Tuck into thavalai adai, paniyaaram, chicken chops and sharbat at Clarion’s Madurai Kaalai Virundhu

The mood is festive at Clarion Hotel, on Avanashi Road. The hotel, formerly known as Park Plaza, is decorated with paper streamers and old cinema posters. Staff sit inside a semi-thatched enclosure to cook up delectable street food. There’s a sizzle as a lady pours the batter for kaara and malli paniyaaram into a paniyaara chatti. Another makes Khusbhoo idlis and serves them with coconut chutney and a tangy tomato-onion chutney.

All this as part of the Madurai Kaalai Virundhu, which is on at the hotel till October 27.

The festival celebrates the flavours of Madurai, especially its street food. Chef Arulselvan says that during his visits to the temple city, he has always been fascinated by the sheer variety of street food on offer. It helped that two of his assistants at Clarion are from Madurai.

And so, they have created a menu that allows you to sample a variety of snacks. Think baby thavala adais and fragrant ragi and kambu adais, crunchy with onion.

Before you dig into the main course, take a look at the stalls put up for the fest. A sampling of the steamed sakkaravali and maravalli kizhangu chops is a must.

The accent at this fest is on non-vegetarian fare. Think ratha poriyal, kudal perattal, aatu eeral milagu varuval, poondu meen kozhambu, pepper muttai poriyal, aatukaal paaya (with idiyappam) and kozhi biriyani. They make a mean kothu parotta too.

The best part about the fest are the live counters. It is a joy to see the cook swerve the beaten egg in a karandi to get a fluffy omelette or watch another artistically pat the adai by hand before placing it on the tava.

Once you are done eating all this, head to the rice section in the main buffet. There, try the Mattuthavani pudalangaai kootu, named after a locality in Madurai. It’s earthy, rich and fulfilling.

The chinna vengaya karakozhambu is a good accompaniment to the paniyaaram and idiyappam. They also serve a sweet pavakkai thokku and urulai podimaas.

After dinner, check out the tea kadai set up in a corner. Fortify yourself for the drive ahead with sweet milky tea, or if you’re in the mood to sin, head to the jigarthanda and sharbat stall right at the exit.

The jigarthanda is the rich man’s version of the roadside drink. Chef Arul has whipped together ground almond, almond slivers, condensed milk and rose essence for a flavourful coconction that leaves you smiling.

(The fest is open for dinner. It is priced at Rs. 777 (nett) for adults and Rs. 399 for children. For details, call 0422-4523030.)