Two-hour business with quick service and cheap price comfort eatery owners, visitors equally

The entire Tiruchi city becomes silent after a little over 10 p.m., except the Central Bus Stand and the railway junction area. Big Bazaar Street, the main commercial hub in the heart of the city, is another area which continues to pose a busy look even after the closure of all the shops and business establishments.

It is the presence of a large number of roadside eateries that spring up in the late night hours which bring life to this entire stretch of the 1.5 km road. For the next two hours a large number of people from all walks of life – from officials to workers, from students to shop employees – throng the roadside eateries, which serve mouth watering dishes, for dinner.

There are umpteen big restaurants and hotels in the city, but, generally their food tariff suits only to the creamy layer. For those living in the lower rung of society, these roadside eateries cater to their needs.

This road stretch accounts for about 100 eateries, on the main roads and the sub-lanes abutting this road, all functioning from rented push carts. The working hours of these makeshift hotels are just two hours – from 10 p.m. to 12 midnight, thanks to the restriction of city police. All the push carts start appearing on this street, as soon as the permanent shops call it a day. And they vacate the scene exactly at the stroke of midnight 12, after cleaning the whole environment.

The main attraction of these eateries is the price of the eatables and the time they take to serve the people. The cheap price of the eatables could be gauged from the fact that even the butter dosai and the podi dosai is priced at just Rs.15 compared to the cost of a plain dosai which is put at Rs.40 in restaurants. These eateries also serve a variety of dishes, including pongal, lemon rice, chapathi, idly, adai, vadai, and sevai apart from all sorts of dosais. Various side dishes like coconut chutney, tomato chutney, podi and kothamalli chutney along with sambar also provide added taste to the eatables.

The patronage for these eateries every day is to be seen to be believed. They are equally patronised by all sections of society, as mainly the middle class and the weaker sections get food at affordable prices. They also prove a boon to visitors arriving in the city in the late night hours, as they feed them with steamy hot food. Another advantage enjoyed by these eateries is that the customer need not worry about the parking of his vehicle as he has adequate space on the empty road.

The roadside eateries are run mostly by economically and socially downtrodden people and it also solves unemployment of uneducated people to a certain extent.

Though the shops are opened at 10 p.m., the preparation begins right in the evening. “We have a lot of regular customers, who wait even before we reach our marked spot,” says N. Murugan, who runs a shop near the Gandhi Market arch. As their business is only for two hours, when they have to serve a large number of customers, all shops employ a few people for quick service.

While these eateries enjoy a lot of support, still a section of people is of the view that they have become an evil. For a quick grub, roadside eateries come in handy, but lack of cleanliness lurks. The unhygienic set-up, which may lead to health problems, is a major drawback. From the cost point of view, these eateries are definitely cheaper, from hygienic point of view, it is not safe to take food from these eateries, say Raguveer, a local trader, and M. Vigneswaran, employed with a carpentry unit on daily wage.

The eatery wallahs refute the allegation of unhygienic condition, and argue that clean cooking habits and hygienic standards are strictly followed while preparing food items.

One should exercise caution while eating at such roadside joints, as they could be the source of diseases depending on the level of hygiene they are able to maintain. People, who favour such roadside eateries, should do a preliminary scan of surroundings and avoid unhealthy fried food items, says H. Abdul Quddus, a retired government official.

Service organisations should conduct health awareness programmes for the eatery owners, says N.S.Sivakumar, physical education director, Urumu Dhanalakshmi College. It is time to educate them to maintain basic minimum health standards, he adds.