Monday, 29 February 2016

10 Must Eat Food In Chennai (My List) / 10 Famous Food Of Chennai / My List of 10 Things You Must Eat In Chennai


Chennai to me has been a city with a very rich culture and deep rooted traditions which have touched all spheres of life there including food. During my engineering course in Bangalore, Chennai would be the transit station for my journey and in the time gap that I would get between alighting from one train to boarding the next, there would be many a stolen moments to quickly bask in the diverse attributes and gorgeous seascape of this city.


The local people of Chennai have always left me with a reason to smile whenever I have visited this City. I have found them extremely warm and so willing to help, despite the language barrier many a times. For me Chennai, will always be a City with a large heart and honestly, I do miss my bi annual trips to Chennai, however short a duration of time they were. Unfortunately, till this day, I haven't been able to explore Chennai and its neighbouring places like the way I would love to. I do not know why it has always been these short sojourns when it comes to Chennai. 


A while ago, when Mr. S tied up with a Chennai based company for export, I was elated that I would be able to traverse the length and breadth of Chennai without haste. But as luck would have it, something or the other kept me tied down and I was unable to accompany Mr. S on his a Chennai trips. However once, during a long stay in Chennai, Mr. S suggested that I join him on the weekend as he was relatively free from his work and it would be a good break for the both of us. Needless to say, I wasted no time in booking the ticket and boarding the flight to Chennai.


I landed in Chennai super happy and so so excited at the prospect of getting a little more familiar with this place. Mr. S as expected got busy with sudden work coming over during his take a break weekend. I was so thrilled at the prospect of my food adventure in Chennai, that I completely ignored the fact that I would be on my own on this trip. Well, let's forget everything and go on this food whirlwind of a tour I thought to myself.


I had only three full days and I got down to some serious research and conversation with friends as to what I must explore in terms of food in the three days that were at my disposal. It didn't take me long, to zero on the 10 food rendezvous that I would be having starting right at that moment. Holding a very satisfactory list, I set out to explore the favourite or must eat dishes when one visits Chennai. Before I give out the list, dear readers, please know, every city in India offers such multitude of choices in terms of food that it would be unfair to encompass it in a small list. I am lucky to be born in a country with such a huge huge repertoire of cuisines. Every corner of this country has something to offer in terms of food and Chennai is no exception. So this list is just a broad idea of what dishes or beverages you must try at least once, if you visit Chennai.

Please also note this is not a sponsored post and the views expressed below are without any favour or prejudice but straight from my heart, just as my senses have perceived each of these wonderful dishes, while I savoured them. All the pictures here have been captured by me and this list was formulated after sampling every single dish mentioned below. The list is random and I love each of these dishes mentioned below as much as the other.

1) JIGARTHANDA :

JIGARTHANDA COURTESY MADURAI VILAKKUTHOON HANIFA,
1/39-40, N USMAN ROAD, PARTHASARATHY PURAM, T. NAGAR, CHENNAI.

By now all of you know that I have a dysfunctional and often voracious sweet tooth and it was obvious that I would start my food travel with something sweet. Jigarthanda, I was told is a dessert in the form of a drink and was very popular in Chennai. Though it has originated from Madurai, this dessert is now a favourite in many places across Tamil Nadu, including neighbouring states. I had found during my research, that most people suggested that one of the best Jigarthanda in Chennai was to be sampled at Murugan Idli Shop.

JIGARTHANDA COURTESY MURUGAN IDLI SHOP
NO. 46/13, NORTH USMAN ROAD, T. NAGAR, CHENNAI. CHECK OUT FOR OTHER BRANCHES IN CHENNAI IN AN AREA CLOSE TO WHERE YOU WOULD BE STAYING.

