Craving biryani at 2 am? Chennai’s food streets come to the rescue

Fancy a late night snack? We explore the city’s thriving midnight street food scene, joining crowds of night owls who wind down just before the sun comes up

July 20, 2023 03:05 pm | Updated 04:37 pm IST

Kora Food Street, Anna Nagar

Kora Food Street, Anna Nagar | Photo Credit: Shiva Raj S

It is official. A wave of young students, IT professionals, families, and lounging friends are reclaiming the streets at night. And the twinkling lights of the thriving food hubs that cater to them now beckon travellers and passers by as well.

Eleven pm is when business starts for the several food streets in Chennai. Besides catering to the population that steps out on a whim, wading through greasy fries and chicken after a night out, Chennai’s food streets, courts and squares are becoming popular hangouts, providing an array of options including popcorn, cubano sandwiches and high-end teas.

Kathipara Urban Square sees about 5,000 walk-ins on a weekday and double that during weekends. Anna Nagar’s Kora Food Street, on the other hand, has at least 3,000 people sauntering in as the sky dims. Join us as we do a food stall hop though the night.

Kathipara Urban Square, Guindy

Kathipara Urban Square

Kathipara Urban Square | Photo Credit: Shiva Raj S

On days when Abishek Paul works long hours, the doctor finds himself making a beeline to the newly opened 24*7 Chettinad-themed Starbucks at Kathipara Urban Square for a coffee and a snack. It is one of 25 restaurants at this central location hidden amidst the twists and turns of the Kathipara flyover — an accessible public space that skirts the clamour of Chennai traffic.

“We usually tend to finish our shifts late so we come here to grab a quick bite. The odd timing helps us because the traffic reduces by midnight,” he says while munching on flavoured popcorn from Tam Corn. 

While only a handful of restaurants like Junior Kuppanna and KFC serve food, particularly biryani and bucket chicken, all through the night, all of the 25 restaurants are open till 2 am. Customers here include the late night movie crowds, and hungry partygoers who are winding down after a night out. 

What catches our eye is the eclectic variety of stalls at the square. E Adhithiyan, the manager of Botaniq Foods, says that they serve tea made of aged black garlic. It is among their best sellers, he says. Another stall that stays busy is the Miso Ramen cafe. Some notable mentions at the urban square are juices from Cocofit and South Indian food from ID. 

Kathipara Urban Square has been hosting flea markets and expanding their play area for children in the last year so that it offers something for everyone, says a ground-level manager. In addition to this, they keep adding interesting food items to extend the variety available.

Meal for one: ₹100 onwards

Hits: Chicken Biryani, Iced coffee, Flavoured popcorn, cotton candy, egg and chicken ramen.

Bilal junction, Chintadripet

Bilal’s dramatic rise in popularity since the pandemic restrictions were lifted, is aspirational. The junction where the restaurant is located amidst other giants like Buhari, is now popularly referred to by this name thanks to the crowds who perch on the balcony with jam buns and tea. At night, the area is crowded with scooters and cars. The cash counter rings well into 2am and cups of chai keep flowing. 

Bun maska and tea at Bilal

Bun maska and tea at Bilal | Photo Credit: Shiva Raj S

Francis Xavier works at a bank on Anna Salai, which is walking distance from Bilal. This means that at by evening, one is likely to find him and his colleagues munching on two maska buns split six ways, while sipping on strong chai. “I haven’t missed coming here even for a single day,” he says, adding that it’s especially convenient when work hours extend till late at night. “The biryani is great too.” 

Bilal junction in the evening

Bilal junction in the evening | Photo Credit: Shiva Raj S

His friend Anbu Vellaiyan who accompanies him daily adds, “The soft bun butter jam is unbeatable. The mutton samosas deserve a special mention too. The minced meat inside is excellent.”

For people who prefer a coffee break, iconic Buhari’s bakery is popular for its tea cakes, cookies and coffee, all served till late at night.

The bustling junction also offers the occasional kati roll, chicken and mutton samosas, puffs and rolls as well as the famed Osmania biscuits. The restaurant shuts at 2 am.

Meal for one: Between ₹20-₹100

Hits: Bun maska, tea and mutton samosa.

Kora Food Street, Anna Nagar

Kora Food Street, Anna Nagar

Kora Food Street, Anna Nagar | Photo Credit: Thamodharan Bharath

Kora Food street in Anna Nagar bustles with light and energy well after the rest of the residential neighbourhood has dimmed their lights and gone to sleep. Under one roof, one can indulge in food from around the world, like wood fired pizza, birria tacos, noodles, momos and boba tea, round the clock.

