In a country like India, every city has distinguished things to offer in terms of art, culture, tradition, heritage and food. Mentioning of food, every few kms affect the flavors of food so much so that a foodie like me can easily differentiate the taste, smell and texture of food. To know and appreciate the authentic local cuisine, you must have a local friend who is more excited than you are to take you on a food trail in his city. I was lucky to have not one but two such friends, Ram & Reshma.
I met Ram and Reshma on my recent trip to Wayanad and within a week’s time I was seen in Chennai to meet these inspiring people yet again. I didn’t have any itinerary in my mind and I believe that turned out to be the best thing I did while visiting Chennai. I got to live like locals, took a local train ride, ate at the best places which only a local would know, tried new joints, chilled at the beach which tourists wouldn’t go to, aimlessly walked through the alleys of the oldest mall of Chennai.
My 3 day food sojourn in Chennai started with the most appetizing home-made Idli and varieties of chutneys cooked by Ram’s mom at home. After a heartful conversation with these 2 lovelies, we headed out to their favorite restaurant for an authentic Chettinad meal.
I am not too sure that I would have even reached that place if I were on my own considering the location of the restaurant amidst narrow lanes of Chennai. The restaurant looked very average but I must mention about the brilliant cleanliness they have maintained inside the restaurant. Having heard so much about their Non veg Chettinad meals from my friends, my obvious choice was meals with fish sides. The sides were so amazingly cooked that I was wondering why are they even referring to those dishes as “sides”. The meals were no ordinary meals but by far the best Chettinad food I have ever tasted. For those of you who have never tried Chettinad meals, the meal is a combination of various curries like Chicken curry, mutton curry, fish curry, sambhar, rasam, dal and rice and sometimes chaas as well. I hogged on to the non veg meal but I am pretty sure there must be brilliant veg options too.
Any state you call out, they love their sweets after food. Soon after lunch, Ram bestowed me with his childhood stories of pedalling a bicycle for more than 10 kms with his friend to immerse himself in the sweetness of this Badaam Milk at Sweet Corner. I have relished Badaam milk in various cities in India but after savouring this one, my verdict is that Badaam milk only belongs to Sweet Corner in Chennai.
This trip started revolving around only food when by evening that day I decided not to do any touristy stuff but to eat at the most authentic places, which means I don’t have to rush to any of the checklist places, can have a relaxed vacation and eat on their recommendations. Life seemed good with Jenga taking over the rest of our evening and we decided to swiggy some snacks for dinner from Chaa Tea tiffin and Chat. The highlight of the snacks was Murukku Sandwich but to me, it did not even remotely look like a sandwich even after trying all the logic which resides in my little head. That’s when Reshma explained the concept of this sandwich. When slices of tomato, cucumber, cheese is stuffed between two murukkus (a street food delicacy from Tamil nadu), it is called Murukku Sandwich. Hence proved how important it is to walk the food trail of any city with a local friend.
Jenga and travel conversations kept us awake till late previous night, so morning had to begin a little late and who was in hurry to get up and go out in not so pleasant weather. We again chatted and chatted and chatted till it was the perfect time for lunch. It was time to visit a relatively fancier place for lunch. Having had the non veg meal previous day, the bar was set so high that an ok place couldn’t do any justice to it. To satiate the sweet craving, we ordered Paysam. To my dismay, it disappointed me much that I didn’t even click a picture of it.
The afternoon went by in conversations over travel (yes, that’s our favorite topic) and watching a documentary called Minimalism. Another blogger friend of mine, Srinidhi had invited me for dinner, so I headed out to his place to have dinner and more for paysam. This time I took 3 servings as it was the most delicious paysam I had ever had (yes, this time too I didn’t click a picture as it was too difficult to hold the temptation even for a second). My day concluded with the delicious paysam cooked by Srinidhi’s better half.
We had made plans to visit a breakfast place which opens at 3am and everything finishes by 3:30am or so. But remember, it was supposed to be a relaxed trip with absolutely not even a dime of pain, so who would consider getting up at 3am. So, alarms snoozed and all of us got up just in time for lunch yet again.
We ordered a range of appetizing dishes like Naatu kozhi chicken biryani, Naatu kozhi pepper fry, border parotha and egg kothu for lunch which was indeed lip smacking and quite unique in flavors. My stomach called out full but the hosts had some more to show to me so we decided to hop on a local train and spend sometime on the beach before I bid goodbye to Chennai.
There is an absolute fun in standing at the gate of local trains and see the soul of the city pass by. Visiting places of interest, places to see and touristy places often fail to even tell you the slightest about the city whereas traveling how locals travel, eating where they eat is definitely a genuine attempt to peep in the real city.
Although I have always been a mountain person, but these days beaches call me no less. I was in a company of like-minded nature lovers and we got together and said a few words of praise for nature as soon as we set our feet on the Besant Nagar beach.
The sun was setting down and the hawkers had started plying with variety of food on plate. People were strolling on the beach probably to unwind after a tiring day at work or may be to spend some relaxing time with themselves.
We strolled on the streets near the beach to find some interesting food and drink concepts like Bubble Tea. The key is the bubbles and appropriate taste combination. We tried strawbery bubbles in Litchi flavored drink and found it to be quite a refreshing drink. Other interesting cafe served nitrogen based ice creams and so many more new concepts.
Before catching my bus back to Bengaluru, I opted to eat at Murugan Idli shop which was very close to the beach. I had a hearty serving of food with the highlight being Sakkarai Pongal which is apparently the speciality of the place. I got to know that this sweet delicacy gets over very quickly there but we reached just in time to savor this one.
Have you been to any of these places in Chennai? If yes, do drop a comment on your experience. Also, let me know if you’d like me to add your personal choices from Chennai to this post.