I did not take the hotel car and instead opted for an Auto Rickshaw as I wanted to get a local opinion on everything and I have found the auto rickshaw drivers to be more knowledgeable than the five star hotel car drivers when it comes to local information. My driver, named Kali spoke fluent English and he took me to another place called Madurai Vilakkuthoon Hanifa Jigarthanda, which according to him served the best Jigarthanda in that vicinity.

Jigarthanda is a vegetarian drink with a few unique ingredients like Badam Pisin which is Almond Gum / also known as Badam Gond and Nannari Syrup which is an extract from the root of an INDIAN plant called Indian Sarsaparilla / Anantamul in Hindi, all added to a very thick and creamy milk base with an ice cream float on top. Everything in the glass is mixed and served resulting in a homogeneous drink which is insanely delicious in taste.

2) KAALAN / KALAN VARUVAL / MUSHROOM FRY / MUSHROOM CHAAT :


My next stop was at a roadside CHAAT mobile cart which served a mushroom CHAAT along with other varieties of Chaat. KALAN is mushrooms in Tamil language and this CHAAT is made with batter fried mushrooms in a tangy, lip smacking base and topped with chopped onions, fresh coriander and fried cornflakes. This is a vegetarian dish.

This was the first time I was savoring a mushroom Chaat and my taste buds were filled with joy at what they were experiencing. Such is the joy of food which is honest and made with so much earnestness everyday in the roadside food carts in many an Indian town and city. These days I find a genuine desire to up the level of hygiene in these roadside food carts. The man making the Kaalan Chaat wore gloves while assembling the chaat which was indeed a welcome change.


Kaalan /Kalan Chaat is a very popular street food in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. There it is called Kalan Varuval or Mushroom Fry. This street food from Coimbatore has also been winning the hearts of street food lovers all over Chennai. To sample this unique and mouthwatering Chaat, you can look out for it in food carts which sell Chaat on the roadside in any part of Chennai. A dear friend of mine who used to study in Chennai had strongly recommended this to me, saying that this was a regular affair for her during her college days. I must say honestly, I am glad she did. I think if I had not tasted Kalan Varuval in Chennai, I surely would have missed something delicious in my food journey here.

3) MUTTAI DOSAI / INDIAN CREPE WITH EGG FILLING / EGG DOSA :


After an extremely fulfilling start to my food sojourn in Chennai with the senses overwhelming drink Jigarthanda, followed by the spicy and yummy Kalan Varuval, my last stop that evening would be at a Dosa Cart which served Muttai Dosai or Egg Dosa. I left it to Kali, my auto rickshaw driver, entirely to decide which Dosa cart we would stop to sample the Muttai Dosai. This was not a food cart, but a small roadside shack which intrigued me with the number of drums of chutneys, sambar, curry etc. that it had. I was quite impressed to see how clean the entire set up was.


As the Dosa vendor started preparing the Dosa on the large hissing black griddle, I looked on fascinated, with the similar enthusiasm of a kid as he first spooned on the batter, swiftly spreading it out in a perfect disc shape, then broke open an egg over it, spread it out and finally sprinkled pepper lavishly on the top, before turning it over to cook perfectly on both sides.

He asked me to take my pick from the multiple drums on what I would want to be served along with the Mutai Dosai. I said I would like to try everything. All of them were so good, but what left a mark on my food senses, was a smoked tomato chutney which I felt was the perfect accompaniment with the Muttai Dosai. I am happy that I managed to get the recipe of the smoked tomato chutney from him, translated by Kali and I will share that with you all in the upcoming recipe post on my Chennai food adventure series. So do look out for the post and trust me this is one of the best tomato chutney I have had till date.

4) KEERAI VADAI / LENTIL FRITTERS MIXED WITH GREENS:

KEERAI VADAI COURTESY MYLAI KARPAGAMBAL MESS,
20, EAST MADA STREET, MYLAPORE, CHENNAI.

