I remember my first day at school, rather, what I did that evening. I hated school, and I proved my unhappiness by wailing to my mother and puking all that I ate at lunch, as additional proof. But my mom knew better, “Wash up and come inside, your grandpa has got some damrote”, she said. That did it—I meekly did as told, and any hatred for my new school was forgotten.
And sure enough, the rich, sinful preparation was handed to me in a cup, as I tucked in carefully, not letting even a little crumb go waste. In fact damrote was not meant to be shared nor eaten while talking with others on the table-it commanded respect. I would run upstairs and hop on to the ledge over the window and sit and eat it, quiet, savoring every morsel- sometimes even speak to it.
That was the kind of power that damrote yielded over my childhood, not ice cream, not chocolate. It was available in only one place: Gundappa Hotel, and people would come from far and wide just to buy 100 grams or two of this sweetmeat-it was expensive. My grandpa was a connoisseur of sorts when it came to good food- he bought the best ingredients from the best places, and sweet for a special occasion meant damrote.
I was obese through childhood, and I suspect my grandpa’s indulgence and my fondness for food was the catalyst. I still am on the heavier side (tsk, tsk) and although my grandpa is no more, I seem to have inherited this whole eye/nose/mouth-for-good-food thingy. The only difference is grandpa wouldn’t eat, he would bring them for us, and I am different that way!
Giving out the recipe for damrote is impossible, first it is a secret guarded by the Gundappa Hotel Kitchens and second, somehow I just can’t believe anyone can make it like them. Oh, there are several sweetmeat stores professing to make this: but trust me, I know how the original tastes since 30 years!
Describing damrote is a challenge-one needs to taste it. Made of grated pumpkin, khova, ghee and sugar, the mixture is cooked on ‘dum’, in a sealed copper vessel. By the end of three-four hours, the result is a sizzling golden-brown damrote with a crunchy-gooey exterior and a sweet, soft, succulent inside. The taste is out-of-the-world. I felt privileged when Mr. Srikanth—one of the brothers who run the sweetshop now—showed me the old copper oven it is cooked in. The huge plate with 10-kg of the delicacy just sings and sizzles in the oven- it is pure joy to watch.
Of course growing up, I discovered a whole lot of other favorite desserts: warm chocolate cake, coconut burfi, kesaribath and more recently paal ada pradhaman from my mother-in-law’s kitchen, but damrote holds a very special place in my heart, almost like a friend who helped me forget the little sorrows of childhood, and gave me moments of pure ‘foodie’ joy! This is just a very, very small tribute.
(About Gundappa’s Hotel: You get lovely sweets at this sweet shop. And in my experience the Vimurti and Chandrahara rock! And I love the mixture they sell because it has chunks of pakodas in it—like little surprises hiding in nooks and corners of the packet. Gundappa’s Hotel has also forayed into ready-to-eat mixes: Rava Idli, Rasam and Sambar and Vangibath powders and Chutney podi. Among them, I think the Vangibath powder was amazing and the Sambar and Rasam powders are just like what mom makes at home. If you want to try any of these, call them on 080-22222055. The shop is nestled in a nook on OTC Road, Nagrathpet, in old Bangalore, India.)