Annapoorna: The Mess You Deserve

 

Annapoorna. Situated in the shady crevice between 9th block and Manipal Institute of Jewellery Management, this mess has been the savior of students who have dared to go that extra half mile for hand-made rotis. The name of the Hindu goddess of food and nourishment strikes out in bold capital letters as I step inside the mess, in the shadow of 23 years of engineering students that have passed through this very doorway, including names like Satya Nadella, Rajiv Suri and perhaps even Banwali Agarwala.

 

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I listen to T. Deranna Rai, the manager of Annapoorna recount his life story as he gives me a tour of the mess. He has been a part of MIT ever since he joined, way back in 1973. “That’s a lot of year backs” I remark, as we walk down into the kitchen area. He chuckles. The kitchen is rather small, but very clean and tidy. It’s almost 7 in the evening and all the workers are busy preparing dinner for the 1500-odd members that will come to dine here tonight. As mandated by the college, all those working in the kitchen have to wear protective caps so as not to get any hair on the food, even me.

Mr. Rai reminisces about his time in the college: “Back in my day, there was no single mess for students to go and hang out at. There were 4 different messes, namely for South Indian veg, South Indian non-veg, North Indian veg, and North Indian non-veg. Annapoorna was started by me on 15th August 1992, as a small mess catering to barely 200 boys. At that time it only served vegetarian food.”

 

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And now, the cuisine has become far more extensive than that of Food Court itself. Chicken is available for dinner on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and for lunch on Sundays. Egg for lunch, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Paneer is served as a vegetarian alternative for chicken, as it happens in the Food Court. Ice creams are available twice a week on Thursday and Sunday. There are several preparations of eggs to choose from for breakfast, and even a salad of onions and chilly for every meal.

We pass into the second part of the kitchen, where the workers are furiously making rotis on on a red-hot tawa. Mr. Rai tells me that the best thing about hand-made rotis is their softness and taste. “No machine can replicate the art of making rotis by hand” he grins. My stomach heartily agrees. Next, we go into the part where non-veg food is cooked. Annapoorna serves chicken 4 times a week, something that is surely heaven for us chicken lovers. As is the norm, veg food is never allowed to mix with non-veg food at all.

 

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Next, we go into the cold storage room, where the fresh dairy products are stored. Annapoorna runs through 2000 eggs, 150 packets of Bournvita, and 75 kgs of butter in a single day. Yikes. The only sad part about all this, is that almost 10% of all this food inevitably goes to waste. Although this is a problem in every mess, it’s still sad how we treat the very mess that serves us food. Finally, we visit the washing area, where all the plates and glasses are subjected to boiling hot water and sanitized thoroughly. The extent of work and labour that goes on in making our mess experience pleasurable instilled a new respect of the mess chefs and workers in my eyes.

The main factor that puts Annapoorna Mess at an obvious disadvantage is its location. Situated near the 9th and 10th Blocks and just opposite the ground, it presents a long and arduous walk from the academic block and back, on a full day of classes. Hence, a few missed lunches wouldn’t be something entirely unheard of by anyone frequenting this mess. As a last off-topic question, I ask him why girls were not allowed in Annapoorna until as late as 3 years ago. His reply is very practical: “girls and boys have always had separate messes to eat, ever since girls were first admitted in the college in 1977. MIT has come a long way, since then. Moreover, not many girls come here even now anyway.” That is certainly true; it’s inconveniently far for most girls, perhaps excluding the 7th, 8th, and 21st Blocks.

 

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One small problem that Annapoorna has is the ambience. While it doesn’t stand in comparison of the glamorous architecture and the glitzy air conditioned interiors of the food court, the place is small, with tables usually being shared by strangers. Though you can always make new friends this way, you can’t really have the comfortable conversations that you can have in the Food Court. But a major X-Factor is definitely the Service.

This is one of those few places in Manipal where the staff is friendly, and won’t mind giving you the bigger piece of chicken, or an extra egg or two if you ask politely. They keep refilling the water jugs at your table too. Most of the time you can get food even after time in case you are late. If you are lucky, you might even be ushered to the kitchen and allowed to take as much as want in order to prevent wastage. (This fact was particularly important to me and my Maggi lover friends, back when Annapoorna still served it for high tea. You could come at 6pm and take all you wanted; it was beautiful.)

 

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So, to summarize: Annapoorna focuses on making its members as happy as possible at 140 rupees a day, be it with the taste or the quality of food. The chefs try their hardest to cater to everyone’s needs and provide tasty food that can be enjoyed by people irrespective of ethnicity; this becomes possible as Annapoorna caters to a smaller audience. So if you find that you’re fed up of bland food that FC serves, pay a visit to this mess someday. This might just be the exact thing you are looking for.

 

Co-written by Debrup Dutta and Agnihotra Bhattacharya

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