Day 2 started with breakfast at a very popular and old restaurant called Mylai Karpagambal Mess, located in Mylapore area of Chennai. This place had been strongly recommended by friends and foodies online for eating tiffin and also for sampling the delicious Keerai Vadai. Started in 1950 this eatery is quaint and still houses the old world charm, inspite of being renovated in 2010. This place also serves a very delicious mix of other tiffins / snacks and has a rack in a corner right at the entrance, filled with shelves of podis ( Coarse powder of pounded, ground mixed dry spices), pickles which have been made from diligently written recipes which the owner's mother inherited from his grandmother and is currently in the custody of his wife.


Keerai is greens in Tamil and Keerai Vadai is one mouthwatering good, fritter, which is made with a mix of lentil and greens. Served with the piping hot sambar and a runny coconut chutney, I loved every bite into this crunchy yumminess. For once the fact this is deep fried did not bother me as the subtle yet distinct taste of Keerai Vadai overtook all my reasoning.

If you do not get a chance to visit Mylai Karpagambal Mess to get a taste of Keerai Vadai, there are many other South Indian Restaurants in the city which has Keerai Vadai in its Menu.

5) DINDIGUL THALAPPAKATTI BIRYANI:

CHEF'S SPECIAL THALAPPAKATTI BONELESS MUTTON BIRYANI COURTESY DINDIGUL THALAPPAKATTI RESTAURANT, 142, GROUND FLOOR, MAHATMA GANDHI ROAD, NUNGANBAKKAM, CHENNAI.
After the sumptuous breakfast in the morning, for lunch, both me and Mr.S walked to Dindigul Thalappakatti Restaurant, which was located right across the road from our hotel in Nungambakkam. This place dear readers would come up the first thing in the mind of my friends or online foodies when asked about the must eat food in Chennai. By this I could gauge how much loved and frequented this restaurant was. 

This restaurant is known widely for the Biryani it has been making for almost 60 years now. With a very interesting history behind the making of the famous Thalappakatti Biryani and a gentleman in turban, who not only sourced the freshest and finest locally grown ingredients in Dindigul (a place in Tamil Nadu), from where this Biryani originated, to make a Biryani rich in its own attributes and flavours infused in it, similar to none other, truly Dindigul Thalappakati Biryani is a must have at least once in a lifetime.


The Rice used in making this very aromatic Biryani is a locally grown variety known as Seeraga Samba Rice, which makes the biryani very different in texture from the long grain basmati rice used in most biryanis. The Chef's special Thalappakatti Bone Less Mutton Biryani is a must have here. It is sure to surprise you with its familiar yet extraordinary mix of flavours and its boneless succulent mutton pieces which makes one desirous to come back here for more and more of this Biryani. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to go back for another meal there, but the good news is that they are soon opening a branch in Dubai and I hear also in the United Kingdom and The United States Of America.

6) KOTHU PAROTTA / MINCED LAYERED FLAT BREAD WITH CHICKEN, EGG & A SPICY SAUCE :

 CHICKEN KOTHU PAROTTA COURTESY GRAND FAST FOOD,
97/3, W BLOCK, 3RD MAIN ROAD, ANNA NAGAR EAST, (NEAR TOWER PARK), CHENNAI.

The Thalappakatti Biryani had left me completely satiated and I was wondering how I would carry on my food escapade in the evening. I had to go to Anna Nagar to a small fast food joint called Grand Fast Food. Mr. S was kind enough to drop me on his way to a meeting. Grand Fast Food is an unpretentious joint but as I was told served one of the best Kothu Parotta in Chennai and later after eating, I too vouch that it indeed is one of the yummiest Kothu Parotta, I ever had till now.


