K Palani Ammal, a farm hand, is harvesting broad beans on a small patch of land at Perur Kalampalayam in Coimbatore. I’m seated in a thatch-roofed structure a little away, eating rice and sambar made with broad beans she plucked just the previous day. “The sambar also has bottle gourd and drumstick from our land,” says R Nithya, whose husband S Rangaraj runs the eatery located within a vegetable patch.
It’s been three years since Rangaraj started Shri Vettri Vinayakar Mess. His family lives in a rented house on the land that was once full of drumstick trees. “When we initially started out, we sourced vegetables from the nearby markets. But if we made drumstick sambar , for instance, people who came to eat kept asking if the vegetable was from our farm. That’s when this idea occurred to us,” says Rangaraj.
Rangaraj is from Velliangadu near Karamadai and belongs to a family of farmers. His father-in-law R Maranna Gowder helps him raise vegetables for their eatery. “At present, we have sown ladies’ finger, broad beans, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, and ridge gourd,” says Rangaraj. Their 80 banana trees also supply them with raw plantains and stem for kootu .
Rangaraj plans his menu according to the availability of vegetables on his farm. He always keeps a small patch empty for composting purposes. “We add vegetable waste and banana leaves that have been eaten on, to this,” he points out. “Once this patch is ready, we cultivate it, moving on to create compost in another patch.” This way, the entire farm is prepared before cultivation, one patch at a time. “We don’t use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides,” adds Rangaraj. They do source some vegetables that they don’t cultivate, from other farmers.
Curious diners often walk around the farm, peeking into the plants and lift a leaf or two to see how broad beans or ladies’ finger sprout. Nithya is frying paruppu vada s when we peek into the kitchen outdoors — nearby, vegetables harvested in the morning, are piled along the walls. She offers me two hot vada s. They too have something off the farm — finely chopped moringa leaves that Nithya plucked a few hours ago.
The eatery serves lunch for ₹60, from 12.30 pm to 3.30 pm. The menu consists of rice, horse gram dal, sambar, rasam, buttermilk, and vegetable kootu. For details, call 9842550810.
A 40-acre farm at Tirumancholai, on the Madurai-to-Sivaganga route, offers a dining experience amidst the cool environs of 1,000 coconut and 500 mango trees apart from guava, chikoo and jackfruit orchards.
Restaurateur D Rajasivasundar has taken the farm on lease and runs Kaanaga Virundhu (meaning, feast inside a forest), where diners are served meals made with ingredients from within the farm. “There’s nothing that we buy outside, except maybe spices. We have over 200 free-ranging hens and 50-odd kachakatti goats roaming the farm, reared organically. Food is cooked on firewood stoves,” says Rajasivasundar. “We offer a typical countryside feast that includes country chicken and mutton, cooked Madurai style.”
Visitors are welcomed with coconut water and sundal, and a bullock cart ride inside the farm. “For breakfast, we have a set menu that includes either idli or poori with spicy mutton kothukari (minced meat),” he says. “Meat for breakfast is a culture in southern districts of Tamil Nadu. For lunch, we provide a meat-heavy package apart from kootu and poriyal . The naattukozhi kozhambu and fry is our signature.”
Food is served on plantain leaves, guests are taken on a tour of the farm and made to try their hand at making some country chicken dish. You can hear the koel sing and have the sun shine on your plate through canopies of coconut trees as you sit down for a meal on a jamkalam spread on the mud floor. “It’s like going back in time when people in the villages ate with families in large community feasts,” says Dr Baskara Rajan, an ophthalmologist who has single-handedly developed the farm, with its fruit-bearing trees that are difficult to grow in the tropical plains, such as pineapple, watermelons and oranges.
Lunch with unlimited chicken is priced at ₹500. A mutton feast includes delicacies such as brain and liver fry and comes for ₹700. Call 9894999998.
The huts with low mud walls and roofs made of bales of hay look inviting. The breeze from nearby fields is soothing and winged visitors provide some music. As we sit in one of the huts at Café Ethnic, we are tempted by fragrant wafts of rotis being cooked over firewood. The café is at Pastapur, Zaheerabad, and is run and managed by farmers of Deccan Development Society. Its patrons are usually travellers who stop by for refreshments and a quick meal which are pocket-friendly.
The menu is simple; the café is about basic healthy food, much like what our farmers eat. There’s innovation in the form of oats puri flying fresh out of the kitchen.
Started to promote cultivation of millets by farmers in the area, the speciality of the café is that almost everything is millet-based. A typical meal here has millet rotis, a lentil dish and vegetable curry. All the ingredients — from grain to garnish — are produced from the farm nearby. The food is less greasy and has little or no use of store-bought, readymade spices.
Sarala is in charge of the kitchen. “With the fields nearby and a kitchen made of mud and thatched walls, I feel at home. Guests come and see me make rotis , it gives me joy. Almost everyone who comes here finds our food different. They encourage us,” she says.
What sells best? “The millet rotte . People who love millet-based food enjoy our dishes and also do takeaways,” says Tara Singh, the caretaker.
This millet speciality café is vegetarian and serves breakfast and lunch. For details call 8451282271.
Akila Kannadasan, A Shrikumar and Prabalika M Borah