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Hello Delhi! Saravana calling

Now in Delhi, the well-known chain restaurant Saravana Bhawan lays out an array of delicious South Indian dishes, all for a few bucks. SUMITRA SENAPATY recommends a visit after trying out the fare... .

Have a bite at Saravana Bhawan. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt.

IT MIGHT take you a while walking up to Saravana Bhawan, earlier the Sona Rupa restaurant on New Delhi's Janpath. Actually, long before reaching there, you would see the bouquets of flowers and marigold garlands, and then you should know that you are in the right direction. It might be way past lunchtime, but despite the hunger pangs, the chances are that you might not make it much further than just inside the door, trying not to slip on the just polished marble floors. After retrieving the takeout menu, you would make a special note of the lengthy row of chairs outside the eating area, provided for guests waiting for tables.

That's presumptuous, a thought might come, wondering if enough people know about Saravana, considering it is their second day in operation. But you would be wrong. The Saravana team know fully well what they are doing when they put out those chairs. Though the South Indian vegetarian restaurant may be a newcomer to the Capital, it's hardly new. It's part of a chain that began in Chennai over 20 years ago and now consists of more than 25 locations. And in Chennai, 18 Saravana Bhawan branches serve more than 90,000 people a day. Saravana would strike you as a neat vegetarian outlet, strictly speaking, not a restaurant, more like a cafeteria. May be, the concept is to attract maximum clientele by providing them with affordable food, accordingly you would find the place very crowded but clean.

But what tips the scale in favour of Saravana is the sheer variety of vegetarian food they churn up in the South Indian style. There are five varieties of Idli and 19 varieties of Dosa to choose from! Other fast moving snacks are Uttappams, Vadas, Idiyappam and Appams. Prices range from Rs 23 for a plate of Rice Idlis to Rs 65 for the elaborate Dry Fruits Rava Dosa and Rs 160 for the Family Dosa, which as the name suggests, is a real huge binge. There are umpteen varieties of savoury `small eats' to buy and take home as well. A fresh juice bar will also commence operations shortly. In case you're in the mood for a hearty, wholesome meal, Saravana has a separate `dining room' on the first floor. Here, you can enjoy two varieties of thali meals and a quick lunch as well, priced at Rs 100, Rs 60 and Rs 50 for the quick meal. Convenient for nearby offices, the quick though heavy meal is from 10 am to 3 pm and consists of Sweet Pongal, Sambar Rice, Curd Rice, Special Rice, Poriyal, Chips and Pickles. A word of caution, if relaxation and ambience are your preferences, then Saravana Bhawan would not be the right place for you. But if you want to try out cheap but hygienic snacks especially South Indian vegetarian dishes, and you do not mind a crowded place and waiting for your food, then try it out.

Money goes far here. Their prices are modest and their portions are generous. Seating is designed to pack in multitudes of people and the absence of tablecloths and carpets does its bit to increase the noise level at Saravana. Best to avoid weekends, lunch hours and dinner hours, check it out sometime in between! Unless you're a `Southie,' you'll most likely view your trip to Saravana

Bhawan a culinary adventure. Or, try this selection: Rava Idly with Ghee, a crisp Paper Dosa, Medu Vada and Filter Coffee. By the time you finish, you'll notice that the restaurant is completely packed, people are also sitting on those `waiting'chairs.' You'll began to feel that you should tear yourself away in order to allow others a chance to check out some fast food, the South Indian Saravana style!

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