The state of ancient ruins dotted with spice and coffee plantations is blessed with regal heritage, beautiful architecture and blissful nature. Karnataka, the seventh largest state in terms of area has been ruled by various dynasties and is thus home to diverse culture. The mineral rich state that forms the Deccan part of the country is the top producer of raw silk, coffee and sandalwood.
The 290km stretch of coastline that goes North from Batapady beach until Karwar is still some of the beautiful and diverse in India. It’s got quiet beaches, touristy beaches, some of the best coast roads, and best of all, some incredible food. We set out to explore this coast with open minds and empty bellies. While there are common threads and staples throughout, we went looking for the very best that the coast has to offer and present to you our top picks.
After you’ve been to Batabady Beach (which you absolutely must go to early in the morning), you’ll find yourself a little peckish. Your first stop should be the Someshwar. As you drive along, you’ll find Tiffin joints opening up in the morning. We tried a few on the recommendations of locals and found that they’re all fairly homogenous. This is Udupi cuisine done really well.
The small, yet diverse menus in these places include old favourites such as Idli-Vada, Dosas of all descriptions including, Benne (butter) Masala Dosa, Set Dosa, Onion Uttapam and other, lesser-known delights such as Bisi Belle Bhat, Khara Bhat, Chow Chow Bhat and something you must try called Kesri Bhat, which is a Semolina-based sweet and a near cousin of the ubiquitous Halwa.
A breakfast like that should set you up for a couple of hours. That’s more than enough time for one to drive to Mangaluru for lunch. In fact, it’s just a half-an hour’s drive that’ll give you plenty of time to get acquainted with the city.
Once you’ve done that, we’d recommend that you go to Machali in Kodailbail. This place is a favourite among locals and visitors alike and does Konkani style Tulu food. We’d recommend you keep it simple here and go straight for the Fish Thali. It comes with rice, vegetable curry, a broth made with fish bones and other bits that are beautifully rich, a Mangalorean dal and fired Mackerel. Their Crab Ghee Roast is probably the best we’ve ever had.
After a lunch like that, you’ll require either a comfortable lie down or a brisk walk. Drive down to Malpe Beach instead. This fairly effortless drive will take you about an hour and a half. Malpe is a bustling tourist beach. If you don’t like busy places then we suggest Kadike Beach which is just a few kilometres to the north.
However, Malpe has a charm of its own. There are carnival games such as shooting balloons with air rifles, quad bikes that you can rent to bomb around the beach on and lots of other family-friendly things. But the reason we went to Malpe Beach was for the seafood. Tiny stalls dot the entrance to the beach. They all have freshly fired/grilled fish, prawns, crab and other seafood. This is one of those gems that exist in few places around the world where fresh seafood is cooked simply and sold at very reasonable prices for everyone to enjoy right at the beach.
After having all the food you’ll need in a day, we set off for the Udupi town the next morning. From Malpe to the middle of Udupi takes no more than 20 minutes. At 8:00am, the restaurants were buzzing with activity; most of them packed completely.
We went to Mitra Samaj which is near Sri Krishna Temple. Not that you’d need a landmark because any local you ask will be able to direct you right to your preferred table at this hugely popular restaurant. It’s a simple place with quick service and quicker churn of diners. We’d heartily recommend the Bullet Idlis, Medu Vada, Goli Bajje and the amazing Cold Badam Milk to cap your breakfast.
After a breakfast like that, we’d recommend a little bit of activity again. Manipal is a great place to do this. From little tuck shops, cafes, tiny joints that serve Maggi and basic sandwiches, Manipal takes one back to simpler times. We ditched our car and took a rickshaw that showed us around the vast and sprawling university. We were told to go to a place called Bacchus Inn. As you walk in, you notice that it feels a lot like those laid back restaurants that one finds along the banks of the Mandovi river in Goa. There’s something very shorts-and-tshirt about it. There’s nothing pretentious about the food here. It’s good, hearty Goan shack food; which means that it’s part European, part Chinese, part Coastal and a bit of Indian.
We set off from Manipal at 4:00pm with our bellies full and our minds in nostalgia mode for the two hour drive to Murdeshwar. There is a unique charm and beauty that the Karnataka coast has that is its own and driving along it feels, one tends to be a bit moderate, more masticating than consuming. It’s a strange set of emotions to describe, but beautiful nonetheless.
After a quick visit to the Murdeshwar Temple, we went to our hotel, had a quick freshen-up and went straight in search of dinner. As we walked along the beach, trying to figure out what to do, we chanced upon a dimly lit shack with Konkani music playing. As we walked towards we heard laughter, singing and caught a whiff of cooking fish. It turned out to be a dinner party of a group of fishermen. The meal that followed consisted of simply grilled Mackerel, Sardines and Anchovies as snacks. They’d made a hearty fish stew and coconut rice for mains. But this meal wasn’t all about food (which was excellent), but rather more about conversation, having a few laughs, making new friends and taking back memories.
We woke up late the next morning with decidedly heavy heads because of all that ‘fish’. We didn’t have time for breakfast. We had just enough time for a couple of glasses of Kokum Sherbet and away we went. We managed the 80km drive from Murdeshwar Beach to Gokarna in an hour and we got to our destination late by half an hour. Still, real French food on the Konkan coast? This was worth making a few apologies for. The place we’d chosen was called Chez Cristophe. This may seem strange but like Hampi, Gokarna is a very international part of Karnataka. It felt a lot like Goa from 20 years ago. On the menu for us was an excellent Charcuterie selection (in Gokarna) to start with. For mains, we had the rather brilliant Goose Pate which was served on toasted Baguette slices. We were recommended the Chocolate Mousse for dessert and gave in. That was the best decision we’d made all day. Best Chocolate Mousse we’ve had? Check. Merci, Chez Cristophe.
This quaint little town (like the other quaint little towns on our way so far), is at the Northern end of Karnataka, on its border with Goa. By now, we’d eaten at great restaurants, we’d tried several local delicacies which affirmed our opinion that Karnataka’s coast is a mecca for food lovers.
So we sat down at a local seaside restaurant and ordered our dinner. We thought about the three days and thought about all the incredible things we’d eaten. And we realised that food can only ever be as good as the people that make it. And all the people we’d met really cared about food, about feeding people and making them happy. They took it as seriously as the French and had the warmth of the Italians. We can’t thank
And then our order arrived. A simple Mackerel curry and steamed rice. And it was excellent as well.