There is much to munch on the street-side, find Metroplus’ food buffs T.SARAVANAN and A.SHRIKUMAR

Bon-vivants sitting on footpaths and savouring street-side recipes are a common sight. Madurai’s streets liven up in the evenings when talluvandis laden with idlis, bajjis, bondas and bolis line up near bus-stands and temples. Eating out is a vital part of Madurai and the city’s denizens are gastronomic enthusiasts. Every few yards, you smell fresh flavours. It’s a special experience to balance on shaky chairs, hold the plate in one’s hands and slurp sambhar and chutney. On one such expedition, here’s what we came across.

The long winding lane connecting South Veli Street and South Masi Street is called Pandiya Vellalar Street, and the whole stretch smells of fresh, crisp dosas at nine in the night. Foodies flock to Ayyappan Tiffin Kadai, while some eagerly wait for their order to arrive on a plantain leaf. Soon, there’s a queue for take-aways. The errand boy yells out “Oru kaalan dosai” and Karthikeyan swiftly pours out the batter and smears a ladle full of mushroom masala on it. In a few minutes, the delicious dosa is laid out on the plate, piping hot. A dozen orders follow and it’s a fight for space and pace!

From six steaming tawas and buckets of rice batter, Karthikeyan dishes out a thousand dosas every day. Apart from the regular customers, there are also fans who admire the way Karthikeyan deftly makes dosas, switching the ladle swiftly from one hand to the other and wasting no time. “The highlight of my dosas is the home-made style and flavour. I don’t add food colours and soda powder,” he says. “Last week, nearly 20 foreign tourists came here to savour my dosas. I am a Post Graduate in economics and a degree holder in catering,” he says, flashing a brand-new smart phone. The eatery, hardly more than a hovel, can only contain 10 people at a time. Karthikeyan has set out plastic chairs on the pavement, a ‘facility’ many customers enjoy.

West Masi Street is dotted with a number of idli kadais. At 11 p.m., Meena lights her stove to steam idlis. “My business starts now and goes on till two in early morning,” she says. “It has been three years into the job and I have never felt unsafe in the abode of Goddess Meenakshi,” she shrugs. As the hot idlis are taken out of the boiler, tourists and Ayyappa pilgrims throng the eatery.

While samosas, namkeens and batter-fried onion pakodas and vazhakkai bhajjis are essentially evening indulgences, the idli is ubiquitous. “Even the North Indian ‘chaat' and vada pavs that have mingled with the local street food couldn’t beat the indigenous idli,” says Meena.

For non-veg feasting, come to the other side of the Vaigai, where the loud clamour of vendors making kothu parottas pierces the silent night. The very sound stirs hunger pangs. “Over the years, kothu parotta has become another face of Madurai,” says Sethu, who has been making parottas for more than a decade. “Even people travelling though the city stop for a quick peck.” His day starts with kneading kilos of maida and beating it into soft parottas. “It’s a good exercise,” he smiles, showing his biceps.

Though the rustic road-side tiffin houses lack suave ambience and comfort, the strong flavours, warm people and the ever-changing streets make your food more palatable. Despite many classy cafes that have come up in town, the authentic eateries continue to pull crowds.

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