Small town Madurai is getting introduced to new age food. Ready-to-eat salads and freshly baked breads and buns are gradually sneaking into the health-conscious eater’s plate

Parozza and Bunly? Who do you think they are receiving heaps of praise from absolute strangers on the National Highway 49?

Said one pilgrim on his way to Rameswaram from Madurai, “I and my family were thrilled to get this break from four days of non-stop idli-dosa eating…the parozzas were simply yummy!”

So it is at this casual and informal roadside eatery “Parozza Highway-49” that an innovative fusion of Italian pizza and Madurai parotta is making waves. Not just the name “parozza”, but even the taste of it is simply raging on to conquer taste buds. Remarked a student from the adjacent Velammal Engineering College, “For me and my friends, this neighbourhood hangout is very inviting.”

Bhavani Vel, Sundari the manager, Rani, Santanam and Kater is the hard working team creating, what they call, the hero and the heroine. While parozza is the delicious and nutritious flat bread that looks like pizza and is sealed like a parotta with a choice of five stuffings, the cute little bunly is a steamed bun, white in colour and with a surprise sweet or savoury fun snack hidden inside.

Fresh from the oven parozzas come in three varieties – multigrain, greens and flaky. These can be packed with the chef’s special spread that is creamy chick peas laced in tangy tomato sauce; or the Northern grilled paneer and veggies topping; Southern Chettinad semi-thick veg curry; or the Eastern topping of Chinese sweet n spicy juicy vegetables and the Western double-deck Continental style creamy cheese corn. Each piece costs between Rs. 30 and Rs.50 and is quite filling. You can also takeaway only the parozza for Rs.20 each and try your own fillings at home.

Launched in August by the Managing Director of Indian Foods, M.D.Vel, in the biscuit factory’s riverside campus on Madurai-Rameswaram Road, the earthy-toned counter also serves up the city’s best classic fresh steamed buns. “Our focus is on fresh and healthy fare for wallet-wary guests,” says Vel.

People can also pop in for a satisfying combo meal that offers a cup of soup, a parozza with filling of your choice, two buns, a bed of rice and baked vegetables and gohi pudding, a delicately flavoured coconut pudding – all for Rs.125. Add to this the refreshing drink ‘tender twist’, fresh tender coconut water with a dash of lime and mint and you can more than enjoy your outing on the open-air patio even on warm days.

The other buzz spot is the handsome ground level recently opened fourth outlet of the city’s trusted bakery, ‘Blaack Forest’, on Natham Road. The owner B.Anandh always wanted to open a healthy salad bar. So when the right location came along, he seized the opportunity. He has installed a central salad bar, which is filled with more than a dozen healthy, fresh toppings including chopped onions, carrot, tomatoes, coleslaw, red, green and yellow bell peppers, green sprouts, olives, cucumber, corn, lettuce, basil and mint leaves besides all seasonal fruits.

People who are diet conscious and are in search of health food usually like to wander around a salad bar themselves and choose the various toppings they like the most. “I want to fill that niche and customise the item,” says Anandh.

Right now he is specially engineering the items not only to satisfy the cravings of the people but also to educate them on the nutritional value of the items and in what combinations they can be eaten. It is like a healthy quick fix that he offers which is both delicious and affordable. His menu includes a wide range of freshly baked breads and buns that can be had with decent helpings of vegetarian (Rs.50), non-vegetarian (Rs.90) and fruit (Rs.70) salad.

The salad bar’s offering includes options like tuna fish or chicken mayonnaise salad, honeymoon salad (fresh vegetables, seasonal fruits drizzled with honey and mint), lettuce and baby corn salad, creamy Russian salad, mixed vegetables, mint and pineapple. Sitting inside the cosy place you can watch your sandwiches and salads getting toasted and drizzled, tossed and slathered with an array of ingredients at the live counter.

Anandh wants to promote natural foods, which people have forgotten. “I am spicing up the taste with different types of salad dressings and sauces and people have started coming for snacks and light dinner,” he says. His other trademark burgers and desserts are impressive in the same way.

The passion for cooking and eating local food has not waned in small town Madurai. But the pilgrim town is trying to usher in the new age feel with food. The two new hotspots are sure to create a food-focussed buzz with their innovative fusions. Though the menus are limited, they are a pleasurable exploration trying to spread pure goodness through simple food.