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Sambhar Mafia - Cooked To Kill!

Monday, September 04, 2006

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!


  • True. The traditional south indian restaurants are a delight to watch. And that includes not the once in TN alone. I was surprised by the same feel in a restaurant in Leh.

    The only other place that comes close in terms of speed of the service is the sagars in Bangalore.

    By Blogger Govar, at 6:04 PM  

  • Hey, a cool post..can very well imagine how it must be like .. :)

    By Anonymous Shweta, at 6:37 PM  

  • the customers' expectations are extraordinarily high here.

    not only do they expect instant service. the food must be brought right from the stove to the plate without intermission.

    the waiters have extraordinary memory power, as in many places, the orders are memorized and never written down. hearing "today's special" listed out by the waiter at a machine gun speed is a sight to watch and hear.

    and finally the coffee.. woe to any waiter if he brings the coffee without the telltale milk froth at the top and steaming steaming hot. :)

    the only sad part here is those waiters are migrant workers from the villages, making next to nothing. add to it, the chennaivasi is a poor or a 'no' tipper. :(

    By Blogger phantom363, at 3:04 AM  

  • Todhunter "polishes" what he says by hiding the obvious - unclean hygiene in a South Indian restaurant - did he get to have a look at how they make the food in the first place? The restaurants have grown increasingly unclean...

    By Blogger -, at 1:10 AM  

  • I wasn't deliberately "hiding" the obvious. Throughout India standards of hygiene are not what they could be. It doesn't just apply to S.Indian restaurants. CT.

    By Anonymous ColinT, at 10:57 PM  

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