Sunday, March 2, 2008

Magical Murugan

I was in Chennai recently for work. After a long day of meetings, my mind was exhausted from talking and listening - and I was craving some good old South Indian comfort food. Luckily, Chennai is just the right city for such a craving. An economist of repute, with whom we met that day, recommended a little coffee shop called Murugan Idli Shop.

The unassuming little cafe, tucked into a corner store front on North Usman Road (although there are 4 other locations in town), isn't much to look at. But the joint has been around for over 15 years. It's humble in trappings - but for visitors to South India looking for some 'authentic' local flavor, that may make it all the more appealing. Chennai residents certainly think so, as I'm told that all the local branches are packed during lunch time and on the weekends.

Murugan specializes in South Indian snack foods - idlis (steamed rice cakes with various flavors), uttapam (a flatbread cooking on the griddle, made from slightly soured batter), vadas (fried lentil cakes), tamarind rice, yogurt rice - and these delicious chutneys that accompany each dish. The food is served piping hot, freshly cooked, entirely vegetarian. And it is so, so tasty. Mom, you may not like to hear it, but their idlis are actually better than yours.

One of my favorite parts of Murugan? Everything is served on banana leaves. Not only do you get the authentic South Indian dining experience, but you also get the gratification of knowing you're being environmentally friendly! To further add to the shop's authenticity - you'll be washing your hands pre and post meal at the communal wash basin with the best of them, and you're lucky if your waiter speaks any English. But the fare here is so delicious, Murugan is a great opportunity and incentive to learn a little bit of Tamil -
"innumonu , dhayavu saidhu" (one more please!).

Murugan Idli Shop
46/13 North Usman Road, T.Nagar
Tamil Nadu

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