It’s on the streets that one gets to eat everything that’s truly Chennai.
I HATE CHENNAI…Are you scandalised enough to keep reading? Good! I needed to make sure. Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I hate that good news on Chennai often gets sidelined while moral-policing news hogs the limelight. I hate that Chennai often gets labelled as regressive because it is conservative.
But most of all I hate that Chennai does not get its due share of credit for the brilliant street food that we have. Shamefully enough, after living in Chennai for 17 years, I discovered the brilliance of its food vendors only yesterday.
It happened to be a holiday and mom chanced upon an article on the food fest at Island Grounds. Got into the car and drove there. We dragged some very enthusiastic friends along as well. Got there only to realise that with the crowds and the time we reached (very late) we weren’t going to get any food. Fortunately for us one of the enthusiastic people with us happened to be an expert on “where to get brilliant food for amazing prices”.The first vendor we visited was this little corner shop somewhere in Parry’s. We stood on the road, risking our lives for kebabs and katti rolls. Was it worth it? Served on paper plates with the perfect combination of onions and mint chutney, delectable seems to be the only word to describe it.
We moved on. Reluctantly I admit, until we reached our next destination: a push cart serving what they call Burmese noodles. Whether Burma ever had noodles is not something I know or care about. But thank heavens Chennai does. Hot, cold or with soup? With crispy pieces or extra vegetable? A bit of everything… Mouth-watering again! By this time everyone was shutting down but we weren’t ready to go home, so we ended up at foodie’s paradise: Besant Nagar Beach. Everything from peanuts in newspaper to bajji on plastic plates to cold coffee in hi-fi glasses. Not to forget kulfi and burgers.
I came home ready to proclaim to the world how much I loved Chennai and the intensity of tastes and sensations it offered. Spicy, sweet, crisp, hot, cold, soft, tangy, sharp, strong, bland, fiery, crunchy and salty (though that might have been the beach) I learnt more about city food in three hours than in over 15 years of eating in our restaurants. Good as they are, nothing beats standing and eating on the streets of ‘Namma Channai’.
Dhiya Kuriakose is a first Year B.A. English Literature student of Stella Maris College.