CUISINE How well the city has embraced food from the other side of the Vindhyas

If you’ve dismissed Tiruchi as a city of idlis and vadais, you couldn’t be more wrong. The city that wholeheartedly embraced paneer has over the years developed a North Indian food culture to be proud of, a tribute to its many settlers from the other side of the Vindhyas. The city’s gastronomically inclined have gone a step ahead in fusing the local with the unfamiliar, giving us dishes like paneer butter masala dosa!

Maghai, an inconspicuous place with little more than tables and chairs to offer as ambience, is probably among the most authentic North Indian restaurants in the city. The food here bears a Banarasi flavour. “It is the best place in Tiruchi for complete North Indian food, no fusion business here,” says Sathya Jayadev, a regular. The place is more famous for its breads than its gravies, and the kasturi naan and stuffed kulcha are highly recommended. The kasturi naan here has a sweet-salt paneer filling that is highly satisfying when eaten right out of the tandoor. As far as accompaniments go, the kaju masala, with cashews softened in strong gravy, complements the light breads. Owner Mr. Mahesh Kumar, who claims that there is no compromise on quality while maintaining tastes, says he is thinking of expanding and opening a new branch, on the main road near Raja Bus Stand.

If a wholesome thali is what you are looking for, the Rajasthani thali from Hotel Rajasthan is the meal — inexpensive, filling, with a taste of the desert. But if you would rather have a-la-carte, try their unconventional tomato fry and dahi fry. From desert to dessert, head to Mahavir Sweets for their hot crisp jalebis and oh-so-soft rasgullas, a heavenly way to close off a meal.

At the heart of the city in Central Bus Stand is Shri Sangeethas, equally popular for its South Indian and North Indian dishes. Regulars recommend the soft naans and the paneer 65 and paneer butter masala dosa. Boasting the best quality paneer, the paneer butter masala with soft cubes of cottage cheese in mellow gravy is a star dish, as is the malai kofta. Hotel Vignesh, just opposite Shri Sangeethas, offers tough competition. They do take the butter in their butter naan seriously, and what goes better with it than palak paneer. To appease your sweet tooth with a sumptuous meal, just walk down the road to Bombay Chappathi House, a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of haunt, which serves a killer badam milk, simmered for hours and laced with dry fruits, at Rs. 20 a glass, thank you very much.

Eating food from a different place perhaps is the biggest act of trust, as you risk subjecting your body to it. These haunts owe their success to local patronage, and what we have here is a composite food culture where North Indians go for piping hot idlis, and the locals order dhokla- khaman, with extra chilli please.