As I had reached the place early and the huge crowds had not yet started pouring in, I was able to witness the entire process of making of the Kothu Parotta from start to finish. On a sizzling griddle onion, tomatoes, curry leaves, shredded Indian layered bread /Parotta, chillies, powdered spices, batter fried shredded chicken and egg are all mixed together in a mishmash. Then using two steel glasses the cook pounds on the entire mix on the griddle with a rhythmic movement of his hands. As the circular rim of both the steel glasses is brought down with pressure on the ingredients on the griddle, they get shredded into uniform bits by the sharp edged glass rim. The clink clanking of the steel glasses on the griddle creates quite a din but results in equal sized shredded bits of chicken, parotta and all the other things that go into making the Kothu Parotta. The final result yummy yummy. 

I found this place clean and hygienic for the simple and humble food joint that this was. You can however try Kothu Parotta in other restaurants across Chennai.

7) CHICKEN CHETTINAD :


Chettinad Cuisine uses a very intense medley of spices and the food here emanates rich aroma. This region in Tamil Nadu is known for its delicious food. Chicken Chettinad is one of the most well known and loved dishes of this region.

Chicken Chettinad is a thick gravy based curry which uses fennel and kalpasi  or black stone flower for tempering. Black stone flower is mainly responsible for its defined aroma. A dry roasted spice mix is added to the chicken in the later stages of cooking which shapes the final outcome of this decadent curry. It is one of my favourite Chicken dishes and do look out for the recipe in my next series of posts on my Chennai Food Adventure.

Many restaurants in Chennai serve extremely yummy Chicken Chettinad.

Click on this link for the recipe :

CHICKEN CHETTINAD RECIPE

8) FILTER COFFEE:

FILTER COFFEE COURTESY MADRAS COFFEE HOUSE,
NO. 105, VALLUVAR KOTTAM HIGH ROAD, NUNGAMBAKKAM, CHENNAI.

Filter Coffee is like an anthem of a drink in Chennai. I feel the moment you step out of the aircraft and into the airport you are bound to be engulfed with a whiff of freshly brewed filter coffee. I feel the air in Chennai is laced with the aroma of filter coffee. Wherever you run your eye you can find a kiosk selling piping hot filter coffee. The local people of Chennai take their filter coffee very seriously and there is no room for bad coffee here. 


I checked out on this coffee chain called Madras Coffee House which seem to have dotted the landscape of Chennai with numerous outlets everywhere. Though I am not much of a tea or coffee person, the filter coffee I had here made me come back for more. The lady who made the coffee for me told me that they used cow's milk from a local diary and added no water to the coffee, only milk and the filter coffee concoction are used to make the coffee here. No wonder, Mr. S the coffee lover in my family is so happy and never stressed in Chennai, no matter what amount of work he is busy in. The Filter Coffee keeps him rejuvenated and on his toes I guess. 

I have picked up a packet of filter coffee from the Madras Coffee House and plan to create a dessert using it as my ode to this wonderful drink. Do look out dear friends for my dessert using filter coffee.

 9) JAMALI CHICKEN AT BUHARI :

JAMALI CHICKEN COURTESY BUHARI HOTEL,
3/17 MOUNT ROAD, ANNA SALAI, CHENNAI

Buhari was another restaurant which many had strongly vouched for and had asked me not to miss for anything. So my last lunch on this food sojourn to Chennai had to be in Buhari. Luckily I was staying in Nungambakkam and the nearest Buhari Restaurant was that which was the first opened Buhari Hotel on Mount Road, which had opened its doors to diners in 1951. I felt like walking on a bit of history as I entered Buhari Hotel. They have an air conditioned section too now, but luckily for me as it was Sunday the place was overcrowded and after a good 30 minutes waiting we were ushered to the first floor of the original Buhari hotel, with overhead ceiling fans. Neither me nor Mr. S seemed to mind the sultry afternoon heat and the sweat beads trickling down our forehead as we basked in the deliciously fragrant air of the place.


I had read Food Connoisseur Mohit Balachandran's account of Buhari and that he believed Jamali Chicken was the best chicken in white gravy that he had, ever had. So it had to be Jamali Chicken which as the Menu says is an original recipe of Buhari Hotel. Shredded Chicken in a very creamy silky white base forms this superlative chicken curry. I was completely swept off my feet with this dish. Along with another original Chicken  Dish , Campbell Chicken and Biryani rice made for a lunch befitting the finest.

