Udupi hotels across the country are known for their crispy masala dosas, piping hot vadas and tangy sambars. But, did you know these hotels, unwittingly, also helped curb caste-based segregation in public spaces in India?
It all started in the 13th century in Udupi, a small coastal town of Karnataka. Here, a popular Sri Krishna temple began the practice of serving free meals, or annadhana, to its devotees. Both the menu as well as the timings for when the food was served were fixed.
History texts say that the cooks that trained in these temples eventually moved to other parts of the country, like Bengaluru, Chennai and Mumbai, and went on to set up Udupi hotels in these areas.
In 1942, a young boy who had migrated to Mumbai from Udupi set up the first Udupi Sri Krishna hotel. Sometime in the 1950s, two brothers set up Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR), another Udupi-style hotel. After 80 years of business, MTR is now considered to be more of an institution.
So how did these restaurants play a role in curbing caste-based segregation?
Initially, Udupi restaurants had strict norms about serving food to their patrons. There was the omission of certain vegetables for cooking, restricted entry, exclusive dining areas for Brahmins, and separate utensils. But in the 1950s, activists started raising their voice against caste-based practises, and their extension into restaurants. In one incident, Dravidian leader Ramaswami Naicker painted over the word ‘Brahmin’ on a restaurant’s signboard.
Soon, other restaurants followed by changing their practices, and today, Udupi hotels are cultural hubs where both office-goers and daily labourers dine together.
Watch the incredible story of Udupi hotels here: