, Tamarind, cashew nuts, dried coconut, mustard seeds and  cinnamon.
Slowly, vegetables began to be added and the bath in its present shape and form came off the stove. It then travelled all the way from the palace to Udupi where it received further palatal decorations.
Believe me, you will never get filter coffee like the one you tasted in Mysore in some outlets. Check them out for yourself.


  1. OH wow, my mouth is watering. Mom used to make wonderful mysore pak.

    1. Yes, I still remember the Mysore Pak. The best Mysore Pak in Mysore is from Guru Sweeta. In Bangalore, taste the Mysore Pak of Venkateshwara Sweet Meat (Yes, it is meat) Stall, one pof the oldest sweet shop in Bangalore.

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  3. Another old eatry called "Mylary Hotel" in Nazarabad severs the typical Mysore Masala Dosa..other specialities of mysore are Churmuri & Rice bath..

  4. K T achaya, not acharya.

  5. Very nice Blog , Thanks for sharing this blog of Buy sweets in Bangalore