Fresh and bursting with flavours, this salad-like versatile dish is intrinsic to the city’s culinary heritage.
If you are strolling along the long stretch of Marina beach in Chennai without holding a paper cone of the yummy sundal in your hand, your experience is incomplete. Boiled legumes, spiced with tiny pieces of peeled mangoes, carrots, grated coconut, green chillies, coriander, curry leaves, oil and salt are the ingredients that make a lip-smacking portion of 'suda suda thenga manga pattani sundal'. Often compared with Mumbai’s Chowpatty bhelpuri, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that people in Chennai have a sentimental attachment toward this street food delight. Available at just ₹10, sundal is relished by people from walks of life and income groups.
While banana and cauliflower bajjis are among the city’s top beach food picks, sundal plays the perfect muse to Chennaiites who head to the beach to enjoy the whistling winds and crashing waves during the sweltering summer season. Sundal comes in different varieties - the popular ones include karamani sundal (sweet black-eyed beans), kollu sundal (horse gram), paasi paruppu sundal (moong dal), kadalai paruppu sundal (chana dal), kondakadalai sundal (white chickpeas), mochaikottai sundal (field beans toss), pachai payaru sundal (green gram) and navadhaanya sundal (nine gram salad). Those savoured while taking a walk on the beach are also referred to as ‘Madras Beach Sundal’ and ‘Beach Sundal Masala’.
Symbolic of the social milieu of Chennai, sundal is, however, not limited to the beach. This simple, salad-like dish has found its way into temples and people’s homes too. Tastes the best with a hot cup of tea or filter coffee, sundal is a roadside delight too and a lunchtime favourite in a typical Tamil household. It isn’t properly documented as to when exactly sundal entered the city’s foodscape, but no discussion about its culinary trail is complete without a mention of this versatile, nutrient-rich snack. Sundal is also a staple during Navaratri, which is celebrated in the Tamil month of Purattasi that usually falls between September and October.
Needless to say, this street food is also often associated with a lot of childhood memories. “It’s a comfort food, especially during the childhood days. As a college-goer, whenever I felt sad about something, the beach and a cone of spicy sundal found me solace. Whether it’s a sad day or a moment of celebration, there’s almost nothing that the beach-sundal combo cannot make better,” says Meenakshi M, another resident of the city.