Simply dig into it, proffers A.Shrikumar after returning from a lip-smacking indulgence
A long stretch on the Nethaji Road and Periyar, contains countless small counters, where invariably a woman sits by the side of the platform, continuously churning out idlis, dosas and ubiquitous uthappas. As you watch the round idlis smoking up, numerous office goers and students flock these shacks for a ‘fast breakfast' before boarding their buses. Undoubtedly, the much acclaimed pongal, vada with chutney, masala dosa, onion uthappa and filter coffee continue to be evergreen options.
Despite recent mushrooming of classy cafés, pizzerias and urbane eating outlets, steaming savouries from the street tend to captivate. Though these hovels may not give the ambience and comfort to enjoy, it is the much customized concoction of cuisines and even the taste that pulls crowd.
It is only on Madurai's spastic streets that dosas and pizzas become kin and parottas and pastas become allies. A fluorescently lit cart right next to South Masi street junction is one such evening stall producing hot pastas with a piquant ping. A glance at the menu hung on the cart, reveals there is much to munch and the glutton in you can't resist trying out those funky names.
Some ‘must haves' here include ‘masala' and ‘poondu' pasta.The stall also dishes up amazing omelettes with a dash of pepper and lemon, tasting best with bread.
Food from the footpath can really be fun, except at some places, when you might have to befriend flies having a free run of the plate. But, even street vendors seem to be upgrading their hygiene levels, by wrapping plastic sheets as gloves.
On the Mahal street is a car shed turned into a ‘dhaba', where South Indian and Chinese cuisines become cousins. A complete range of noodles is the highlight. It is a sought after destination among the ‘chowmein-crazy' crowd. Bottles of chilli, tomato and pepper sauces are stacked to lend any wanted combination. Pamper your palates with the hakka chicken noodles, schezwan egg, veg and chicken chowmein, steamed and salted noodles fried in spicy garlic sauce and chicken curry. Similar kinds of mix-match makings are available in fried rice. Special Chinese soups with crispy fried noodles, chopped carrot and beans, stewed chicken and mutton are also worth checking out.
Maduraiites since long have thrived on the famous ‘Muniyandi vilas' outlets, known widely for the irresistible parottas and scrumptious salna. ‘Kothu parotta', the city's signature dish is so appealing that the tinny jingle of its making sends gastronomical pangs down the tummy. It is broken parotta pieces, fried with peas, onions, garlic, carrot, potato, a variety of spices and garnished with coriander leaves. ‘Veechu parotta' is another delectable dish to be paired with mutton chukka or chicken chops with gravy. “It is the maida-made southern version of the north Indian rumali rotis. A number of foreign tourists make it a point to taste these two parotta varieties” says, Muthukumar at the Meenakshi mutton stall in Narayanapuram.
Salna is a unique recipe with liberal dosage of ‘aniseeds' instead of ‘cumin', ground tomato and coconut that lends exclusive aroma and distinctive taste to the Madurai salna.
A number of carts dot the New Natham road, with chicken pieces hung ready to be fried and delivered. “The current craze is for tandoor made chicken tikkas, grill chicken and deep fried sizzlers. Freshly fried fish pieces, eaten with green mint chutney are also a hit among customers” says, Manickam, who meticulously opens his cart sharp at 4.00 p.m at Outpost.
City's footpaths liven up when the sun goes down and food-cum-fruit laden ‘talluvandis' (makeshift carts) line up. They offer a wide range of fried snacks and combo tiffin items for a quick peck on way back home.
You may still choose samosas, namkeens and batter fried onion pakoras and valakkai bhajias for evening indulge, but, of late the North Indian ‘chaat' has cast its spell on the taste buds of the locals.
Goripalayam platforms are the right place to find some amazing chaat vendors, who just skillfully sprinkle a dozen spice powders to make discrete flavours. “The regular customers are collegians who live on chaats like pani puri, bhel, sev and dahi puri. Ragda patties and tava fried alu tikkis, channa masala also move fast among youth” says, Jugal, from Jharkhand.
The main ingredients are finely chopped onions, tomatoes, kara boondis, omapodi, smashed potatoes, the mouth watering green mint chutney and red ‘imli' chutney. If the deal isn't hot enough, sputter some gossip over the chaat to spice it up.
Ice creams and beverages are also aplenty along the street side. Milk made and flavoured ‘Prem Mewar Kulfi' is a delectable option with badam and pista shreds.
Usually owned by the marwaris, these joints also offer ‘golas'- broken ice with artificial colors and flavours.
“We usually stroll till midnight. Malai kulfi moves fast among customers” says, Mohinder, from Agra. City's signature drink, Jil Jil Jigarthandas', quenches thirst on hot sunny days.
“It is like ‘cold payasam' made with flavoured milk, frozen nuts and dry fruit pieces”, say Sahul Hameed.
For the health conscious, there is always the natural way opting for tender coconuts, paruthi pal, cup corn, mushroom soup, kambamkul and fruits-salads.
The street has endless options for spicy-saucy pecks, though those with a bland palate may really have to hunt for plain stuff. It is truly a fantasy for many when food turns street-smart.