Apart from the line of stalls on the facade of the building, the set up opens up to what looks like a night market as seen in Singapore or China. Right at the entrance is a kiosk where the payment cards can be purchased or recharged. 

The air conditioned arena has benches and tables for guests to enjoy their meals while the stalls are made with repurposed shipping containers. The food market also houses two air conditioned restaurants. 

Kora Food Street, Anna Nagar

Kora Food Street, Anna Nagar | Photo Credit: Shiva Raj S

“There are over 40 outlets and more than 5,700 dishes to enjoy at Kora food street and each vendor has been handpicked. They are all Kora brands and some have even moved on to open outlets outside this space,” says Rajashekar Kora, proprietor. 

The street-food market experience aside, vendors and management also focus on visually-appealing food or ones with unique names to attract the young crowd. Earlier this year, ‘Spiderman Dosa’, Jalari Murtabaq , a dosa made to look like a web, filled with keema and cheese, from the Zam Zam Murtabaq outlet went viral with over 17 million views on Instagram.

Roller ice cream at the Roll Away outlet is another popular choice to both film and eat. Ice cream is smeared onto a chilled roller and shaved with a grater into a cup. Or you can knock back a Kolaveri Vodka, another popular favourite, is a lemon soda-based, non-alcoholic drink made with a whole green chilli. 

Burmese Atho at Kora Food Street

Burmese Atho at Kora Food Street | Photo Credit: Thamodharan Bharath

Needless to say, Biryani is a big hit and is available across different outlets in different styles like bamboo biryani, pot biryani and more.

This food street opened in 2019 and has been seeing a steady increase in footfall. Rajashekar says that there are six to seven bouncers monitoring the venue, apart from complete CCTV coverage to ensure safety. “We see a lot of students and young professionals come in late in the evening and at night. Anytime they walk in, there is something wholesome to eat and is easy on the pocket as well,” he adds. 

“I have visited Kora food street late at night two times now. It is very safe and we can enjoy ourselves without worrying too much. I visit this place with my friends and enjoy a hot bowl of ramen or Amritsari kulcha,” says Neera Kabilan, a student.

On the first floor, there are gaming facilities and a trampoline park for the little ones. Few tables have also been set aside for guests with pets. 

Meal for one: Rs 250 onwards

Hits: Atho and Bejo, Jalari Murtabaq, Turkish ice cream, pot biryani, roller ice cream, wood fired pizza and kebabs

RTS Food Street, Navalur

RTS Food Street, Navalur

RTS Food Street, Navalur | Photo Credit: Shiva Raj S

At the RTS food street in Navalur, A Solomon and his group of techie friends are bonding over laptops, fried rice and an assortment of gravies. At 12am after their shift, this is where they choose to unwind.

“We come here at least once every two days. It is great for us to hang out as friends and we can spend any amount of time as we please. Not just regular lunches, dinners and breaks, this is our spot for birthday parties, farewells and other celebrations as well,” he says. When asked about his favourites, he points to the parottas from Malabar Cambose and adds that the Madurai kari dosa is also popular. 

Sprawling across 15,000 square feet, this food street is one of the largest in the city. It houses over 70 outlets and can accommodate close to 200 cars. “The biggest advantage for us is being close to several IT parks and gated communities. We see close to 5,000 guests walking in during the evenings, mostly late in the evening and around 3,500 people during weekdays,” says Pravin Casmir, whose family owns the establishment. 

RTS Food Street, Navalur

RTS Food Street, Navalur | Photo Credit: Shiva Raj S

BBQ Ride is a popular favourite here: a grill is attached to a Royal Enfield bike. They serve grilled chicken and mutton, kebabs, shawarmas and rolls. Coco Island, which also serves tender coconut-based pudding, panna cotta, ice cream and coconut milk cold coffee sees a big daily crowd. Nestled deep into the food street is High Joint, one of the landmark eateries in RTS food street. It serves a selection of premium burgers, chicken wings, fries and nuggets.

“Our goal is to make sure that no two spots serve the same cuisine, except for staples like fries or some beverages. We conduct regular inspections and taste tests to make sure hygiene and quality is maintained consistently,” says Pravin. 

In this food street, most stalls wind up at 11:30pm with almost 10 stalls open till 2am. During the weekends, the timeline is pushed to cater to the demand. 

Apart from a wide range of food stalls, there is also a virtual reality game centre, a spa and a flea market. 

Meal for one: ̥₹200 - ₹500

Hits: Chicken burgers and wings, Tender coconut pudding, waffle cone fried chicken, kebabs, chaat and biryani

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