Madras Day 2020 | A tribute to professions that helped the city grow

At the heart of city, the much-loved ‘Madras food’

From haute cuisine to street food, filter coffee to Marina beach food, wedding food to home-cooked delicacies — Madras food is an emotion for many.

Harrison’s, founded in 1891 by G. Varadharajulu Chetty, was a name to reckon with in catering circles in the city, says historian V. Sriram. “They were famous for their officers’ lunches and music band. They were the first caterers in the city. Bosottos, De Angelis Hotel, Coronatikn Durbar and Buhari were all into the catering business as well. Vegetarian hotels, including Woodlands, Ambis Cafe and Dasaprakash, also did catering for weddings and other events at the homes of patrons,” he said.

Establishments like Rayar Mess, Murugan Lodge Mess and Saidoji Mess fed many office-goers, who stayed in lodges. The city saw several hotels being started by youngsters to feed the increasing population.

K. Krishna Rao, who founded New Woodlands on Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai, started as a grinder in a hotel in George Town. “He came to the city when he was barely into his teens. When he leased the property in Mylapore from the A.M.M. Murugappa Chettiar family, his friends told him it won't take off since the area was residential. But he went on to open the drive-in Woodlands on the same road when the government gave that land on lease,” said his son K. Murali Rao of Woodlands.

Celebrity chef Dhamu fondly recalls the hot and tasty idli-vada-sambar and puris served at CLR canteens at Mambalam, Kodambakkam, Park and Central railway stations.

“People would go to the stations just to eat at these canteens and have their davara coffee. There were many more places like the Annapurna Canteen that sold boondhi, Hotel Imphala that had yummy masala milk and Blue Diamond’s Ceylon egg parotta. This was some 40 years ago and many hotels just had wooden benches for customers to sit. Mari Hotel in Saidapet, which has existed for nearly 100 years, is still famous for dosa/idli vada curry,” he said.

Caterers such as Pattappa, Arusuvai Natarajan and Mount Mani, among others, were hugely sought after for weddings and other functions. Later, they set up canteens at Sabhas during the music season, and crowds lined up for a taste of their specialities too.

The food scenario in the city has undergone a sea change over the years. From just having hotels, messes and catering establishments, it now has food courts, cloud kitchens and a never-like-before street food culture. Another key change over the last five years or so, and especially during the pandemic, has been the rise of home cooks/bakers.

“About 10 years ago, there were only a handful of home cooks and bakers. Their number has grown. The quality of food has risen,” said Wasim Mohideen, author of popular blog Grub Waz.

For many, these start-ups are convenient — they are in the neighbourhood and sometimes customise food.

Indu’s Kitchen, run by Indu Kommareddy and her daughter Kavya, for instance, was launched during the lockdown. “We started small, offering meals on Saturdays. By the second week, we got so many orders that we had to refuse many of them,” said Ms. Kavya.

For Harshita Mirpuri, the shift has been from home to a commercial kitchen, and back to home due to the pandemic. “I soon realised that there was a need for the same — for instance, initially, supermarkets ran out of bread, and so, I began to bake bread and sell it,” said the 26-year-old, who runs Dough Dough Deli.

From families that have been in the food business for generations to places that are just months old, the city has them all.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2020 3:32:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/at-the-heart-of-city-the-much-loved-madras-food/article32441537.ece

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