Hearty food — inexpensive, fresh and hot — describes the experience of street food
It is late at night and the city is dozing off. But not in a stretch of Avanashi Road where it is buzzing. Between the Nava India and Lakshmi Mills bus stops, there are stalls that sell hot dosais, idlis and omlettes. From labourers on cycles to corporate workers in swanky cars, they all queue up for a quick, hot dinner.
People stick their heads out of car windows to shout out orders. Working women on two-wheelers screech to a halt near the stalls, grab a parcel and head back home. Students squat on the stools and chat endlessly over a mutta dosai or two.
Amudha and Pandi’s stall seems to be the busiest of the lot. Her paper thin dosais and soft idlis are the star attraction. Smoke rises from her sizzling tawa as she pours the rice batter on to it. As the dosai simmers on the tawa, she deftly breaks an egg into a glass. It is beaten with masalas and salt. After the dosai is removed from the tawa, the egg mixture is poured on to make the omelette. The hot omelettes sprinkled with pepper and salt are worth halting for during late night rides.
In the meantime, her husband Pandi transfers the freshly made crackling dosais on to banana leaves along with hot red chutney and serves the customers. He has to keep an eye on those idlis too. He removes them from the mould and serves them with chutney and podi.
It is eating out, but the food has a home-made taste to it. It is not too spicy like food usually is in other street food joints. The podi served with the idlis are ground without any artificial agents. Radhakrishnan Kailas, a customer, says, “The food here is clean. You see fresh dosai and idlis made right in front of you. Unlike in hotels, they will not sell stale food here.”
Most of these stalls are run by families living nearby. They bring their vessels and cookers by seven in the evening and cook till 11.30 at night. Killing one’s appetite in one stall would be foolish. So, keep some space and move to the next stall and the next. At one end is another couple selling chapattis and vegetable kurma.
There are drawbacks to this business say some of the food stall owners. Sometimes, they have to negotiate with the authorities to let them continue serving food till 11.30. Then there are the occasional drunken brawls that erupt that are not at all pleasant.
But the food is popular. A three-year-old comes up to Amudha and asks for a dosai. Behind him his mom gestures to Amudha not to give it to him. Amudha laughs and assures the little boy that she will give him more dosais on his next visit. “There are problems. But I enjoy what I do. It feels like cooking for one’s own family,” says Amudha as she breaks an egg for the next round of omelettes.