Wednesday, February 04, 2004

'Hotel' can easily be the most used misnomer in Chennai. Any place that serves food from roadside stalls to small/big eateries to lodges to three and five star restaurants are all referred to by the plain, simple name, 'Hotel'. Of particular interest are the food factories, the ones that cater food to thousands of people daily. They affect the lives of bachelors like me (who depend on them for all three meals a day) very deeply. Let me try describing to you some types of hotels that an average guy in Chennai comes across.

The lowest in the ladder (in price, not in taste) are the 'Kaiyendhi bhavans' (no tables/chairs, plate to be held in hand). They offer you the typical South Indian 'tiffin' varieties - idlis, dosais, pooris, etc, muttai dosai (egg dosa) being their specialty.

A little above in stature are the 'tea shop-restaurants', i.e., if you count any and every place that has tables and chairs as restaurants. Invariably, a board in front would announce that the hotel is 'Pure Vegetarian'. It brings a smile to your lips as you wonder whether there is anything like 'impure' vegetarian or 'partially pure' vegetarian (remember, there's no McDonald's in Chennai yet to offer French Fries fried in tallow and there's still time for genetic engineering to poke its nose!).

These specialise in dinner dishes. They have paneer masal dosa, paneer paratha, naans, kulchas and oothappams for dinner. The side dishes are great -- the list includes the ever famous aloo gobi, mutter paneer, palak paneer and any other permutation/combination you can think of involving these five. These 'tea shop-restaurants' being very close to office or on the way to office, one tends to frequent them most of the time. Of course, it also helps that the food served is inexpensive.

There are real restaurants too, where you can have an occasional proper dinner along with 'thanni' (alcohol). These are perfect eatouts to take your roommates, and friends who, while visiting Chennai, stay at your place. You can have a great time here, remembering and laughing about the good old times.

Many dhabas have also sprung up: 'Punjabi Dhaba', 'Dhaba Express' and 'Sachin ka Dhaba' (or is it Sachin 'ki' Dhaba? Sorry, we South Indians are always confused with the Hindi language where each and every object has a gender) being some of the famous ones. You can get the best chicken tikka masala at these dhabas. It is my opinion that every one of these dhabas is owned by the same Sardarji family and it is their way of fooling the Tamils who like to tell and listen to Sardarji jokes.

There are the 'Peetzaa' places too: Pizza Hut, Pizza Corner, Dominoes Pizza, Pizza-Whatever and Whatever-Pizza. The rich, the NRIs and the 'hi-class pepal' frequent these places. More than the food, they offer us bachelors a chance to see the normally orthodox Chennai girl wear something other than the standard salwar kameez/churidhar/saree. You can sigh the evening away jollufying (any proper English term for this? Ogling?) at them.

Last but not the least are the new coffee shops, rather pubs, the in thing in Chennai. You have Coffee-this and Coffee-that and even the Chennaivasi, the diehard coffee fan, has been a little overwhelmed with such offerings like Cappuccino and Muckucheenoo (just to make them rhyme -- Srinivasans, no offence meant).

As you know, the above list isn't exhaustive, but since every good thing has to come to an end (to be read as the article has become too boring by now), I sign off here. For a nice eating experience, do visit Chennai.