Sight-seeing in a South Indian Restaurant
Colin Todhunter, author of Chasing Rainbows in Chennai, writes an interesting piece on the sights and sounds one witnesses in a South Indian restaurant. The scene could be very well based in Saravana Bhavan, except for the banana leaf and the pricing.
What springs immediately to mind whenever I think of such a place are the pictures or figures of various Gods garlanded with marigolds near the entrance, puja being performed with burning incense that tinges the air and bare-chested staff hauling huge canisters or sacks of produce down the aisles and into the kitchen. I anticipate eating in a place where banana leaves are used instead of plates and where the menu comprises uttapam, idlis, and plain dosas, rava dosas, special dosas and… yes, more dosas.
Supervisors patrol the passageways that separate the endless neat rows of tables, shouting orders to the staff and uniformed and sometimes bare-footed boys clear tables by placing leftovers into large metal buckets. Waiters scurry around and shovel out various dishes from gleaming, smaller aluminium buckets, serving unlimited vegetarian ‘‘meals’’ for a fixed price of twenty rupees or so. And the most striking feature of a South Indian restaurant: the sense of urgency and anticipation that prevails. As soon as a customer sits, someone approaches almost immediately to place a banana leaf in front of you or pour water from a metal jug into a matching shiny mug. And when the food arrives, people eat as if there is no tomorrow. It’s fast food both in the way it arrives and is eaten.
Little, old women sit, sprinkle the banana leaf with water and then proceed to pack away mounds of rice and sambar in a matter of minutes, when I am struggling to finish even half of what they have eaten in twice the time. These restaurants overflow with passion – a passion for eating!