Coimbatore shot into prominence during the later part of the 19th Century. The Cosmopolitan population of yesteryears introduced many facets to the city, including food. Eating out those days must have been interesting for that was the only time when people got to interact with new people.
The earliest eatery was the Sadasiva Iyer Coffee Club on Raja Street and it was famous for its rava dosa and sandhigai. Ranjitha Vilas on Oppanakkara Street served excellent sweets, including their famous badam halwa. Like Bombay Anand Bhavan, they also had a large showcase for sweets. Sonpapdi was the most popular sweet in Bombay Anand Bhavan and they used to maintain their accounts in Hindi for a long time.
If one wanted to enjoy the taste of the world’s best jalebis, Original Viswanatha Iyer on Raja Street was the place to go to. They would serve boondi as accompaniment. People visiting ‘town’ those days made it a point to go back with mouth watering delicacies for their families.
For a hearty meal it was always the good old Mithra Samaj or CS and Seetharama Vilas on Bank Road. Geetha Cafe that was established by the pioneering Hotelier Govinda Iyer was one of the top places for lunch. Celebrities such as M.S. Subbulakshmi have performed in the famous ‘Geetha Hall’. City Lodge was another place for lunch. Here, one could additionally learn accounts from the proprietor, of course for a fee. Woodlands Hotel and Majestic were popular for their rooms and cottages and all the important business visitors who came to Coimbatore for their work stayed here. The Billiards table at Woodlands on Arts College Road was the best in town and the hotel was the first to introduce car service. The Manager of this iconic venture, Mr.Sundaram went on to establish Woodlands as Delhi’s most popular veg eatery.
Krishna Bhavan on Big Bazaar Street served tasty vazhakai bajjis and getti chutney which was second to none. The salt biscuits, tea and juke box music at Lucky Cafe on Avanashi Road was where school students of those days hung out. One could enjoy the chugging of the old steam engine while relishing the coffee, Bombay toast and cutlet at the India Coffee House. Jaffer’s at Central Theatre served triple scoop tooty frooty ice creams with chocolate sauce and nuts. The large eye-shaped glass bowls with generous quantities of ice cream were a meal by themselves. The excellent keera vadai at the theatre was from the Royal Bakery in Moonu Kambam.
Alankar Hotel in Ramnagar had a band from Podanur on Saturday nights and Vinod restaurant at this Hotel was among the earliest fine dines in town. The lovely mural and the ground level fish tank at Alankar was an added attraction for kids. The Royal Hindu Restaurant offered tasty food during the pre-independence era. Vani Vilas in Pappanaicken Palayam sold poori and masal by the buckets to the trainees at the PRS.
Paragon on Cross Cut Road made delicious parotta and paya which were devoured by their customers. Needos and Iranis on Oppanakkara street were the popular non-vegetarian places. However the Bangalore Biriyani Hotel or BBH near the Tower Clock was ‘the’ place for Biriyanis and non-vegetarian delicacies. K.S.M.Guruswamy Nadar of BBH was known for his hard work and experience. He trained his cooks personally and ensured that they made the finest biriyanis with the original ingredients sourced by him. Ideal Restaurant on R.S.Puram was perfect for breakfast and catching up with friends.
Coimbatore of those days offered as much choice for foodies as it does today.
Rajesh is passionate about his city and is always looking for ways of documenting its history