Lucky Peach, our favourite food magazine, is putting out its last issue this month. Although the magazine had a relatively short run of six years, in that short period, it changed food media forever. It showed us that food writing need not necessarily fall under two polar camps — restaurant reviews or personal essays, but could instead straddle everything in between — from rating supermarket ramen varieties to guides on making fruit preserve at home. Most importantly, it gave permission for food writing to be technical (without being inaccessible), irreverent and cheeky. The most iconic pieces in the magazine’s short stint however, were the city guides that informed the reader on the best places to eat, in each particular city.
As a hat-tip to the magazine that changed the world's perception of food writing, The Goya Journal asked some of the most distinguished voices from each major city in India to put together a city guide for the hungry traveller.
Mouth-watering, finger-licking, something and all they will tell you about Chennai ka food (Madras, for snooty peeps like myself), all of that is true. And more. I think Chennai food is the only one in the world that will make you go right back to sleep if you have it for breakfast. If you have ever had ghee pongal-vadai for breakfast, you will know what I mean. Such is the awesomeness. But there are some things you should know about Chennai food if you are totally new. Actually, there is only one thing you should be aware of. Rice. We have successfully taken this simple grain and perfected the art of making delicious food in all forms of rice. Solid. Liquid. Semi-solid. Gooey-pasty. And almost everything goes well with sambhar. We love our rice.
Also, the sooner you learn to abandon the habit of using fork and spoon, the better it is for you. Chennai food is best enjoyed with the spoon and fork you were born with — your fingers. Eat with your hands. It adds to the experience.
So here are my top five places and dishes in Chennai that you have to try.
Seenabhai Tiffin Centre
Seenabhai is a very small joint where you actually have to stand on the pavement to keep your plate, but before you start judging, let me tell you why you have to experience this. You must be knowing ki idli by itself is one awesomilicious dish. Seenabhai, takes those tiny pieces of heaven and makes it into something even more magical. If you order one plate ghee idli, he will take 14 freshly-steamed, core-of-the-earth-hot tiny idlis in a plate, pour one ladle(yes!) of ghee and then take a handful of molagapodi (special military grade chilli powder made exclusively to be eaten with idlis) and sprinkle it caressingly over those tiny white ghee-soaked cutie pies and serve you. See you in heaven.
Getting there: https://goo.gl/Adp1FV
Sangeetha Veg Restaurant
Ghee Podi Dosai
If idli is around, can dosai be far behind? That too in Chennai? Though this chain of restaurants is quite old and popular, this specific outlet is something. Or as we call in Chennai, vera level. Don't even look at the menu. Just order the ghee podi dosai. What Seenabhai did to the idlis, Sangeetha will better it with the dosai. I swear you will be able to smell the ghee two tables away. One side on the dosai will be brown, crisp, seductive while the other side beholds a treasure of ghee smeared molagapodi waiting to be unearthed. The dosai comes neatly tucked into a triangle and is served with little blobs of white, red, green chutney and sambar. For best results, eat with all of them together. (Drool is coming!)
Getting there: https://goo.gl/vLpRr5
Biryani at Buhari Hotel (And a Hundred Other Awesome Biryani Places)
Biryani and Chicken 65
If you are new to Chennai, some people have this nonsense habit of telling tell you a hundred things, like Chennai is conservative, limited options for everything, especially meat, this, that. Don't believe them. There are an equal number of amazing restaurants for both vegetarians and meat lovers. Go off to Buharis to get your fix of biryani (and the delectable meat cleverly buried inside the rice). Over the past few years, a number of delightful biryani centres have sprung up across the city (Border Rahamath, Aasife, Chennai Rawther, Bismi are some of them). But Buhari Hotel is quite something. Mostly because, it is really old and lives up to its hype. And they actually invent popular dishes. Ever heard of the dish Chicken 65? You may thank Buhari for that.
Getting there: https://goo.gl/Q5sqJe
Machan, this place is unbelievable. It has such an unassuming look that you will easily miss it. But once you enter, the range of sandwiches they offer is mind boggling. They have close to 200 varieties of sandwiches and I can guarantee you will go crazy trying to zero in on one. Sometimes, my wife and I go for an evening snack and we end up eating our dinner there. I can think of no other place that serves Maggi-Paneer-Mayo sandwich or Gobi-Vadakari-Cheese Grilled sandwich. They have Maggi inside the sandwich. Like inside. Do you know how much work that is, for a sandwich? I am in love with them.
Getting there: https://goo.gl/hPfN7R
Amadora Gourmet Ice Cream
Under-Baked Chocolate Cake
Lord knows how many times we have gone there post dinner. Easily my most favourite dessert joint in the city, it has some orgasm-inducing ice creams and chocolate desserts. Ask for their signature Under-Baked Chocolate Cake and take a scoop of any of their Oh-my-God-Can-You-Make-IceCream-In-That-Flavour? ice creams. That sticky high-school-romance-like feeling on the roof of your mouth when you bite into the gooey warm mushy chocolate cake? That my nanba (friend), is foodgasm. They have a quote on their walls that says “Ice-cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn't illegal.” What a pity, indeed.
Getting there: https://goo.gl/gwp8pA
Radio Goya goes behind the scenes on the city guides, to get the low down on what didn't make it to print. To listen to Local Tea Party, skip to 11:44.
Local Tea Party is a blogger and (an aspiring) screenwriter from Chennai who finds it therapeutic to get angry on the internet. His columns have been published in The Hindu, Outlook and other magazines. He blogs at thelocalteaparty.com.
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