Jannal Kadai to Kalathi Rose Milk Shop: How some of Mylapore’s iconic street foods survived the pandemicJanuary 20, 2022 12:08 IST
Despite two challenging years, many of Chennai’s small, but iconic restaurants and vendors are standing strong. We follow a popular food trail to meet the people who fought back
Situated at Arundel Street, Rayar’s Mess is packed with customers when we visit. Established in 1930 and initially started as a café by Srinivasan Rao, it is now managed by his grandson P Kumar.
“We have been here for three generations and our current customers are also the third generation. We grew up with them; they have become our family,” says P Mohan, Kumar’s younger brother. He adds, “This is a small space and small business: we like to keep it that way.”
Their compact menu includes everything South Indian — from
Over the last 90 years, Rayar’s Mess has resisted changes; customers still pay on their own after eating. There is no bill, which has been the case ever since it was started.
“We trust them and they trust us. Sometimes they genuinely forget to pay and we wouldn’t ask them. They would come back and settle the bill. Some would even come in after six months and pay us,” says Mohan, adding that they have followed the tradition even during tough times.
“The lockdowns did make us fear for our future but we believed things would change and they did. We have now recovered 90% of our sales,” he adds.
This quaint window stall made a name for itself, thanks to the fritters. Its current owner Chandrasekaran K says they gained what they lost during the lockdowns once the restrictions were lifted.
After his brother Sivaramakrishnan K passed away in 2020, he and his family took over the business. Sivaramakrishnan, as most people would remember, was the face of the shop. “Ninety per cent of our customers knew him and even now, people ask about him,” says Chandrasekaran.
Running the business from the same blue barred window for the last 20 years, the place serves as a nostalgic trip for Chennaiites, thanks to its molaga bajji which is easily the fan favourite, served along with chutney and sambar .“We make around 75 to 100 bajjis a day and it varies each day,” he adds. Even though the menu includes pongal , idli , poori and kal dosa , it is the crunchy bajjis that are popular.
“We have always stayed the same and never changed. This is what brings our customers back,” he observes.
Kalathi Rosemilk Shop
Started in 1927 by Kalathi Mudhaliyar, this pocket-sized retail shop’s legacy has been the rose milk. This corner shop is nearly a century old and has been run by the same family for three generations.
It is now managed by K Mani. “In the 70s a glass of rose milk was sold for 25 paise,” he says with a smile. Though Mani says loyal customers returned to the shop and they opened whenever possible between lockdowns, sales have been hit over the last two years.
Nevertheless, even during the peak of the pandemic, Mani says shutting down the store was an option he never considered. “My father died in this store and that is why I continue to run this place. There is no motivation, only sentiment,” he says.
Fortunately, the demand for rose milk is still strong. “Though we did not sign up with any apps, delivery boys come here,” he smiles, “Just to drink our rose milk.”
Sri Annapoorani Sweets
Lockdowns were sudden and challenging. Even then, R Muthukumar would drop in to clean the shop and do pooja everyday. “This place is our bread and butter and if I left it unattended, it would have been very difficult for us.”
Started by his father MS Ramachandran in 1958, Annapoorani Sweets is known for its jangiris, apart from the sweet samosas filled with khoa and wheat halwa.
The shop survived the pandemic, thanks to its loyal customer base, says its current owner Muthukumar. “But I lost my floating customers with schools, colleges and offices closed. Pre lockdown, we had a steady flow of customers who would come in everyday and get 10 quarter kilogram boxes of sweets, especially during the wedding season. However, lockdowns were difficult,” he says.
But things are improving. “The sales were great through the festive season. But there was a dip again due to the rains. If another lockdown comes in, it would be a struggle for us.”