-Mercy Teres Johny, III Year B.A. English
Image Source: http://www.feastmagazine.com
They say that the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach and, to make the way easier, Chennai is no longer a city that restricts itself to its local cuisine, as it offers the citizens a world on a plate. It’s interesting to notice how there are more Jains in Murugan Idly Shop, and more South Indians ordering Paneer butter masala in Adyar Ananda Bhavan. After all, whoever said that one should only love some hot crispy dosas without falling for some buttery paneer? It’s almost like the entire idea of exoticism cannot escape from the hungriest of people. Anything that is not inherently theirs, or anything that is not a usual, home-made dish always lures the explorative, hungry diner in everyone, making them want to try something different or new.
Chennai has been brimming with places that satisfy everyone’s cravings, bringing in a melange of cultures, along with the exotic, flavourful food that the restaurants offer, and Asian cuisine is one among them.
The lady sitting by the desk at the entrance of Va Pho, one of the recent restaurants offering a whole world of Asian flavours, flashes me a bright smile and is happy to talk about how she misses home – Manipur. “Chennai’s heat gets too much at times,” she laughs. Yet, interestingly, what’s stuck with her from her childhood in Manipur to her present stage in Chennai is her fascination with Korea, and its pop culture. She feels a strong connection whenever she sees Korean dramas and music, and equates it to home, as that was how she spent most of her days back in Manipur. It’s quite evident that there will always be a desire to belong to another culture, or at the very least, to experience it.
Asian cuisine is definitely one of the most popular choices among everyone here, although most have made it suit the Indian palate. Va Pho, as well, boasts of having a vast range of cuisines – Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian and many more. With its brightly painted walls, the restaurant even has a small auto in the restaurant. Known for their Baos that almost melt in the mouth, and their spicy Mee Goreng and soya-sauce based Char Kway Teow noodles, there’s plenty on the menu.
Chennai is making sure that there is much more than kozhukottais to feast on, and for those who wants to take a break from these sweet delicacies, with a range of Asian dumplings that extend to much more than just momos – dimsums, siumai, wontons and many more of these soft, juicy dumplings. Although ‘Chinese’ food was once associated with a sweeter, spicier and coloured version of Indian food that could be found in nearly every restaurant, or roadside stall, there’s so much more than Schezwan fried rice. A steep rise in the attempts at maintaining the authentic flavours of food from different cultures. And even if the food doesn’t seem as authentic, the ambience definitely will.
Sushi in a Box, for instance, is a Japanese restaurant that offers the diner the entire experience, giving them chopsticks and the option to sit on the floor and feast on some soupy ramen, crispy calamari, Katsu Don (an egg, meat and rice based dish), sushi, sashimi and many more. And while the first attempt at eating with a chopstick might end up with the food on the floor and the chopsticks slipping from your hands, there’s plenty to distract oneself with, simply by taking a look at their manga-covered walls.
India’s first Ethiopian restaurant in Chennai, Abyssinian, complete with low tables and walls with shields, with their Ethiopian soups, curries and Kitfo (tenderloin) among a whole list of exotic dishes, has garnered a loyal following. Batlivala and Khanaboy offers authentic Parsi cuisine, with yam cutlets and Mutton dhansak, while Winter Palace is known for its Russian cuisine. It sure is a visual, culinary and cultural treat with these restaurants around. The steady rise in European cafes, as well, simply cannot go unnoticed. With bistros, tearooms and French bakeries popping up, there’s no dearth to a heavenly taste of French cuisine, and some lovely English breakfasts.
For those who wish to feast on some Tibetan cuisine without burning a hole in their wallet, Kailash Kitchen has some delectable noodles and momos that have a long line of students queuing up outside. Mezze, a Mediterranean restaurant, dishes out food from the Middle East, and its not just the infamous Shawarma that is available here. Their Baba ganoush, hummus, pita bread, and Tzaziki are just a few of the many dishes they offer.
It’s safe to say that with the vast range of cuisines that this city offers, one truly can taste the world in a city – one only needs to explore. As a friend very wisely said, “Even the greatest of wars could have been settled, if someone had just offered peace with a plate of delicious food.”