Iconic Food

At this parotta stall near Courtallam Falls, conversations take a back seat

The complete meal available at Border Rahmath Parotta stall   | Photo Credit: S James

a In Tenkasi, it is a common saying that no matter what time of the day it is, you cannot avoid this place even if you try. No, we are not talking about the famous Courtallam Falls, but the parotta joint that holds its own among the plethora of similar stalls and other tourist attractions in the area. The Border Rahmath Parotta Kadai on the Shenkottai-Punalur Road is a landmark in the culinary landscape of the junction where Tamil Nadu meets Kerala.

Conversations take a back seat here, as people share space with complete strangers to wolf down fragrant biryani, crispy parotta, toothsome country chicken curry and spicy chicken pepper fry. No time is wasted over niceties here. You come, eat and make way for the next 60 people waiting to do so.

At this parotta stall near Courtallam Falls, conversations take a back seat

It is around noon when we enter Tenkasi, and are suitably hungry after a four-hour drive on a sunny morning. It requires no effort to locate the eatery. When people come from out of town and ask for directions to the parotta stall, all fingers point towards Rahmath. There is another way of doing it. Simply follow a public bus on the road that winds down the Western Ghats between Shenkottai in Tamil Nadu and Punalur in Kerala. Invariably, it will brake at the Parotta Kadai for its passengers who regularly patronise the joint for its delicious specialities.

Humble beginnings

Diagonally opposite the shop used to be a toll gate in this tiny village called Piranoor. After the states were reorganised in 1956, people started referring to the place as ‘Border’, since busloads of travellers and lorry drivers coming from either direction would stop by for a quick meal before crossing over to the next State. As a result, hole-in-the-wall eateries sprouted overnight. But magic happened only in 1974 when Mohammed Hassan, living in the adjacent village of Vallam, decided to start his rustic eating joint in a 10x10 sq ft space. He grandly named it Hotel Rahmath, though it barely qualified as one, being just a shed with a few tables and stools.

At this parotta stall near Courtallam Falls, conversations take a back seat

“From the start, our place became popular and remains so. That is Allah’s rahmath (God’s grace),” says Hassan’s younger son Sheik Abdullah, who now runs the eatery along with his brother Ismail Kothari Bava. They also changed the name to Border Rahmath Parotta Stall, given the strategic location of the joint.

As it happens in many cases, extensions of the already successful one came up in the last two years, when Abdullah’s nephews set up two branches of Courtallam Border Rahmath Kadai in Chennai and Coimbatore, with modern amenities and ambience.

A lasting impression

Like the Courtallam Falls, a 4.5-kilometre distance away, the Border Rahmath Parotta Stall is an equally strong tourist attraction. When we enter the place, strangely, there are not many people. The space doesn’t offer much to write home about. The walls are covered with religious sayings, and the tables and stools creak from the pressure of over-use.

At this parotta stall near Courtallam Falls, conversations take a back seat

Once you are inside to eat, you eschew your expectations of everything else other than the food. Strong aromas fill the shop, and by 1 pm, the place is suddenly packed to the brim. Food is served on a plantain leaf, and the speed with which it arrives is amazing. Even more amazing is to watch people tearing into mouth-melting parottas, delectable nattukozhi pepper and chicken 65, drool-worthy mutton biryani and chicken salna.

I glance across tables to find people do not even leave a trace of the juicy, spicy, well-marinated and flavoured meat off the bones.

At this parotta stall near Courtallam Falls, conversations take a back seat

“The food here has never disappointed me in the last 40 years,” says Dr T Jeyaprabhu, a scientist from Chennai, sharing the table with a group of BTech students, also from Chennai. “The parottas are small in size and super soft. We can easily have half-a-dozen of them in one go,” says Prakash, who with a bunch of friends took an overnight bus from Chennai.

Food is everything

From cycles and buses to luxury cars, people come in all modes of transport here, and the outdated décor or lack of anything else doesn’t matter. The focus is food. “The luxury we offer is the instant arrival of hot and fresh food upon ordering,” says Abdullah. “The grandeur is in the unique taste of the items, especially the Border country chicken,” says Durairaj from Sivakasi, waiting for his turn at the takeaway counter.

At this parotta stall near Courtallam Falls, conversations take a back seat

“We have three tables in the kitchen that make 35-40 parottas each in a minute,” says Abdullah’s son Sheik Syed Hassan, an engineering graduate, who has joined his father in the hope of changing the interiors and expanding the menu someday.

He gives away a secret — that the special country chicken is cooked in coconut oil with hand-pounded, home-made masalas. The ingredients and recipes of the limited menu have been handed over by his grandparents, and every morning, his two aunts and mother prepare three to five kilograms of the masalas.

At this parotta stall near Courtallam Falls, conversations take a back seat

Star attraction

While overseas tourists come in hordes during lunch hours, many celebrity customers like film stars and cine directors come for takeaways late in the night after wrapping up shoot. One VIP guest who recently came and enjoyed a hearty meal, and who Syed can’t stop gushing about, is the current cricket hero Dinesh Karthik.

At this parotta stall near Courtallam Falls, conversations take a back seat

“I have and want to keep the original place and taste of food intact,” says Abdullah. “My father would have never imagined this kind of popularity when he chose to deep-fry the chicken and season it with pepper and garlic!” he adds.

The eatery is Tenkasi’s calling card. The brief menu has both, an appetite and a budget. Within ₹500 you get a delicious and filling meal for two. No wonder the place is permanently etched on the imaginations of countless people.

In this weekly column, we take a peek at the histories of some of the country’s most iconic restaurants.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 6:49:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/of-cross-border-flavours/article23382192.ece

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