This is a loooooong pending post (all grammar police, stand at ease!). This is my second post to the series “Smells, sounds and sights of India that a heart abroad misses” (now you know what the SSS in title stands for ;)).
People who know me well know that I am a foodie.. and who know me reallllly well (chillax…in fact for the rest of the post, until I say otherwise, please stand at ease), know that I loooove food. And when I’m down or depressed I would go straight to my comfort food. I haven’t read on the science behind food comforting a soul, but all I know is…it soooooo comforts my taste-buds when I’m down and gives me the impression that all is gonna be fine, just eat on baby. Yeah.. it’s a second-best friend to me and to many other foodies out there.
But sometimes, how ever much we try to replicate a food that we love, it never tastes the same as the one from our memory. Everyone would have this one place we love, that would be our go-to place for a particular dish. I have a friend who goes to Saravana Bhavan just for the sambhar. An uncle of mine visits a particular coffee shop that he vouches has the best filter coffee in Chennai. So yes, everyone has favourites. Given below are few favourites that most of the Chennaiites would have had at some point in their life. A few might have got over it..and a few like me, once they love something, they never give that up! Read on..and try to see if you can imagine the same food before your eyes 🙂
Kuzha puttu and kondu kadalai
The first time I had this was at Alleppey cooked by a Malayali aunty. It tasted so simple yet so delish. My only problem was that she made Aapam and coconut stew too. So I was faced with a major dilemma of whether to have second helping of puttu or Aapam. Yep, guilty as charged, I had both! And no regrets about it, they were amazing! I think if you want to have the best kuzha puttu/kondu kadalai or the softest, aapam with the most delicious stew, you got to find yourself a Malayali friend immediately.
Grand sweets and snacks’ Puliyodarai
There was a time when there were frequent traffic jams in the evening on the roads near GSS, thanks to the delicious array or puliyodharai, lemon and curd rice they provide as samples. Many came to GSS mainly for the free samples. I was one among the many and puliyodharai was my favourite :p. Who wouldn’t love this? Dark brown to look at, with colored channa dals winking, dark curry leaves by its side – these puliyodarais tempt the people with their antique look in Dhonai (if anyone knows the equivalent English word for it, do let me know in comments). Even if you walk by the shop, the smell of the Puliyodharai will drag you and bring you in. And the first taste of it, with the very small spoon they provide will send your tastebuds to the moon and back…tangy tangy tamarind taste…yummm…and the feather in the hat would be the Dhonai. I think most of the taste comes from that..because try what may, even if we buy the same puliyodharai mix from their shop, we never get the same taste! 🙁
Sakkarai pongal at temple
Dipping with ghee, with few raisins strewn around, this piping hot sakkarai pongal (Sweet pongal) given at Baba temple in Chennai was one of the best I have ever tasted. Second favorite would be at the Rameshwaram temple again piping hot with just the right amount of sweetness. Know what is strikingly common to both – Dhonai! No surprises there, but no matter how hard I try, its soooo hard to get the same taste as these temple’s prasad. Definitely out of the world.
Marina beach’s thengai-manga sundal
Ah! One shouldn’t call oneself a true Chennaiite until he/she has at least once bought Marina beach’s Thenga-manga sundal (coconut-mango-channa)! Zimply suberb! Picture this..the evening breeze by the beach, the sound of the waves crashing and the aroma of hot thengai-manga sundal in a paper cone..mmmm..did we just die and go to heaven? And as we take a handful of warm sundal with a bit of coconut and mango to pop into our mouth..we know just one cone wouldn’t be enough and look longingly at the young boy selling sundal. I’m guessing the beach air along with the week’s old newspaper adds some extra magic to this sundal..what do you think?
Kothu parotta at road stall
Say what you may, but nothing beats the kothu parotta at the road stall. They attract people just by the sound…and yes, there are no questions about the taste! The T.Nagar parotta stall brings back memories but it’s been forever since I tasted this..sigh. Posh restaurants have this on their menu, but it never is the same.
Hyderabadi friend’s home-made dum briyani
There is Arcot, Ambur, Thindugal, Velu Military..all this can never beat your Hyderabadi friend’s home made Dum briyani. If you have not tasted a briyani made Dum, then you are missing one of the best briyanis in the world. And when they make you wait for a few minutes to give you their spicy salna, you would need all your will power to not drool over your plate. Once you take the first bite of their briyani along with salna, you know you would remember this food forever just as your mom’s sambhar rice. (Don’t blame me if your Hyderabadi friend doesn’t cook the world’s best briyani..blame yourself for having her/him as your only Hyderabadi friend)
Schezuan chicken at Wang’s chicken or Drumsticks in Mainland china
These used to be the best indo-chinese restaurant in Chennai some years back, not sure whether it has changed now. Though we would love to spend all the time with our lover, the time spent with our friends are equally awesome. Substitute lover for Indian food, and friends for Indo-Chinese and there you have it. Everything..almost everything in Indo-Chinese restaurant is lip-smacking good. Spicy, sweet, with the right amount of gravy and extra hot fried rice..love everything about Indo-chinese food at both these places.
Kalyana ilai saapadu
God knows how many receptions of our mother’s collegue or dad’s friend we have went, mainly for the reception vazhai ilai food (food spread in banana leaf). After the customary photograph with the newly weds, the next step would be to run towards the panthi (food hall) and assess the hall for empty seats. After the vazhai illai is in place before us and we spray water with our plain hands over the leaf, we have to wait longingly for the kesari, chips and cold kuska to be placed on our ilai(banana leaf). And then comes vadai..white rice…sambhar sadham..rasam..and the biggg appalam(papaad) which sometimes would be paper-like but who cares! Ofcourse our parents would offer us their paapad and we shamelessly would take that as well. And the big dinner would end with round, juicy, sugar-soaked gulab jamuns..just two. Er..make that four, parents come to our aid again. As I was saying..nothing beats our Tamizh reception vazhai ilai meals 😀
Home made a-day-old Fish Kuzhambu and Idli
Ahh. Ask any non-vegetarian and I bet they would drool even thinking about this. A day old fish kuzhambu tastes lip-smacking, finger-licking delicious!! The dark brown color makes it even more seductive. When you lick a finger of just the kuzhambu, you would get a tangy…spicy taste..almost as if they are both competing with each other to see who hits the taste buds first to make you say ahhhhhhhhhhhh!! And when a plate of fresh hot idlis are there as well to give company to the fish curry, one might never want to stop eating.
Night time Kulfi-walla
Long long ago..so long ago..nobody can say how long ago…few people used to push carts in the night time selling kulfi and sompapadi in some roads. I have never been a big fan of sompapadi, but always been a die-hard fan of kulfi. My love comes from the one-time kulfi I had from that vendor. He sliced the kulfi to around 4-5 small round pieces and served in a dried palm leaf. It tasted so divine. I have tasted so many kulfis after that (I even have a stock in my fridge ;)) but it never is as good. My parents used to say that the water used for making that kulfi might not be filtered, but to me it didn’t matter..it was delicious.
So we began with Aapam and ended with Kulfi! It’s hard to stop actually..there are so many foods like irutu kadai halwa, Black Forest cake from Cake walk, cream puff pastry from bakery shops, small onion samosas…the list is endless. I guess it would be apt to end this post with a food songs. This particular song stuck to my head from the time I heard it. Illayaraja again at his best..for a subject we all love. And I bet you would start drooling from the very first minute 😉