Where to eat in Chennai?
I decided to get all nostalgic and celebrate by heading to some of the oldest and newest Chennai eateries that we personally like and recommend. They are not the typical Chennai restaurants but they specialise in traditional food
I am not too much of a lunch or a dinner person, but Tiffin that has always fascinated me. So I decided to stick to just places we would go for breakfast or for a quick evening meal or snacks and chat items. While I have been to some of these Chennai eateries since childhood – food is a great favourite of both me, my parents, and even now with my family.
We just went to a couple of places mainly – Gowrivakkam, Mylapore, and Sowcarpet and with a stop over at Triplicane. This is by no means an exhaustive list and we hope to add to it as we go by.
Sai Krupa Canteen, Gowriwakkam
There are many places to find to eat but this one made me stop by. We came in the morning had homely breakfast and tea. They do juice all day and bhajis and chaats in the evening. Chaats are authentic Bombay chaats, they use sunflower oil. We had a lovely plantain bhaji, pav bhaji and Pani Puri in the evening. they have a variety of food times. it's a small shop on the corner of the road, just Opp to a college, Gowriwakkam. too crowded but worth waiting.
We also looked at Chennai eateries which are fairly old and are favourites with almost every citizen of Chennai. The only street vendor we include is Amudha’s Bhajji stall in Mylapore. I don't think there is a name for the stall, but Amudha is in demand. She has an entire set up in Mylapore, near Kapaleeshwar Temple on the road and she is flocked by people, even before she prepares her dough. I met her during the Mylapore Festival and I decided to feature here.
All these Chennai eateries mean more to us than just food. They have a story, a memory locked inside them. . I am sure that all of you resonate with the thought as well. So let the emotions flow like the sambar as we go on this first food trail of Madras or Chennai as we know it today as we go on this tiffin trail
Ratna Cafe, Triplicane
Our first stop of the day is to Triplicane, an area that fascinates me immensely for its heritage, its architecture, its melange of cultures and the food. I want to stop at the Parthasarathy temple for a quick darshan and the puliodharai, but we are a bit late. So we say a silent prayer and continue to one of the oldest Chennai eateries, located in Triplicane, a landmark by itself – Ratna Cafe.
Started in 1948 by a man from Mathura, Triloknath Gupta, the family still manage this very popular eatery.
If there is one moment that defines our breakfast in Ratna Cafe, it is this – the waiter brings a contraption that looks like a saucepan and he pours the hot red sambar on the fluffy white idlis, until they are soaked in it. We order a plate of idli and vadai and top it with a plate of crispy golden brown ghee roast dosai, on the recommendation of a friend.
The menu is packed in the evenings with so many dishes to choose from. A board announces the same right at the entrance.
Rayar’s Mess, Mylapore
Our next halt in this list of Chennai eateries in Rayar’s Mess. It is one of the oldest and humble abodes which is very popular with most citizens of Madras, the Rayar’s Mess which has been around for more than 75 years in Mylapore. If there is one dish that is the signature dish, it is the kara chutney. Every foodie, including my father and his friends swear by it. Vasudevan specifically likes the over fermented super soft idlis which literally melts in the mouth.
Breakfast at Rayar’s Mess is usually idli, vadai, pongal served with a variety of chutney, including the famous kara chutney, sambar and molagai podi. Top it up with filter kaapi. This is what I call elaipotta tiffin .(tiffin served on a banana leaf)
The eatery comes alive in the evening with bondas, rava dosai, kal dosai, adai, vadai, a variety of sweets and more dishes.
Kalathi Stall, Mylapore
All in the same vicinity, it is very easy to miss this little news mart, a small shop hidden by trees. The headlines here scream of Rajinikanth and Sachin Tendulkar but what it does not scream about is the recipe of the rose milk which Mani and his family has safely guarded for over 80 years and sells it here fresh. I gulp glasses while Vasudevan buys the rose essence. A couple of women get off their two-wheeler to drink paneer soda, another speciality. Mani says celebrities have flocked to his shop.
Novelty Tea House, Mint Street
It is almost dark when we reach Mint Street and walking down the mini streets of Broadway and Parrys Corner is a delight in itself. As we navigate pedestrians, cows, cycle rickshaws, autos, tempos and cars, we find ourselves wondering if we are in Old Delhi or even Ahmedabad. Sowcarpet is one of the oldest locales in Chennai and my father who used to work here knows almost every eatery in the lanes.
We head to Novelty Tea House at the recommendation of my uncle. The pudhina onion dosai is what she recommended and that is what we order. I definitely recommend it as well along with the pav bhajji.
Novelty Tea House started as a tea stall in the late 50s by Chandrakant Moolchand Shah and it is now managed by the third generation. They do have branches everywhere but do not miss the oldest eatery in Mint Street. The atmosphere is an experience in itself.
Anmol Lassi, Mint Street
They say eat, drink and be merry. We are eating and we are merry, but the drink is missing. So next door to Kakada Ramprasad, is the a former wrestler who speaks flawless Tamil with a great sense of humour, who came to Chennai from Patiala 27 years ago. The board says “Anmol Mohit Patiala, specialist in Kesar Lassi.” He also serves masala butter milk . He says he stands here everyday from morning till night, except on Sundays. ” My wife will divorce me otherwise, ” he says with a laugh as we gulp down the cold icy lassi down our throats .
And finally the rains tumble down as we want to explore more eateries, but we run for cover and walk down the lanes to digest the entire spread from the morning. I probably have to starve for the next couple of days and run miles to burn the calories, but then my love affair with Madras just got deeper. Bon appetite and enjoy the many flavours of the city.
Are there any more Chennai eateries that you like to recommend?
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