The merchants of Triplicane

It’s just been four months and Mak n Bajji are already selling about 600 bajjis a day. Photo: R. Ravindran  

Business is good in Triplicane. Historically older than Chennai, this is a neighbourhood that’s stubbornly resisted gentrification, holding on to its past even as it selectively absorbs contemporary influences.

Home to an intriguing blend of people, Triplicane is a bustling microcosm of the Madras that was: vegetable markets on main roads, cows weaving through gnarled traffic and children playing cricket on the streets. This is where the backpackers and bachelors on a budget live, thanks to the nearly 250 dingy ‘Mansions’ offering cheap rooms and community living. Then there’s the constant flow of visitors thanks to the Parthasarathy Swamy temple and Big mosque. And since everyone needs food that is quick, cheap and reasonably nourishing, the neighbourhood bustles with feisty, hard-working, little establishments. As a finale to the four-part food walk series, MetroPlus meets the merchants of Triplicane.

Mak n Bajji

Five minutes from the beach, and five minutes from the temple, M.A. Kaliesraj and K. Selvarani’s home is perfectly located for bhajjis. As they quickly hand out freshly fried spicy bread bhajjis along with tumblers of frothy, fragrant Kumbakonam degree coffee, they talk about how they turned their living room into this neat but cramped restaurant. It’s just been four months and they’re already selling about 600 bhajjis a day.

Open from 3.30 p.m.-8 p.m. Bhajjis: Rs. 10 each.

Address: Old No. 30, New No. 58, Nalla Thambi Street, Triplicane. To order, call: 97908 78377

Akash cool bar

The surprise of the day: paneer soda casually served in authentic, old-fashioned, green goli soda bottles at this practical ‘cool bar’ stocked with sweets, cut-mango pickle sachets and ‘cool drinks’, among other things. Between dealing with a steady stream of impatient customers the shopkeeper says he’s been stocking the soda for 15 years and sells about 100 bottles a day. Oblivious to how trendy they have become in the city’s social circuit (the bottles are reportedly hotly contested items on sites like eBay), the shopkeeper here sells the drink for Rs. 7. It’s mildly sweet, gently fizzy and fragrant with the scent of roses.

Address: 28, Alangatha Street, Triplicane. Tel: 2844 3021

The kaiyendhi bhavan outside Hindu Senior Secondary School

Raja has been frying and selling Mangalore bondas from his cart in the same place since 1988. As he holds out a paper plate filled with four generous bondas, crisp outside and deliciously fluffy inside, he says he began his career working for a marriage catering company. “But I was paid really badly, so I decided to start something on my own.” Mangalore bondas, he says, were an obvious choice. “No one makes them right in the city.” At Rs. 6 per piece, he makes about 1,200 snacks a day (including medhu pakodas and chilli bajjis.) His secret, he adds, is “fresh oil”. Not selling to hungry students, he quickly adds with a laugh. “Principal told me to open only after school closes, so I start at 5 p.m.”

Address: 83, Big Street

Hema Milk Depot

Hemraj, who this shop is named after, moved to Triplicane more than 40 years ago from Rajasthan. He started out by trying to sell kulfi from a cycle before realising that he needed a new business plan. Kadai doodh, a Rajasthani delicacy made with spiced milk simmered in a special iron kadai, seemed unusual enough to stand out. Four decades later, the neighbourhood still lines up for glasses of his hot masala milk, which begins with 50 litres and then slowly thickens and changes colour, getting richer and richer through the night. A generous ‘half cup’ of milk, laced with cardamom, saffron, almonds and pistachios, is just Rs. 8, and is served with a flourish of cream on top. The chatty cooks will also throw in some sugary kova if they like you.

Address: 73/35, Pycrofts Road, Triplicane. Tel: 9500513366

Thanigaivelan Inippagam

“Our onion pakoda is special,” says Thanigaivelan, as one of his staff heaves a massive tray of knobbly, skilfully browned pakodas, chunky with caramelised onions and places it on the counter. The pakodas, a happy mix of crisp and chewy, have been made the same way for 20 years. “My father started this shop,” says Thanigaivelan, adding bashfully, “He named it after me.” After graduating from college (“I am MCA”) Thanigaivelan opted to return to the store. “There are always customers — because this area has a floating population. Also, people like to buy pakodas and take them to the beach.”

Address: 261/3, Pycrofts Road, Bharathi Salai, Narayana Krishnaraja Puram. Tel: 98411 84446

Ratna Café

Started in 1948 this Triplicane institution is famous for its sambar, the recipe for which has been reportedly passed down through the years. Old timers who have eaten here for decades know they should ask for ‘sambar idli’ instead of the accepted ‘idli sambar’ format: because over here, the idlis are just a side show. However, do save some space for the ghee smeared podi idlis which are actually better.

Address: 255, Triplicane High Road. Tel: 9150149001

(The food walk was guided by Sridhar Venkataraman as part of Madras Week Celebrations)

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2021 1:34:15 PM |

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