These old messes in Mylapore serve some of the most mouth-watering food in Chennai

In the messes of Mylapore is some of Chennais best food
Features Cuisines Saturday, June 11, 2016 - 12:53

From its many classical music venues to the plethora of temples amid tree-filled avenues, Mylapore is known for a lot of things. And while its many sabhas and kutcheris might get the most attention, Mylapore has also established itself as a hub for scrumptious South-Indian cuisine, with the neighbourhood’s flavour captured in its mess culture.

While the mess ethos came with the rise of Chennai’s thriving bachelor abodes (especially in ‘Bachelor’s Paradise’ Triplicane), Mylapore has claim to some of the oldest messes in the city. Here is a sampling of the some of the prime examples of that culture:

Rayar’s Mess

Located on a narrow lane off Arundale Street, Rayar’s Mess is easy to miss if not for the mighty crowd on its porch, early every morning. Founded as Rayar’s Café by Srinivasa Rao, the almost 80-year-old eatery is known not only for its delectable food but also its familial charm.

Now run by Rao’s grandsons, Mohan and Kumar, the mess is one of the few in the city to still follow the same menu it began with. “The only thing that has changed in the way we function is that we have moved on from grinding flour by hand into using grinders,” laughs Mohan. “Nothing has changed and thankfully neither has the crowd,” he says. Serving up to 10 people at once in the traditional ‘elai sapadu’ (meal served on banana leaf), from its tiny open kitchen, Kumar has stuck to his grandfather’s legacy, refusing to let anyone else cook for years now.   

“If I have been coming here for the past 25 years, then it is for those steaming idlis and vadais. The taste hasn’t changed one bit,” says Mangalanatha Gurukal, a loyal customer of Rayar’s and a film artiste.

For breakfast, the mess offers idli, pongal and vadai, while a round of rava dosas, bondas and sweet dishes are churned out for the evenings. The mess has seen its share of VIPs for generations, from the likes of yesteryear stars like MGR and Cho Ramaswamy, to today’s favourites like Suriya and Jeeva.

Specialties: Ghetti chutney and steaming hot idlis

Mylai Karpagambal Mess

‘Since 1953’, screams a sign board outside the Karpagambal Mess. What started out as a tiny eatery (kaiyendhi bhavan) more than half a century ago, is now an expansive air-conditioned mess.

Under the watchful eyes of three generations of a Mylapore family – Ramadas Iyer, Sounderrajan Iyer, and Prabhu Das – this mess has stayed with the times. However, if there is one thing the mess refuses to let go of, it is their big book of hush-hush recipes.

“While my grandfather Ramadas Iyer served dosas, my father elaborated that into adai avial, while I introduced a healthier mudakathan keerai dosa (spinach dosa). The assortments might have multiplied, but the dosa is still the same,” says Prabhu Das, the current owner of the mess.

Surrounded by art work of gods and goddesses, with the faint strains of devotional choruses in the background, the mess is reminiscent of Mylapore’s temple façade. “Most of these paintings are my grandfather’s while I got some done, based on our customer’s penchants,” says Prabhudas. Of a Meenakshi Amman painting prominently displayed, he says, “I got this artwork for a regular who had just shifted here from Madurai, a few years back. Customers are family.”

Specialties: Degree coffee, adai avial

Mami Tiffen Stall

When Vasantha Mami came from Alwarkurichi to Chennai in the 1960s, she had few other proficiencies besides her cooking skills. And so she started a tiny mess in a nook in Pitchupillai Street. “My mother was fondly referred to as ‘mami’ by almost everyone in the neighbourhood and that is where our mess gets its name,” says G Kapaleeswaran, Vasantha’s son, who now runs it along with his brother Murugan.

While the mess first started out as a tiffin stall running from 5pm to 9.30pm in the evening, it slowly expanded into a breakfast and lunch joint, by popular customer demand. Never having followed a set menu, Mami’s mess is widely known for exploring myriad options, according to its customer’s liking. “There have been regulars who have asked us to whip up something according to their craving. And if that dish turns out to be well-received by the people, it goes on the menu,” Kapaleeswaran explains.

“More than their food, it’s their service that I most look forward to, every time I come here for a quick bite,” says 65-year-old Subramanian, a regular for over a decade.

Their menu now consists of an assortment of rice dishes from the humble curd rice to even bitter gourd rice, accompanied by tiffin and sweet dishes. 

Specialties: Kozhukattais, Thavala vadais

Jannal Bajji Kadai

A literal hole in the wall joint, Jannal Kadai (literally window shop), located at the heart of the Kapaleeshwar Temple Street, is known for serving sizzling hot bhajjis right from the stove, through a lone window.

Its history ambiguous even for its current caretakers, the Jannal Kadai has been serving their scrumptious savouries in Mylapore for many decades now.

“I have been visiting the Kapaleeshwar temple, every Tuesday for the past 6 years and I make sure I grab a bhajji or two from Jannal, during my visit,” declares Saraswati, who is seen parcelling a bundle of hot chilli bhajjis.

While the window greets a massive crowd every evening, they also open for breakfast at 9am in the morning.

Specialties: Chilli bhajji

Read: Magicians of Meat: Coimbatore's Valarmathi mess serves up delicacies from the Kongu heartland

Read: Magicians of Meat: Inside Madurai’s famous Amma Mess

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