Chennai boasts of a rich historical significance and a prominent cultural heritage that clearly reflects in its culinary tradition. As we set to explore the culinary mosaic of Chennai, we braced ourselves for an overwhelming gastronomic ride that would be best described by two clichéd phrases-‘mouth watering’ and ‘finger licking’.
Our quest to taste the best Tamilian fare took us around Mylapore, Triplicane,Pallavaram, and T Nagar. The classical Tamil cuisine is mostly meat-free but Chennai does offer a delightful Non-Veg spread for meat lovers as well. Here the most delicious foodstuffs are served for breakfast. Evidently idlis, vadas, and dosas along with the chutneys are the quintessential components of any breakfast spread across Chennai.
Our first stop was Rayar’s Mess at Mylapore. It is one of the oldest eateries and is very popular with the locals. We tasted some soft and fresh idlis and crisp vadai served in banana leaves that simply enhanced their taste. But it was the savoury pongal (accompanied by chutney and sambar) that was the star of the meal. Our light and filling breakfast ended with a cup of strong filter coffee that is such an integral beverage of Chennai.
Our second destination was Kalathi rose milk shop. Here we tried the humble rose milk which was sweet, delicious and refreshing. We also picked up a bottle of ‘panner’ or rose flavoured soda for our journey that we were told was another speciality of this old shop.
The third place we stopped by was Ratna Café at Triplicane, an area known for its cultural and architectural heritage. The melange of scrumptious South Indian fare food makes it a hot favourite among the locals. No wonder the idlis dunked in a generous helping of sambar at this legendary eatery was super delicious.
After all those irresistible vegetarian fare, our fourth stop was the Yaa Mohaideen eatery at Pallavaram where we tried their famous mutton biryani which was interestingly served on a banana leaf along with a thick curd onion raita and aubergine salan. Clearly this typical authentic Chennai style biryani was quite different from the esteemed counterparts from Hyderabad and Lucknow. This flavourful basmati rice preparation had a distinct tomato garlic punch to it. We got an opportunity to visit their factory and witness the preparation of a huge batch. The meat and rice were cooked separately before being mixed and cooked further on a low flame for a while with its lid shut. We also tried some luscious ‘bread halwa’ which was a clone of Hyderabad’s popular sweet ‘double ka meetha’.
The fifth place in the itinerary was Buhari hotel which is considered to be oldest restaurant in Chennai. The Non veg spread was surprisingly low on the spice quotient but was very tasty and worth its hype. We tried some of their popular dishes like the Chicken 65 which to our surprise was quite mild on our palate, the Mutton Campbell which was mutton cooked in a moderately spiced onion tomato gravy, Jamali chicken that had a slightly sweet and nutty undertone to it and their famous biryani with an unusual accompaniment, the pineapple jam.
Our sixth and penultimate halt was Jannal Kadai or ‘Window Shop’ at Mylapore where piping-hot bajjis (vegetable fritters), upmas and idlis were doled out to the patrons from a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint situated in a little lane around the Kapaleeshwar temple. The fresh and crisp Plantain and Chilli bhajjis that we tried with coconut chutney were simply fabulous.
Our gastronomic quest across Chennai concluded with a cup of the famous Mylapore filter kapi which was deliciously addictive. It served as the perfect full stop to such a splendid experience.