Cheap joints make Madurai affordable for foodies

It is a well-known fact that Madurai is famous for its temples. The next best thing that comes to the mind of a visitor is the wide range of food joints.

This is a city where one can get food at affordable prices that leave a lingering taste and a lasting impression. The unique selling point of roadside eateries is that the hot and tasty food served is affordable and safe as it is prepared at home. The growth of unconventional restaurants that dot the flanks of city roads has been phenomenal and the ‘Amma Canteen,’ which recently joined the Madurai food brigade, has added a new dimension to how quality food is sold at affordable rates.

“Amma Unavagam offers idlis for breakfast but here I get dosa, pongal, paniyaram and even omelette at cheaper prices,” says 28 year-old Siva, a construction worker, who is a regular at an eatery on West Avani Moola Street. Small-time vendors have been serving cheap and tasty dinners for night owls and office-goers in Madurai.

“The very taste of our food attracts people from neighbouring localities. Most of them are long-time customers,” says S. Kalai Arasi who runs the eatery on West Avani Moola Street. Idli, dosa and pongal are sold at Rs.5, Rs. 8 and Rs.10 respectively at the roadside shop that has been functioning for the past 17 years. “The presence of Amma Unavagam has not affected our business. Many customers still prefer to eat at our shop,” Ms. Kalai Arasi adds.

Even as most food stalls in the city boast sales of upto Rs.1,000 a day, the Amma Unavagam, which was started by the State government to cater to the poor and needy, is quite popular among the public. “Ever since the Amma canteen came up, I have stopped eating at roadside joints, as the food here is amazingly good and is served in large portions,” says Madurai Veeran, a resident of Melavasal who regularly visits the outlet near Periyar Bus Stand.

The thronging crowds indicate that the canteens are patronised by all sections of people.  “Though I used to eat frequently at roadside restaurants to cut down on my expenses, I am not satisfied with the quality of food and the unhygienic preparation,” says P. Vishnu, a marketing executive and a native of Tiruchi.

“Amma canteen has come as a boon for people like me,” he adds.

The canteens offer staple food items such as idli, sambar rice and curd rice at heavily subsidised prices. Idli is sold at a rupee each, while sambar rice and curd rice cost Rs.5 and Rs.3 a plate respectively. It is run by women self-help groups who are provided with essential commodities supplied by the State. There are 10 canteens in the city and each has 12 employees working in two shifts. “We open for breakfast at 7 a.m. and for lunch at 12 noon. The average footfall per day is around a thousand,” says V. Pramila, a worker at the K. Pudur outlet.

According to Madurai Corporation officials, the average expenditure for a canteen on vegetables, rice, pulses, LPG cylinder and labour is Rs.11,000 a day. This does not include electricity, maintenance and overheads. The civic body bears the expenses from its general funds.

Needed in bus stands

“The corporation should open more Amma canteens in places such as Mattuthavani and Arapalayam bus stands for the benefit of people belonging to the low income group,” says B. Stalin, High Court advocate. “For a daily wage earner, paying Rs.20 a day for breakfast and lunch — six idlis, two plates of sambar rice and a plate of curd rice — is probably a better option than buying PDS grains, vegetables, pulses, and cooking food at home,” he says.

Mayor V.V. Rajan Chellappa, who is aware of the growing demand, says, “We have forwarded a representation to open 10 more canteens in the city. We are awaiting the government nod.”

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