From spicy street snacks to signature desserts, Chennai has a variety of dishes to offer those who visit.
The stereotype that Chennai has only dosa and idli to offer is outdated. Chennai is home to world cuisine, owing to all the external influences it has seen over the years. However, the city’s specialty remains the local food that has been born here. From spicy street snacks to signature desserts, Chennai has a variety of dishes to offer those who visit. We recommend eight local dishes to try when you’re in the city:
Sunal is a popular street snack that can be found at most beaches (the most well-known among these is Marina Beach). It is essentially a mixture of soaked chickpeas, spices and coconut, topped with slices of unripe mango and chillies. Sundal is also served at temples, and is a household staple in Chennai, often served with tea.
Puliyodharai or tamarind rice is served in leaf cups, mainly as prasadam at temples. In Chennai, it can be found at the Triplicane Parthasarathy Temple, the Mylapore Kapaleeswarar Temple and the Vadapalani Temple. Besides Chennai, the dish is also easily found in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Kerala.
Chennai is known for its fishing community, members of which were some of the oldest settlers in the city. In fact, the city was a group of fishing villages at one point. Nethili fry, which is a spicy finger food, is a reminder of Chennai’s fishing culture. It is made with anchovies that have been coated in a spicy masala and then deep-fried.
Atho is symbolic of Chennai's connection with Burma (a Tamil trading community once thrived in Burma and left in the 1960s to flee the military rule there. Some refugees reached Chennai and brought Burmese culture with them). Atho is a desi take on a traditional Burmese dish, which includes noodles tossed with cabbage, onions and tamarind juice.
The brainchild of Udupi restaurants like Woodlands and Dasaprakash, masala dosa is Chennai’s take on the traditional dosa. Many versions of it are available, including crisp ones made using ghee and others with the traditional Mysore masala. Restaurants like Saravana Bhavan serve a variety of masala dosas.
Kothu parotta is one of Chennai’s most popular street foods. Using shredded Malabar paratha as the main ingredient, kothu paratha may be made with vegetables, egg, chicken, mutton or beef. Restaurants don’t usually serve the dish, but it is widely available at street food stalls across the city.
Although Mysore pak is Mysuru’s namesake, Chennai produces more of the sweet treat. Made using Bengal gram, sugar and ghee, it’s a soft sweet that most bakeries in the city sell. Try it at Sri Krishna Sweets or Adyar Ananda Bhavan. Although the addition of ghee makes Mysore pak heavy, it is irresistible.