The ‘kaiendhi bhavans’ on the streets of Tiruchi come alive at night with strangers who bond over food

As the clock strikes 9, the lights from the little shops on NSB Road start disappearing, even as the peak of the Rockfort gleams in yellow light.

The sounds of closing shutters, clicking locks, hurrying footsteps and the clatter of displayed items being dragged back into shops, form a rhythmic welcome to the starry night sky looming over the city. Within the next sixty minutes, they city starts to fall asleep- at least , parts of it.

By 10 pm, every other corner of the Main Guard Gate, comes alive with nameless eateries, commonly known as ‘Kaiendhi Bhavans’, dishing out homemade dinner.

These mobile eateries punctuate every 100 meters of a narrow street, allowing business to spread equally among them. Each has its own loyal clientele, a combination of common folks and the elite who arrive in Innovas and Fortuners with families, to enjoy the food.

“Sometimes, customers come from as far as Perambalur district,” says S.Sridharan, owner of a kaiendhi bhavan ,right outside the entrance to Rockfort.

“I have been setting up shop in the same place for more than 15 years. I have customers who have been regular for years, most of them are families”.

While lone customers stand around the carts, families with female members prefer to eat in their vehicles. The menu varies everyday, but has a few standard items like vegetable biryani, puliodharai and idli. The occasional specialties include kesari and rice varieties like manathakkali, mint, coriander, pepper and garlic.

“People love the sakkara pongal and akkaravadisal we make,” says Sridharan. He has two assistants to help him manage the crowd and his wife prepares the food at home.

“I have been eating here for the past ten years,”says Mrs.Muthukannu. “I own a flower shop right outside the temple’s entrance. My favourite dish here is the kesari.” Chandrasekar , a marketing representative prefers to eat here, before his long drive home. “The cost of the food doesn’t eat away my salary”.

The food, prepared at homes early in the evening, is brought to the area in huge containers, usually in an auto.

Some days they are sold out within an hour; on other days there are left overs. The rates do not exceed Rs.20- a double serving of Pongal costs Rs.20, vegetable biriyani costs Rs.15.

The eateries are usually open till midnight. “I have been having my dinner here for the past nine years and the fellow customers have become family now,” says Subramaniam, a medical representative from Srirangam.

The customers flock around the single battery-charged light at every shop, like moths swarming around a flame. Strangers bond over food in friendly chatter, and through the years, some have formed an easy camaraderie. These ‘kaiendhi bhavans’ are more than just mobile eateries- each has two generations of stories behind it.

Teppakulam comes to life at night, before the bustle of eateries finally settles down around midnight. The cars and two wheelers race back home, and the carts are pushed all the way back to where they came from.