Thirty counters dishing out over 20 cuisines. The food fair on at Island Grounds in Chennai offers variety in one place

Eat an appalam bigger than your face. Blow soap bubbles into the air and annoy random strangers. Drink a cool glass of sugarcane juice. Hop onto a wobbly train for a joy ride. Pair spicy mutton chukka with wicked cheese dosas.

The food and film fair, currently on at the Island Grounds, is a great excuse to behave like a bratty five-year-old. You enter through a vivid doorway flanked by ridiculously large drums and wander through a line up of stalls selling everything from shiny stickers to soda makers.

Finally, you get to a 20,000 square foot food court of sorts, boasting about 30 counters with eight different cuisines. Set up by Nakshatra Foods, it’s a rather ambitious project. In an attempt to make exotic food egalitarian, the counters offer everything from kozhi varutha curry to chicken burgers.

The food is divided state-wise, and showcases some of the most popular dishes of South India, as well as the usual chaats and aloo parathas. Fortunately, they have also made an effort to include lesser known dishes, in order to broaden people’s understanding of each cuisine.

From different states

So there’s peserattu and puliogre from Andhra Pradesh, as well as the unusual gongura annam and ragi idli. Karnataka is represented by the good old Mysore masala dosa, bisibela bath and vangi bath. There are also tasty benna dosas, spongy neer dosas and spicy podi idlies. Kerala, for a change, is not just all about beef fry and banana chips. Instead there’s the classic steamed puttu teamed with healthy kadala. For Chettinadu food, try the kuzhi paniyaram, kothu paratha and idiappam kurma. There’s Punjabi, Mughlai and ‘Tamil Nadu’ food too. Other categories include sweets, soups and fresh juices.

This is an interesting way to try a variety of cuisines in one place without having to pay through your nose. (Prices range from Rs. 20 to Rs. 90.)

What’s even more fun is to draw up one of their endearingly ugly plastic chairs and sit among the crowds at the well-used and dented tables. It’s all quite picturesque. Besides, as the fair draws people from across the city, it’s a fascinating place to people-watch. You’ll see groups of giggling women in sparkly saris and families noisily eating their way through vast piles of dragon chicken, while the children run wild in a flash of tiny bangles and squeaky shoes. Gangs of girls pulling wildly at each other’s plates and boyfriends.

It may be chaotic. It can be rather warm. And it will probably be crowded. But where else do you get to eat ‘Malabari barotta’ and then follow it by wielding a wicked gun to shoot balloons. If you’re lucky you might even pop more balloons than that smug, pint-sized kid in front of you.

Barotta: Rs. 25. Shooting: Rs. 10. Satisfaction: Priceless.

(Organised by the entertainment company Spellbound and Nakshatra Foods, this festival, supported by Tamil Nadu Tourism, is on till October 11.)