The famous chef earned the “godambi” tag because he would garnish all dishes with cashew nuts. The right-angled table in the community hall was groaning with divine sweets, melt in the mouth savouries and tickle your tastebuds masalas. At Gokulasthami he is much sought after by the members of the Iyengar community who can find his hub because the aroma wafting from his kitchen leads you by the nose!

August 29,2019

Pushpa Iyengar in Bangalore

If you mention “godambi” (cashew nut) Sridhar in Bangalore, everyone, particularly the Hebbar Iyengars who largely stay in Malleshwaram instantly know who you are talking about. The famous chef earned the “godambi” tag because he would garnish all dishes, many snacks, sweets, savouries and even food with cashew nuts.

We in Goa know how precious and valued it is when we shop for it as a giveaway when meeting friends and relatives outside the sunny state because we all know the state is identified with the rich nut/fruit (not just in terms of money but also its good calories that enhances any dish that you garnish it with).

This Janmasthami (also called Krishna Jayanti/ Gokulashtami), B R Sridhar who started SSSS caterers (SSSS stands for Sridhar, his wife Srimathi, his daughter Sneha and son Santosh) about 30 years ago, was serving up delicacies as he has done every year over five days for several years. Speaking to Goanspirit, while frying sheede (a ball made of rice flour that is a namkeen) in a huge wok with bubbling oil, he said, “Janmasthami is special for Iyengars and being a Hebbar Iyengar myself I have grown up in Belur (near Hassan) and know this is the biggest festival on their calendar where traditional delicacies are sought after.”

Indulge your sweet cravings

The only difference this year was that he had shifted to a place called Rama Mandira in Mallesharam which has a large community hall (In above pic) because his Rajajinagar house, which is also the location where he conducts his business that includes a large kitchen, was being renovated. He was bustling about, sometimes he was hands-on with the 25 regular cooks in his employ (he hires more on daily wages depending on the order), sometimes around the right angle table which was laden with “thindis” (eats). There was a huge variety of sweets (Coconut Barfi, Mysore Pak, Badam Barfi, Rave Unde (a ball made of sooji), Sajjapu (a typically Hebbar Iyengar sweet which is crisp on the outside and filled with a rich mix of jaggery, copra inside) and other traditional varieties.

There were also savouries (Thenkol, Murku, Nippatu, Sheede, Kara Seve) apart from masalas including rasam, sambar, a typical Hebbar Iyengar delicacy called Puliogare that is a paste made of tamarind, jaggery, til and other spices that is mixed with rice and a must at weddings, chatnipudi that is an accompaniment to dosas and idlis and other rare concoctions and powders that are difficult and time-consuming to make at home but nevertheless people are nostalgic about because they last ate it made by grandma at their ‘native place’ eons ago.

My brother, G S Suresh, remembers that Godambi Sridhar was the caterer when he organized a “grihapravesham” (house-warming) back in 2005. And any host knows that the success of any function is in the food that is served, literally the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And his was a resounding success! And when he went to Sridhar’s Rajajinagar house to pay up, he remembers that after the pleasantries that were exchanged, Suresh handed him the money (Rs 55,000) and the famous caterer just took the wad of notes and put it in a drawer, not counting to check whether all the money was there!

A rags to riches story

But Sridhar, now 60,(in the pic lending a hand with the frying of sheedes) was not always wealthy. “Our family was poor. My father was a cook in Belur (he was known as 'Puliogara' Rangaswamy Iyengar) and we were 10 children –five sisters and brothers. After passing my PUC (Pre-university certificate), I hunted for a job without much success,” he remembers.

He migrated to Bangalore in the seventies in search of a job and came across ‘coffee’ Kamlamma who then was the go-to caterer. She reasoned with him, “Why do any other job when you have a cooking skill that you can turn into a business.” And that’s what he did. And when she died some years later, he replaced her as the go-to caterer. Now he supplies his brand of eats to corporates at Diwali, a hospital who is a regular client to whom he supplied Rs 2 lakh worth of yummy treats last Diwali, weddings, even factories.

But at Gokulasthami he is much sought after by the members of the Iyengar community who can find his hub without difficulty because the aroma wafting from his kitchen leads you by the nose. Sneha, now a mother of a little baby, was helping and so was his son, Santosh, at Ram Mandir apart from his brothers, sisters and a retenue of friends in a festive atmosphere.

Santosh, now 21, (in pic with the board)and who has just graduated with an engineering degree has joined his father’s business. “I want to get into event management,” says the young man, seeing avenues to carry on his father’s business armed with his skills. “My dad was younger than I am now when he started out,” he says proudly. And he has plans to take the business to the next level. A third generation entrepreneur who sees the business growing because after all, man cannot have enough to sweeten his life, even if they come in different shapes and sizes and flavours!