Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Culinary delights from the streets of Madurai

                               All you high-flying metro dwellers, who routinely make a beeline to your McDonalds and KFCs, or pay through your noses for  minuscule servings of bland pasta, bamboo shoots and other exotica in the dim  ambiance of posh restaurants, heres giving you a whiff of the culinary delights waiting to be discovered on the narrow streets of Madurai. We confess to a dearth of pizzas, burgers and submarines and concede thateating outfor Maduraiites normally connotes a humdrum menu of naan and paneer butter masala, biriyani and tandoori chicken, noodles and fried rice with, of course, adosa festivalor two tossed in for extra crispness. But who needs food courts, when theres a whole world of taste-bud-tickling fare to be savored alfresco, with surprisingly acceptable standards of hygiene to boot? Welcome to Madurais Rottu Kadais (Roadside shops, for the uninitiated).

                               Keep your eyes open in the environs of South Masi Street for roadside carts, from whose sides sprout ornamental, ivory sprigs of blossom from the coconut tree. These barrows are stacked with log-sized chunks of thennang kuruthu – layers of bark are peeled away from the trunk of the coconut palm to expose the tender kernel of the stem. These wafer-thin, moist, crunchy slices, packed in newspaper, have a delicate flavor all of their own. Head for the East Marret Street area and its’ jigger thanda – one of Madurai’s best-kept secrets. This ethnic ‘milk-shake’ is every bit as soul shaking as the resonance of its name suggests! A scoop of ‘bhai ice cream’ (a light, caramel colored, utterly delicious, home-made concoction), some cold milk, a spoonful of jaggery syrup, a dollop of edible seaweed, a generous helping of clotted cream – in a jiffy, you have Heaven served up in a Rs.5/-, Rs.10/-, or Rs.15/- glass. ‘Take away’ jigger thanda is also enterprisingly on offer in little plastic pouches. By the way, all calorie - counting readers are advised to ignore this paragraph!
The sweetmeat fastidiously wrapped in plastic and packed in fancy cartons may masquerade by the name of halwa. But, for the original, melt-in-the-mouth version, try North Aavani Moola Street or West Veli Street. Piping hot, oozing ghee, and served on pieces of banana leaf – that’s the only way to eat any halwa worth its name.

                          Come evening and its time to follow the staccato rhythm of iron spatulas on sizzling tawas, that punctuates street life in several parts of our city. Youll find yourself in one of Madurais inimitableparotta kadais.Have your parotta whole assaadhaa parotta,minced askothu parotta,or thin and crisp asveechu parotta,accompanied by some form of chicken, egg or mutton. Every part of the goat [with the notable exception of the hide and hair!] is cooked and served in various combinations and permutations. Watching theparotta masterkneading dough or wielding his spatula is as fascinating as any cordon bleu chefsflipping of pancakes. A word of caution: ahalf boilin parotta kadai parlance refers to an egg in its fried avatarsunny side up, with overly generous lashings of salt and pepper - and has absolutely nothing to do with its cooking time! 

                           For thatin-betweensomething, the vadais at Karimedu just about hit the spot. Themasterspracticed hand is a blur of motion between the over sized bowl and the gargantuan wok, as he drops flattened lumps of channa dhal batter into the steadfastly simmering oil. As fast as they are fried, the vadais - crisp and redolent with the aroma of fried onionsare put into paper bags and into the waiting hands of customers. 

                        The pristine white, piping hot, soft and fragrant string hoppers [idiyappamsto South Indians!] that emanate almost around the clock from the decades-old, modest stall in East Veli Street, are teamed with sugar and grated coconut and have the elite rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi as they await their share. These hoppers are reputed to be easy on the digestive system and are the preferred diet of many patients in the Mission Hospital in the vicinity. The food handlers use plastic gloves as they pack the orders!

                       This is but a sample of what Madurais streets have on offer. WeTemple Citydwellers are absolutely spoilt for choice. So, bring on your Pizza Huts and BaristasBelieve me: our Madurais Rottu Kadais are ready to give them a run for their money!