Buhari hotel has a number of outlets in Chennai and you can go to anyone and taste their exhaustive menu of Non-Vegetarian dishes. But surely don't forget to order Jamali Chicken and trust me you will thank me for recommending it so strongly.

MARINA BEACH SUNDAL / THENGA MANGA PATTANI SUNDAL :


The Final Food pit stop before I bade Chennai good bye had to be Marina Beach. There are a number of dishes that you can sample there, but I was told by one and all, not to miss the simple Sundal. Sundal is one of the simplest dishes to make. Thenga ( Coconut ), Manga (Mango), Pattani (Peas) Sundal as the name suggest incorporates the three ingredients coconut, raw mango and peas in a very healthy and delightfully appetizing snack. A nice crunchy tempering accentuated with the aroma of Asafoetida with the shredded raw mango being the highlight, this snack is truly a taste winner.


There is also a sundal chaat or Beach sundal gravy that is hugely sought after on Marina beach. Loads of fun activities for kids, ice-creams, cotton candy's, roasted peanuts in their shell, charcoal grilled corn on the cob to just name a few, make up for an exciting picnic on the Marina Beach. Did I mention the bajji or batter fried veggies stall are also much in demand here.


As night fell, a full moon dazzled above, the wind had wrecked havoc on my hair and I turned one final time to take in all I could with my eyes and treasure it in my memory forever. There was a sad note engulfing my heart as I walked towards the car away from the beach. All good things come to an end and so also did my food adventure in Chennai. I am taking back with me a suitcase full of food memories, some local ingredients like, Nannari Syrup, Badam Pisin, Seerga Samba Rice, Filter Coffee and a few priceless recipes, which I will recreate far far away in my home. It's incredible but true that this fantastic City has now left an indelible mark on both my food sensibilities and human attributes and has made a place in my food and travel treasure box for eternity.

It had been a long nurtured desire to eat like a local, to bring back the recipes, just like the locals cook and then recreate it in my kitchen for you my dear readers and also for my family and friends. This is hopefully just the beginning and I sincerely hope that I have enough time to travel and discover and carry the adventures from the very place right into my kitchen and off course then into yours.

I so look forward to your support and best wishes and prayers to be able to do more of this. Thank you for inspiring me to do whatever I am doing here.

This post will be followed by a series of 10 posts where I shall share the recipes with step by step pictures of the procedure of all the 10 dishes mentioned above. So do look out for them, as till you can get your opportunity to visit Chennai and eat like a local, you can cook these recipes in your kitchen just like the locals do.

MY LIST OF THE 10 THINGS YOU MUST TRY WHEN YOU VISIT CHENNAI ~


1) JIGARTHANDA ~ V
2) KAALAAN / KALAN VARUVAL/ MUSHROOM FRY  / MUSHROOM CHAAT ~ V
3) MUTTAI DOSAI / INDIAN CREPE WITH EGG FILLING / EGG DOSA ~ NV
4) KEERAI VADAI / LENTIL FRITTERS MIXED WITH GREENS ~ V
5) DINDIGUL THALAPPAKATTI BIRYANI ~ NV
6) KOTHU PAROTTA / MINCED LAYERED FLAT BREAD WITH CHICKEN, EGG & A SPICY SAUCE ~ NV
7) CHICKEN CHETTINAD ~ NV
8) FILTER COFFEE ~ V
9) JAMALI CHICKEN AT BUHARI ~ NV
10) MARINA BEACH SUNDAL / THENGA MANGA PATTANI SUNDAL ~ V

* V ~ Vegetarian
* NV ~ Non-Vegetarian


THANK YOU CHENNAI 

**************************************************************************************************************************************************


DO CHECK OUT THESE POSTS TOO ~