As all roads lead to the sorga vassal during the Ekadasi season, here are some of the best places to sweeten your journey with some humble but divine South Indian fare at the modest eateries around Srirangam
It is not the ambience but the aroma that invites you inside these seemingly nondescript eateries in Srirangam; not advertisements but friendly staff that make you want to return. Forget the dim lights and crystal vases, find a rickety table and waste no time in tucking into freshly prepared wholesome albeit calorie-high fare. Waiters here treat you not with deference but a striking familiarity and though you will have to clear your own plate - read banana leaf, feasting on idly, vada, pongal, sambar is an experience here.
The city is yet to catch up with coffee shops and hip joints, but these eateries around Srirangam have been plying devotees, tourists and locals with wholesome South Indian food for decades. Despite steep increase in food prices, these joints have not compromised on the quality while keeping rates nominal.
They are forerunners in staying eco-friendly and have entertained celebrities unawares. They have relocated and downsized but have not lost their clientele who are more than mere customers. As traditional they are, they find mention in innumerable blog posts and web portals on the web.
‘The customer is not king but family here’ at Venkatesa Bhavan
Signature dish: Rava dosa, vada
What’s cooking: Traditional South Indian breakfast , hot off the stove at incredibly low prices! It is not often you can make a hearty breakfast out of super roast dosa for Rs. 10, coffee for Rs. 5 and crunchy soft vadas at Rs. 3.
Trade Secret: The eatery has been run by the family for four generations. With six brothers manning the joint, they save on labour and rent and dish out tasty fare for low prices.
Then and Now: Started in 1942 by Venkateshwaran and now run by six brothers with eldest Anantharaman at the helm. Manikandan, an MBA from the fourth generation sits in as cashier while his cousins pursue careers in various Continents. While Gen Y wants to capitalize on the goodwill and transform the joint into an upmarket one, the older lot is keen on keeping the antique charm intact.
Claim to fame: The brothers cook, serve and bid you adieu, ensuring you will always return. There’s no need to worry about ordering as you would be told what you should eat and plied with it generously. From Indira Gandhi to MGR and every other illustrious visitor to the Srirangam Temple have ordered food from here.
Where to find: Close to Renga gopuram
Darshan time: 6 a.m. to 9 a.m and 2 p.m. to 5.30 p.m
‘One super is what you need’ at Parthasarathy Vilas
Signature dish: Ghee roast
What’s cooking: Hollering of ‘Oru super’ can be heard from time to time. The ghee roast here is dubbed as ‘super’ by clients. Though old timers may miss the butter roast that Parthasarathy Vilas was known for in the area, the ‘super’ dosa made with ghee is the perfect indulgence.
Trade Secret: Cooked on ‘viragu adupu’ or log fire by a veteran who has been at the job for decades. Though the ‘kal’ takes one hour to heat, the dosas dripping with home-made ghee achieve that elusive line between crispy and pliant.
Then and Now: Ananthanarayan Iyer and brother Subramaniam opened the eatery in 1943. The former’s son Vaidyanathan and the latter’s daughter-in-law Geetha Manikandan are in charge of daily affairs today. The younger generation sadly evinces no interest in the business.
Claim to fame: An affable host, old interiors with portraits of freedom fighters collected by Vaidyanathan’s father, a Congress member, the Vilas has been patronized by celebs from the tinsel world and artistes performing at kutcheris.
Where to find: Near Thiruvanaikoil Temple
Darshan time: 4:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7:45 p.m
‘Only the patient will be served’ at Mani’s Cafe
Signature dish: The ‘keerai dosai’
What’s cooking: Sample dosas with a heavy health accent- Arukampul, Chirukurichan, mudakathan, thuthuvalai, karisalangankanni and vallarai- something your doctor and grandma would be happy about!
Trade Secret: The USP of this eatery is the medicinal value invested in every entry. The menu outlines health benefits of each item and also offers recommended items for diabetics and people with high Blood Pressure. These include ragi, corn and wheat dosas. All for Rs. 25
Then and Now: Labour shortage has seen the joint down shutters for intermittent periods between 1982 and 2002 says M.V.Sathyendran, proprietor. The menu has been designed on the advice of an Ayurvedic practitioner, though an assortment of halwas and kesaris are options available for the sweet toothed. Mani’s Café believes that good things come only to those who wait and boards at the entrance and inside make no bones about warning you that only those with oodles of patience will be entertained!
Claim to fame: A price list dating to 1983 may have you looking askance at what you could afford for Re. 1. The ‘café’ is peppered with information from railway timetables, reminders to save electricity, health tips. Mani’s doubles up as small time consultancy, offering customers free assistance in disposing old utensils, furniture, finding jobs and houses.
Where to find: Therku vassal, Srirrangam
Darshan time: Mornings and evenings
‘The golden brew, to each his own’ at Murali Kadai
Signature dish: Filter coffee
What’s cooking: Dark nectar is poured into old world ‘dabaras’ and topped with fresh cow’s milk and sugar.
Trade Secret: A combination of nothing but the best ingredients priced at Rs.10 is the crowd puller says owner Murali. Freshly ground coffee is brewed in brass filters and handed out just the way you like it.
Then and Now: Started in 1982 by Murali’s grand dad, the ‘kadai’ served idly, uthappam and tiffin items. Since 1989, only the golden liquid flows here. This kaapi here can give any cuppa cappuccino a run for its money!
Claim to fame: Murali’s book of scribbles and scrawls by eminent men and women from all walks of life including writers, directors and politicians from Chef Sanjeev Kapoor to Moopanar. Read miniature odes to the golden brew by expats and tourists from Manchester, Seattle and Australia. The heady beverage has inspired poetry from the likes of Pa.Vijay: ‘Ithayathil Irangukirathu, kadhal madhiri intha kaapi’.
Where to find: You will find devotes of the beverage sipping the concoction close to the majestic Rajagopuram oblivious to the din around.
Darshan time: 4.30 a.m. to 9 a.m and 3 p.m. to 7: 30 p.m.