There’s a bitter war going on in North India. People belonging to different categories are fighting each other, there’s fist fighting, the local –made guns are drawn, abuses on everybody’s mouth. Visualize any Anurag Kashyap movie; that intense. Then suddenly, somebody in the far distance loudly shouts MADRAS!! And everybody, regardless of their caste, creed, religion drown out every single thought in their minds and replace it with just get one word:
And after that single moment of silence, the fight resumes.
The thought behind is, that people from all over the country, regardless of their scathing diversity unanimously see Madras cuisine in one single light – Idli/Dosa. There’s nothing beyond and there’s nothing beneath. And I was one of those notion holders too. Until I was transferred here.
Guys! Let me just tell you. There’s a huge, eclectic taste world wrapped under the sheets of Madras. And only those who spend a teeny-tiny amount of time here can see through it. Today, I am gonna’ let you in, on this beautifully delicious world. Let’s po!!
People here are a little different from the rest of the country. And hey! I am not being rascist here. Almost the entire city is up and ready to go about their jobs at 6 in the morning(Even after taking baths daily). And to keep them fresh, the tea and coffee joints open up at 4 in the morning. The Kaapi is one treat on those shops. Kaapi, a fond name for the local coffee here. There’s no Bru and no Nescafe.There’s just Kumbakonam filter coffee.
And no, Kumbakonam wasn’t that monster in Ramayana. Kumbakonam is a place in Tamil Nadu where lots of Coffee is grown. And the powder from those beans is pristine. One has to have its taste in his/her lifetime. Also the Kaapi is not to be drunk ordinarily, it is drunk from a ‘Katori’ or a saucer if you may.
Okay, Punjabis, hold on! This is not your morning Aloo ka desi ghee waala Parantha. There is no typing error in the heading. There is a thing called Par-o-tta. These are tiny lachcha paranthas made entirely from Maida and greased with oil. And I am guessing spices weren’t discovered till the time parotta was invented, because it doesn’t have any. Not one grain of salt or pepper or any other spice imaginable.
Now, when I started writing this one(and the previous one), I came to realize that south Indian people don’t get too tensed over their food. They are happy having some water and spices with their parottas. Because that is what Kuruma is. Kuruma is mixed-vegetable with gravy. Apparently lots of it. The Kuruma is low on spices and tastes a bit bland, but I am a Punjabi, and anything less than a Bhut-Jholokia is bland for me. Take some vegetables cook them a little and put lots of water over it. Voila! Kuruma ready. BTW, it is tasty as hell and I can’t stay one single day without having it once at least.
Now, if you go to any low end restaurant and ask for idli-dosa-vada in the middle of the day, you’ll only come back hungry after hearing an ‘ILLA’. That because, in the lunchtime each and every low-end or budgeted eatery/restaurant prepares one and one thing only. The Saapad. You get it for a mere Rs. 40-Rs. 50 and return home with a stomach full upto the brim. First of all, for any new comer eating an entire Saapad plate alone is mission impossible. But by a slim chance he turns out to be as fat as me and can finish it alone, he won’t be able to even look at food for another 6 hours. Such plentiful is the Saapad. Saapad is nothing but lots of boiled Rice, served with millions of Gravy(s). You will have 4-5 saucers of different coloured waters surrounding your heap of rice. One would be Sambhar, another would be Rasam. Rest, even people who eat them don’t know what it is, but they all are tangy as anything.
Remember, those crispy Paapad like things you used to fry and eat in winter evenings, that is appalam here. And it is served along with Saapad to make your food go crisp.
The Podhi Dosa:
Now as you all must be wondering, this is not some new kind of dosa, but our own Plain Dosa. Now, here comes the twist. Plain Dosa filled with Podhi masala. Podhi masala is just borderline spicy. You know, you’ll want to have more just to decide if it is spicy or not. And then in the second bite too, you’ll be just as confused and will be rushing for the third bite. This cycle goes on and makes the Podhi Dosa feature on our hidden treasures list.
The ‘Dindigul’ Chicken Biriyani:
The respected ‘BAAP’ of every dish here. Throw a stone in Madras and it is sure to land in a biryani shop. Such is the sprawling number of Biryani centres in Tamil Nadu. Dindigul is a place in Tamil Nadu and the origin of this masterful recipe. The unique taste of the biryani comes from a special Biryani powder which contains Fennel Seeds, Cinnamon Stick, Cardamom Pods, Star Anise and Cloves. This Biryani is served with a Brinjal vegetable. Now I know, when anybody hears brinjal, they can just think of barely digesting the Baigan ka bhartha, but trust me on this, the gravy is sumptuous. Also given along is onion Raita. This adds a little wetness to the biryani which otherwise is smeared with oil. And here it is where the most hackneyed of clichés comes to life. The Madrasis eating food with their hands. But I am not from South India and I love eating it with bare hands. Eating it that traditional way leaves a flavour to be savoured on your hands. Lick it, feel it.
So now if you get a chance to go down south, don’t stick to the good old menu. Go out into the wild and try all of the above. Then you might have a glimpse of the real Chennai and not Madras.