On the Marina and Elliot’s, you can have eggs made your way. Sunny side up, spread over a dosa or as a bread-omelette slathered with green chutney.

Fried fillets of vanjaram, crispy nethili, stir-fried shrimp, hot, puffy vazhakkai and molaga bajjis, golden discs of onion and potato slices, roasted corn-on-the-cob rubbed with lemon-chilli paste and diced raw mango dusted with red chilli powder.

Sounds like the beach, you say? Bull’s-eye. And yes, that too.

On the Marina and Elliot’s, you can have eggs made your way. Sunny side up, spread over a dosa or as a bread-omelette slathered with green chutney.

No other shoreline in the country probably has as varied a choice of gastronomic delights as the city’s beaches.

With their large variety and more than reasonable pricing, the seafood stalls on Elliot’s Beach can give any specialty restaurant a run for its money.

Marinated, spicy, succulent fillets of vanjaram (seer fish) vie for space with whole jilapi (tilapia), sankara (red snapper), mathi (sardine), nethili (anchovy) and shrimp, crab and squid.

And the stalls have their share of regulars. “Eating seafood at the beaches is a cheaper alternative to going to a restaurant or cooking at home,” said Madurai native Venkat, biting into his third fish of the evening.

Tens of thousands throng the Marina and Elliot’s beaches on any given day. While weekends are for family outings and large-scale get-togethers, on weekday evenings, the beaches are the refuge of college students and young office-goers in pursuit of some privacy and romance.

And in between sweet nothings and stolen glances, young lovers share a plate of crispy bajji and piping hot tea. Business is brisk, said Lakshmi, draining a fresh batch of molaga bajjis from a deep wok of sizzling oil. She is one of the more than 1,000 food vendors who earn their livelihood on the Marina.

While they continue to cater to people from all walks of life, the management of the beaches – especially vendor control and hygiene – leaves much to be desired, said restaurateur M. Mahadevan.

On Tuesday evening, Mahadevan met with the health officer of the Chennai Corporation to offer his services in raising hygiene awareness on the Marina. “I am ready to set up a prototype of a model food stall on the beach and educate vendors on the need to maintain cleanliness,” he said.

Mahadevan has fond memories of evenings on the Marina, back in the 80s. “When I was dating my wife, we would often drive down to the beach and eat ice cream from the pushcarts and munch on sundal,” he said.

With the right efforts and political will, the character of the city’s beaches could be preserved for generations to come, he said.

Chennai Central at The Hindu celebrates Madras Week

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