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Developing a taste for the flavours of Madras

Heritage food walk takes participants through various legacy eating joints in Triplicane

August 26, 2022 01:07 am | Updated 08:43 pm IST

Participants of the Heritage Food Walk at the Bharathi Mess in Triplicane.

Participants of the Heritage Food Walk at the Bharathi Mess in Triplicane. | Photo Credit: B. VELANKANNI RAJ

On Sunday afternoon, a group of yuppie youth, used to ordering food over apps at their desk, indulged in a pastime of older generations — participate in a walk. A school student, lawyers and software developers, were all drawn to the walk for the food.

Architect and heritage enthusiast Ashmitha Athreya led the group from Amir Mahal, the Nawab of Arcot’s palace.

Triplicane was a small hamlet during the Pallava dynasty in the 8th Century and the first village the British acquired.

“Keep eyes open for names of businesses” she advised: “Look out for the names of streets and lanes. They have been named after men who served the Nawabs,” she said.

We soaked in the information as we moved to our first stop - Basha Halwawala on Fakir Sahib Street. Its speciality is Dum ka rot, a dish of eggs, malai and sugar served since 1930. J. Jalaludeen, proprietor, 68, has been running the shop for 40 years. As we crossed Zam Bazaar on Pycroft’s Road, she threw in a piece of history about the market’s genesis and its owner, businessman Phiroz Muncherji Clubwala who died in 1927.

Triplicane, one of the oldest localities in the city, gets busy on weekdays when office-goers grab a bite on the move. We trooped into Ratna Cafe, occupying all tables and ordering idli, hoping for the mugfuls of fingerlicking sambar it promises. Ms. Athreya quickly ran through the cafe’s history. “Everywhere idli is the main dish but here sambar is the main dish,” she said.

We moved on with a tinge of regret at not knowing how the cafe got its name Ratna. The cafe that was launched in 1948 would have shut but for an enterprising relative of Triloknath Gupta who took it over in 2002, and retained the brand. It has since expanded to Adyar and T. Nagar but each day sambar is sent to these branches. Around 1,500 -2,000 litres of sambar is cooked every day.

At Thanigaivelan Inipagam, better known as “pakoda kadai”, T. Gayathri welcomed us warmly. “It was established by my father-in-law in 1975,” she said. “He chose onion pakoda and had a special recipe for it,” she said, explaining the reason why the shop is known as “pakoda kadai”. From its humble beginnings as a one-room shop, it has grown to three floors. The first floor houses the office and the second floor, the labourers’ quarters, she added. “My father-in-law wanted to make it affordable. People choose for quality, price and taste,” she said.

On Big Street, off Pycroft’s Road, a Rajasthani migrant has set up a milk shop. Hema Milk depot is 50 years old selling ‘kadhaai’ doodh. The shop used to sell its delicacy only in the evening as “his customers visit him on their way from office,” Ms. Athreya said. Sohanlal Solanki of Hema Milk Depot, said his elder brother set up the shop. He uses only cow’s milk. The malai on the light yellow masala milk and the sugar makes for a nutritious drink. School student L. Samarth signed off saying: “First I didn’t like idli much but then I liked it. I will give 9.5/10. Milk is good, I will give it 10.” He doesn’t like sweets though.

At Bharathi Mess, our last stop, we had filter coffee while peering at photos of poet Subramania Bharathi, after whom the street is named. The mess was established in 2012. Triplicane is home to 300 “mansions”, for those working away from home. Triplicane’s messes cater to the population.

TTDC’s managing director Sandeep Nanduri, who participated, said: “We tied up with Madras Inherited and we thought we should organise a heritage food walk. From TTDC’s side, we wanted to have it as a regular event. Maybe we could curate once a month.”

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