Delicious Food at its Best

Annapoorni K. H., I Year M. Sc. Chemistry

When you think of Chennai, what comes to the mind first? I bet you’d say the beach, people, temples… but for us foodies, Chennai means delicious South Indian food. Or I should say cheap, affordable South Indian food. I mean, you can get delicious South Indian food pretty much anywhere, but affordable means Chennai.

Now, now, I know what you’re thinking. There are only two places here where you can get amazing, vegetarian South Indian food – Sangeetha and Saravana Bhavan. Wait a minute, together that’s almost forty places in the city alone. Hot, delicious, vegetarian food paradises. Yes?

My grandfather, at his ripe old age, seems to prefer Sangeetha over Saravana Bhavan. That got me wondering. Which one is better and why? So, I went around the city, eating at a few outlets of both and this is what I found.

The dozens of Saravana Bhavan restaurants across the state and the countless restaurants around the world will tell you that this family means business. Like with any typical Saravana Bhavan, the restaurants teem with people, be it New York or good old Kumbakonam. The customers would tell you things like: “It’s like home food”, “It’s delicious food at affordable prices”, “You can bring the family here; sit back and enjoy the food”. Well, that is true since I’ve said the same. What can I do, being human makes hypocrisy my middle name! Like millions of others, I’ve made spur-of-the-moment decisions to have a meal there, waited hours for a table and ended up spending way more than I planned on food. If cheap and affordable is their mantra, I think they’re missing their mark by quite a bit. Charging Rs. 100 for a cold coffee is way too much (I mean, cold coffee is cheaper at Satyam Cinemas!) but when a hungry man is charged 95 bucks for 2 hot idlis with sambar and chutney (2 types, mind you), then you bet they’ve got “cheap and affordable” all wrong!

On the other hand, we have Sangeetha, my grandfather’s current favourite restaurant. Why? Because they home deliver. Okay, that’s not why since the SB does it as well. Sangeetha doesn’t charge Rs. 95 for a plate of idlis, they restrict themselves to Rs. 40 per plate. Considerate, aren’t they? Smart, too. The quantity, in this case the size of the idlis, is higher and leaves the customer thinking he’s getting his money’s worth.

Yes, yes, being 100% South Indian, I love my idlis and obviously, I’m biased and judge these places by the idlis they make. However, my point is this: when the simplest of South Indian food is so pricey, is either of these restaurants good? Okay, the quality of the food at both are fine, I’ll admit. The waiters are generally at their irritated best in the former and quietly annoyed in the latter.

If you want regular food, that’s what you get in both places. None of the fancy food festivals here, thank you very much. Who can complain when what we want is what we get? I bet that’s exactly why everyone who eats at these places (myself included) just goes about saying things like “Delicious, affordable food at its best”!

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