The city of Chennai – the entity responsible for that stellar spot that you see in the light-map of South India. It’s a place after my own heart, and it’s my own hearth. It’s late night per normal standards, but it’s never too late in a city like Chennai!
KathieePara Junction grade separator – the marvelous piece of engineering that heralds the grandeur of Chennai City to those coming from down-south or from the airport. A beautiful clover leaf for a bird’s eye, a scintillating array of lights for a person crossing the place and the rounding paths that thrill a rider encountering the flyovers. Standing proud in its north-east side is Le Royal Meridien, a name not so unknown in the hospitality industry. A pacifying landscape and greenery that welcomes you, the fountains that greet you before the smart security-officer and the subtly sexy receptionist do – all these, along with that scrumptious spread of dishes on their buffet – add to its appeal to both the eyes and the tongue.
A small street runs beside this, utterly dwarfed by the magnificence of the architecture right beside it. In the corner of the street, oblivious to all the buzz happening inside the Meridien premises, the dances to the trances in Flame Le Club is a cart-shop. Barely grabbing the eye in the buzz of the activities around, the shop, with a few scattered utensils and a few kerosene-stoves, is surrounded by buckets of water. The shop is illuminated by a battery-powered lamp and the steam emerging from the vessels gives a ghostly haze to the anthropoid figures in the background.
This dismal setup can be so deceiving that a person unfamiliar to the galores of that food-joint would miss the most exquisite, tongue-tantalizing, yummiest and yet wallet-friendly cuisine of Chennai. And this is just one of the many thousands of such cart-food-joints that (both figuratively and literally) cater to the rural population of Chennai and people who have a palette for authentic roadside Tamil food. This is the world of cart-restaurants, fondly addressed by the locals as kaiyendhibhavan!
The one that I’ve referred to is my all-time favorite – it’s got a good range on the menu. Parotas with Kurma (Salna or Saerva is it’s known here), Idly, Dosas, Beef Curry and Briyani. What more can I ask for when I’m famished after a day’s work and roaming?
These do serve other meals of the day as well. On a busy weekday morning, you won’t be surprised to find a business-formal-clad man share the premises of such a hotel with a daily laborer – it’s the same taste after all – we all love Idly, Vada, Sambar and Chutney…and not to mention the dosai, masala dosai, muttai dosai, rava dosai, podi dosai, kal dosai..all variants of a single dish!
The joints boast of a lavish lunch-spread too! A veggie place will offer no less than three curries viz. Sambar, Vathal Kuzhambu, Rasam and Moar…and non-veg joints, in addition to briyani, will have two varieties of non-veg curry in addition to the veggie selections!
Kaiyendhi bhavans hold a significant place in pop-culture; in many movies, they’ve been extolled for capturing the taste and feel of an average Chennai-ite! You can see them scattered all over the city – some stand out near important junctions and some lay hidden insignificantly in street-corners. The tastes, nevertheless, are always awesome irrespective of the location.
I know people who will talk about hygiene and risk of contraacting cholera and all such stuff…even Kaaka (crow) briyani scams that might happen in these places – thanks to Chinna Kalaivaanar Vivek who brought this up in one of his conedy-runs. However, from my experience with these places spanning over ten years, I’ve never encountered any bad experience that has bashed up my bowels. This statement covers all the roadside food-joints including but not limited to Pani Puri, Mutton Soup, Samosas, Bajji/Bonda…and much more!
I may have dined in different elite restaurants in different cities…but as a foodie savage and unpolished, none of these fine dining experiences can even come close to showing the true colors of my crude gluttony at one of these prized kaiyendhi bhavans!
And the above words are thoughts stimulated by the taste-buds of a true Chennai-foodie!!