15 foods that you must try in Chennai: The southern food trail
If you are bored of eating out of your office cafeteria or ordering the same old stuff from the nearby restaurants, then maybe it’s time to step out and explore what Chennai has to offer. The Gateway of the South has had quite an elaborate culinary history. Being a historic port town, there have been many travelers and explorers to Chennai who brought with them the flavors of their culture. Burma, China, Sri Lanka, and of course the European colonies have left their influences on the city’s food heritage. Today, though predominantly Tamilian, Chennai still is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines from different neighboring countries and states. As you walk the food trail of this southern capital, you will be surprised how the city never ceases to amaze its visitors with generous offerings.
Among all that you explore and experiment with, here are 15 most unforgettable foods that smell, speak, and feel truly Chennai.
The iconic beverage of south India, the traditional filter coffee is every Chennaite’s poison. From being a wake-up starter to conversation starter or for late night musings, people swear by this rich, aromatic brew topped with frothy milk. Tantalize your taste-buds with this local favorite and you would never like any other coffee.
A rich but cooling drink for the summer days, Anmol Mohit Lassi in Georgetown makes a unique blend of the classic yogurt drink with saffron. The wrestler-turned-lassiwala has been serving Chennai all his life.
For those who thought this is some good old British delicacy, here’s a bit of history. Translated from the Tamil name of milaguthani (or pepper water), to suit the linguistic ease of British officials in those days, the Mulligatawny Soup has traveled a long way in its recipe. The modern version is quite Anglicized. But if you want the original recipe, go to the Gymkhana or Madras Club.
Cooling and fragrant, the rose milk is one of the best thirst-quenchers to beat the Chennai heat. The best place to try a glassful is at the obscure ‘Kaalathi News Mart’ in Mylapore.
Of course, this is just omelet stuffed in bread, but the eggs have their own Chennai flavors. Served with a green chutney, this is an all-time favorite street side snack. The kiosk outside Alsa Mall on Egmore serves one of the best.
The spiral, savory snack and a tea-time favorite for Indian, the Murukku sees a different form in Chennai. Stacked on top of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions and topped with tangy spices and sauces, the Murukku sandwich originated first at Purasawalkam area and is now a local favorite.
Very much like the Mumbai vada pav, sans the pav, bondas are deep-fried potato fritters fried in gramflour and garnished with local spices.
The Athouk is one of the old recipes that has merged with Chennai’s food culture. Boiled eggs, served with caramelized onions and curry leaves, make for a spicy snack if you are near Burma Bazaar. This was a product of the Burmese influence on Chennai after a lot of migrants moved to the city and made it their home.
This is a kind of chat, with, of course, the city’s own flavor. Boiled chickpeas or black grams tossed in mustard seeds, curry leaves, raw mango and grated coconut. And the best place to sample this local street food is at the Marina Beach.
The city’s fishing communities are one of the oldest one in the region and so, you can expect lip-smacking seafood recipes. Pinky sized anchovies, also called Nethili (Tamil) deep fried in hot, local spices are a local popular to go with beer.
Not so uncommon to many Indians, Paniyaram is tiny fried idlis, served as a savory (with chutney and spices) or sweet (with jaggery). These little dumplings are a household favorite as a breakfast item or snack.
The dahi vada you might know of, is called the tamil version of this name, “Thayir Vadai” in Chennai. Garnished with grated carrots, mustard seeds, and dried boondi, this sweet-salty-spicy dish is a cooling grub on a hot and humid day.
Not to be confused with ‘Paneer’, this rose- flavored locally made soda is a great cooler. Fizzy, with a floral aroma, try this traditional local drink at Mani Kadai, for an unforgettable taste.
The city’s very own versions of pakora, nothing speaks more Chennai than hot Molaga Bajji for teatime! A deep-fried snack of green peppers, with a thick batter, Bajjis are also made with plantains, bread or potatoes.
Looking for a hearty meal? The quintessential ‘set meal’ or a lunch thali is a must-try at Annalakshmi or Prems Graama Bhojanam. Go gung-ho on the lavish spread of vegetables, rice, pulses, and dessert. This all-vegetarian steals the show with its aromatic and subtle flavors and visually delighting presentation on a banana leaf.