Even the middle classes, students flock the ‘Amma’ canteen

Men and women jostle for space in separate queues, as they wait for a chance to enter the canteen. With minutes left before the place opens, the crowd gets restless, enthusiastic, and noisy. They can’t wait for their turn to purchase a token at the Amma budget canteen near Amma Mandapam in Srirangam.

Airy and spacious with great ventilation and separate places earmarked for women, children and the disabled, the budget canteen is a pleasure to visit.

Inaugurated on June 3 in the Chief Minister’s constituency, it has proved to be an instant hit, with the public queuing up long before the opening time. The canteen is maintained by the Tiruchirapalli City Corporation.

The Amma budget canteens were opened in Chennai in February and proved an instant hit. The weaker sections of society of Tiruchi did not wait long and started demanding similar facility in the city too. And the opening of 10 canteens in the city last week has delighted all sections of the society, particularly the middle and lower income group.

The canteen functions from 7 am to 9 a.m. and noon to 3 p.m. An idli is priced at Re.1, Sambar rice at Rs. 5, and curd rice at Rs. 3. Revenue inspectors and bill collectors oversee the running of the canteen.

“The food is hygienically prepared and the workers wear gloves at all times. We provide purified RO water for the customers. We have a hand wash as well as a toilet for emergencies,” said Shanmugam, Assistant Revenue Officer.

The canteen provides employment to a dozen women who belong to a women’s self-help group. They are trained in Chennai and then sent to work here. They reach the venue at 5 a.m. and by 7 a.m. they have cooked the food and the canteen is opened. Once in three days, a health officer visits the canteen to ensure that the quality is maintained and that the workers are healthy.

“Canteens like this are ideal for people like me who are in the low income group. The quantity is adequate and the price is cheap, making it better than the other eateries outside,” says Muthu Sankar, an autorickshaw driver.

It is not only the lower income groups that visit the canteen, but even students and the middle class seem to prefer the eatery. A large number of senior citizens are spotted in the canteen.

“I came here to sample the food. Since it is of good quality, I can reduce my daily expenses and save my pocket money,” said Akshaya.S, a student. Because of the budget canteen’s proximity to the temple, a number of devotees prefer the place instead of the pricey restaurants in the area.

“Noticing that the Unavagam is open here, I came to have lunch. I find the food tasty, though it would have been better if a side dish like pickle were to be provided with curd rice,” said Vijayshanti Dhanasekhar, who came to offer her prayers at the Srirangam temple.

About the non availability of parcels in the canteen, Veeramani, a revenue officer, said: “Parcels are likely to be misused, so we don’t provide the service, thereby ensuring that everyone in the queue gets their share of the food.”

“I paid a visit to Amma canteen in the morning. I liked the food and found it worth the price. So I have come here for my afternoon meal as well,” said Kumarasamy, a flower seller who hails from the locality.

The demand for the food seems to be so high that the corporation finds it difficult to provide food for all the patrons of the canteen. The government allotment of 1,200 idlis, 300 sambar rice, and 300 curd rice a day is insufficient and people at the fag end of the queue find to their dismay that the food is not available.

If the supply of food was to be increased and the quality maintained, the canteen will surely continue to do brisk business and surpass the restaurants around in terms of popularity.