More than your regular idli-dosa, explore the magic of Chennai through its street foods. Here are 7 must-try dishes from the city.
The best way to get to know the identity of a city is usually through its street food. Of course, the physical act of walking the streets of a new place will tell you a lot but the additional layer of introduction comes through the food itself. By learning what it is that regular people eat, away from the fancy fine-dine spots and hotel bars, you can start to understand the history and influences that make a place what it is.
For Chennai, that means experiencing how its rich past as a centre for trade during the days of the British Raj (back when it was still Madras) and as a centre for naval command over many decades, made it a hub for travellers and traders from all over the world who each brought their unique cultural influences to the city’s culinary culture.
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Here are 7 dishes from Chennai’s street food offerings that you should try.
Perhaps you wouldn’t be expecting it but this Chennai favourite originally hails from Burma but has been adapted for the Indian palate with additions like shredded cabbage. It consists of noodles mixed with fresh raw vegetables, garlic oil, chilli oil and masalas for a bright orange finish and is widely sold on street corners throughout the city.
Once a humble dish, Boli is now a delicious street food in Chennai. It's a sweet paratha made from refined flour and stuffed with mashed toor dal, jaggery, charoli, cardamom, nuts, and raisins, perfect for those with a sweet tooth. It bears similarities to the Kerala dish of the same name and the Maharashtrian Puran Poli but has taken on a life of its own.
You may think that these are just a heap of regular noodles, but the stringy rice flour noodle pancakes have their own fan following. A round heap of the noodles is usually served topped with a hot coconut milk-based curry and the street-side stalls in the city offer plenty of options and flavours to choose from.
4. Kothu Parotta:
Parotta is a staple bread around South India (and beyond, they just morph into paratha instead) but it also finds place as a staple on Chennai's streets. Kothu Parotta is a special Chennai dish made by shredding crispy parotta and mixing it with meat, egg, and vegetables for a wonderful combination of flavours an textures.
This deep-fried and crunchy snack, made from rice flour, salt, gram flour, and cumin seeds, is a popular bar snack and munchie all over the country. In Chennai though, it’s enjoyed in a different way too, as a Murukku sandwich. The crispy snacks are layered with tomato, cucumber, and mint chutney between breads for a meal on the go.
6. Podi Dosai:
Dosas are no secret, but Podi Dosai is a Chennai speciality that can’t be missed. Podi Dosai is known for its spiciness and the fiery hot dry podi which is spread on the dosa as it cooks will have you breaking a sweat. Most people agree that the flavour is well worth the pain though.
A beloved snack in Tamil Nadu, Sundal comes in various forms, including boiled peanut sundal on the beaches and diverse Navratri sundals during the Golu festival. Typically made from chickpeas, green gram, black gram, lentils, or other legumes, they all share a common tempering, base spices, and a soft yet slightly chewy texture, preserving the integrity of the chickpeas or lentils.