Shiva Prasad of Seena Bhai Tiffin Centre in Sowcarpet says there’s a reason street food survives in tiny, unadvertised stalls on hard-to-reach lanes. “The beauty of street food is that it is meant to be eaten on the go. Once you add luxuries, it will lose its charm.”

His tiffin centre in George Town opens at 5.30 p.m. every day and receives customers from all over the city, who flock there for the speciality – ghee idli and ghee uthapam, the only two items that his family has been selling for 36 years.

Mint Street is occupied by many such food joints that have been here for years, serving hot jalebis and chaat items among others. A plate of samosa and kachori for Rs. 10 and a wholesome plate of chaat for Rs. 30 seems to keep everyone happy.

“You should come here on Sunday after 8 p.m.,” says P.C. Gupta of Bombay Chaat House. “Once sales start at 5 p.m., we have no time to breathe until 11 p.m. as people keep coming. They don’t mind having to wait for their favourite food items. Families come and spend hours here,” he says.

Chaat and idlis aren’t the only things Chennai’s streets are famous for. Srinivasan Road in T. Nagar for instance, is home to several stalls that serve parottas, vanjaram fry, idiyappam, curry dosa, muttai curry, kozhi roast, muttai dosa and kal dosa. There is always of crowd of young, working men here, who come for dinner.

Vijay Singh, who works in an IT firm says, “My office is on Harrington Road and I live in Kodambakkam. Almost every day I come here after work, eat dinner and then go home. It is affordable and since it is open till late, dinner is made easy for many of us who live alone.”

In Mylapore, at 5.25 on a recent evening, an eager crowd waited in front of the popular Jannal Kadai, or window shop. Every day, the owner opens the window at 5.30 sharp to serve fresh idli, dosa, bajji, pongal and vadai.

As soon as service begins, a serpentine queue forms. Among the customers, is S. Ramesh. “I have been coming here for years. I used to come here every evening after work to have bajjis with the special chutney. The flavours remind me of my mother’s cooking,” he says.

Ramesh also recommends the hot bajjis sold at small road-side outlets on East Mada Road.

Sixty-year-old Vydhyalingam has been running his bajji stall on East Mada Road for 16 years and he says the recipe has remained the same. Now, his daughter and granddaughter manage the show. He talks while he serves a piping hot ‘mixed’ plate that includes molaga (green chilli), raw banana, potato, capsicum, onion and cauliflower bajjis.

“Every morning I shop in Koyembedu for vegetables. We begin preparations by 4 p.m. and start serving by 5. “We have maintained almost the same price despite the constant price hikes for fear of losing customers,” says Vydhyalingam, who claims to have served several celebrities. “I have never advertised or thought of moving to a bigger place,” he says.

At the Burmese fast food joint on Second Lane Beach Road, there’s a taste of the exotic. For Rs. 40, you get a plate of Mohinga, A-tau, Kausway and Kosuve. Gajendran V., the owner of this unnamed joint has learnt the recipe from his grandmother, who lived in Myanmar.

“I nearly rented another shop nearby but I changed my mind because my clients, who include celebrities, like to come here, stand and eat,” he says.

Foodies believe that though the street food scene in the city is not as big as it is in Mumbai, Kolkata or even Bangalore, there are specific localities that cater to every need.

Chennai Central at The Hindu celebrates Madras Week

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