A lot's cooking here

I'm beginning to feel like a member of the CIA. Or at least its Hollywood equivalent, though in that case I should be dressed in something more appropriate. Alexander McQueen perhaps, designer du jour. But let's not get distracted. I'm on a mission to rediscover Chennai's much-loved ‘The Grand Sweets and Snacks', once in Adyar, and now all over the city. And apparently the ‘man who knows everything' is Saravanna Mahesh, grandson of the founder.

But first some history — though this story's a part of traditional city lore for Chennaiites who've grown up on the brand's thokkus, podis and luscious athirasam. For those of you who came in lately, and haven't known the breathless terror of travelling abroad with pulikatchal mix for various cousins stowed between your linen trousers and make-up bag, here's the short version. Founder G. Natarajan, a resilient first generation entrepreneur set up The Grand Sweets and Snacks (GSAS) in 1982, supported by his gifted wife, Bangaruamma, who used her own recipes to make Mysore pak, laddoos and crunchy ‘mixture'.

Today about 50 master cooks, most of whom have worked in the GSAS kitchens for at least two decades, support the buzzing main establishment that's part store, part restaurant, part shed. However, after 25 years as a single outlet, it's been split into two, between the two daughters of G. Natrajan, one of whom has three sons and other, one daughter. The various outlets that have been opening over the past few months are divided between the two.

Which brings us back to Mahesh, one of the three sons, who I've been tracking all morning. The staff's exasperatingly vague about his whereabouts, saying he could be at any of the new outlets: Gandhi Nagar, Besant Nagar, Anna Nagar and T. Nagar. I finally find him via Facebook, where GSAS has a slick fan page, with almost 3,000 followers. Even then, Murphy's Law dictates that he's in the last place I call, T. Nagar, at their new restaurant.

Fortunately he turns out to be a perfectly amiable interviewee. Confirming that they have five branches in the city, including the original, he says expansion was always on the cards. “Now's the right time since we have a centralised factory at Perungudi to make the food.” Mahesh says the recipes haven't changed, and their new restaurant is proudly South Indian, though it does make an exception for chaat. As for their snazzy new website, which enables customers to place orders online, and Facebook page, he laughs, “I'm not a big gizmo-addict… But, it's the way forward, isn't it?”

At the T.Nagar GSAS, we try the set lunch, which includes a bowl of delicious sambar-saadham fragrant with generous dollops of ghee. It's a hefty lunch, with squishy curd rice and delicately tangy tamarind rice served with chappati-kurma and a glossy badusha for dessert. We also order a tomato-dosa, which is fairly bland, and eat it watching a lady expertly flipping kuzhipaniyarams in the open kitchen.

In an attempt to do both sides justice, we also eat at the new GSAS in Chetpet, which along with an outlet in Sarangapani Street, is owned by the other daughter. All this research is no hardship, trust me. The sweet kuzhipaniyarams here are delicious, deep brown and oozing that distinctive mellow syrupiness that comes from patient caramelisation. Their main restaurant is not yet open, but this café style seating is actually much nicer, since it's quiet and small, flooded with sunlight. We eat dosas here, and they arrive as brown as tourists who've been in Goa all summer. The coconut chutney's a little watery, but my podi dosa scattered with moist coriander needs no accompaniments.

The Grand Sweets & Snacks restaurant in T. Nagar is at 37/18, Bazulla Road (Tel: 4212 4466.)

The Chetpet restaurant is at 45, Spurtank Road. (Tel: 4214 8982)

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 1:58:54 AM |

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