Food in Madurai awed me and I was not expecting that. Because am a Tamilian and I have already had Tamizh style non veg food, Tamil Veg meals, filter coffee, so what different was Madurai going to offer? But but I was wrong, totally wrong. Madurai has so much variety of food and so easy on pocket that I was gorging at all times. Be it Madurai snacks, or the idly or filter coffee or Madurai street food or the Mess food or the famous Muniyandi Vilas kind of non veg, you name it and you get it. So come, let us go on a food trail across Madurai.
Tamil Nadu is blessed with many regional cuisines. Kongu nadu, Chettinadu, Cholamandalam and Madurai falls in the Pandiya Nadu region. Most of the dishes, such as idiyappam, Utthappam, and Paniyaram, are from the Pandiya Naidu region. What uniquely stands out for the Pandiya Nadu are dishes such as muttai parotta, paruthi paal, karidosai, jigarthanda all of which originated from this region of Madurai. And I did not miss trying out any of this :)
Start with Coffee in Madurai
One early morning I was all set to visit Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. I came out of my hotel to hire an auto and right opposite the gate was a lady selling Paruthi paal. I have heard of it but never had before. Said to be a very healthy drink this is unique to Madurai. You can find this in many push carts available at almost every street. And you either find it early in the morning or while venturing out for some late-night food walks in Madurai. This is because it is a quick health drink to have and go on with their work. Early morning is when the whole sale markets are abuzz with fresh stocks coming in and late night also it is the same story. Madurai is aptly called as the thoonga nagaram (the city that never sleeps).
It was just 6 am and the lady had already sold half her lot of paruthi paal. The literal translation means cotton and milk. This steaming cup of paruthi paal is made from cotton seeds. The cotton seeds are soaked overnight and ground to extract milk and cooked along with jaggery. It is then flavored with a hint of dry ginger and elaichi and a handful of coconut shards. The very first sip blew my mind. I was expecting something like coconut milk. But this one was like that of health mix powder drink cooked in milk and coconut added. It makes a breakfast in itself. If having from push carts is not your preference, head to Sri Saastha Paruthi Paal on TPK Road or Ganesan Paruthi Paal at Koodal Nagar for this yummy cup.
But for some mornings mean the filter kaapi. Tamilians love their filter coffee and Madurai is just the scene for it. Some prefer to have it before breakfast and some like to have it after. There are many others who like to have the delicious filter coffee before and after the breakfast! This coffee is available in all the restaurants and hotels all over the place, especially at street corners. Many fascinating conversations have taken place over a cup of filter coffee at the iconic shops all around. Try it from the famous Visalam coffee shop in Chinna Chokikulam.
Breakfast in Madurai
After your taste buds have woken up with the appetising filter coffee, hop into the humble Murugan Idly Kadai. Who wouldn't want to have Idly for breakfast!? Madurai is famous for malli poo (jasmine flowers). All through the season you can find fat plump full bloom flower. And the idly in Madurai is also considered as soft and plump as the malli poo. In Madurai, idly is also known as the Madurai malli poo idli. The different types of chutneys accompanying it give a varied taste and tingle the taste buds. This chain of restaurants can be seen everywhere you go in Madurai. Just check out the spread of chutneys along with this Idly.
Walk around the streets of Murugan Idli Kadai for shopping and then stop for a snack of Thennanguruthu. A unique street food that is high in nutritional value is the Thennaguruthu or coconut stem. Thennai means coconut, and Kuruthu means tender. The taste is like eating a raw coconut, just munch on the soft stem. This one-of-a-kind dish definitely is worth trying out. You will find it at every street corner!
If not for the Murugan Idly Kadai, the other authentic place to have breakfast is Gopu Iyengar Tiffin Center. This is right at the North Chithirai street. Once you come out of the temple from the north gate, walk further down and it is easy to miss this small outlet. But the pongal and dosai is laden with ghee and yum.
Must have food in Madurai
Now your appetite is building up and the clock strikes lunch time! The Famous veg food in Madurai is of course, the Vegetarian thali or elai sappadu. The best variety-filled platter can be enjoyed in totality at Hotel Sree Sabarees only. It is served in a traditional way that is on the Banana leaf. It takes the whole experience of having food to a different level altogether. The platter usually consists of two to three vegetables, one kootu (mushy gourd), a green leaf vegetable, papad aka apallam, and sambar, vathakulambu and many curries. Relish the healthy and delightful lunch meal like a real foodie!
But Madurai surprised me with the variety of non veg food. Since I was exploring temples around Madurai, I did not want to eat non veg for couple of days. So I kept aside a day just so I can gorge on food. Step into a Madurai non veg hotel and nothing seems to be left out when it comes to cooking parts of a goat/lamb or mutton. One of the traditions in Madurai and small villages around is praying to the local deity by offering non veg food. Mostly it is goat and its parts and the whole community comes together for the feast. These hotels are also popularly known as the military hotels of Madurai. They started just serving mutton biryani in the beginning but then now we have an array of menu.
So here is a list of must try non vegetarian food for lunch when in Madurai.
- Mutton Biryani / Chicken Biryani - The biryani style in Tamil Nadu is full of flavors. Spices are cooked with the rices and chicken to make this yummy biryani. I so love this that I cannot take the layering of chicken and rice as biryani. I got from the Muniyandi Vilas.
- Ayira Fish Curry - If you are a fish lover, you need to try out the Ayira Fish Curry aka Ayira Kulambu. I had no idea about the Ayira fish until it was served on my plantain leaf. I kept thinking I was ordering Ayila (Mackeral fish) curry and probably Madurai makes it different. Because I was stressed to order this in Madurai. So when it was served in Amma mess I looked bewildered. It is tiny, not even an inch. They clean this fish with milk because you cannot remove the gut. So the ayira fish is caught alive and made to drink milk till it gets cleaned. And then cooked into a spicy curry. You can have it as is including the bone, cos you hardly feel it. I had it at the Amma mess, you can also find it in Chandran mess and Kumar Mess.
- Crab Omelet: Another of Madurai's famous food is the Crab Omelet. It is slightly expensive but worth the price paid for. Nice chunks of crabs are added to the omelet and it is incredibly delicious with the exotic taste of crab in it. It comes with a unique and distinctive taste with a flavourful aroma. This can also be found at all the Muniyandi vilas and Amma mess, Chandran mess, etc. It is also available at Kumar Mess which is located at Azhagar Koil Street.
- Kudal Roast: For non veg lovers, a dish worth trying for the adventurous in Madurai is the Kudal Roast. Kudal means the intestine of the goat. It takes great care to find subtle yummy delicate intestine, neatly cleaned and not smelly. And you can see that it is super fresh meaning it is sold like hot cakes. Arumugam Mess, located at Alagar Koil Road, serves the best Kudal Roast.
After an exotic lunch, you will crave for something sweet to satisfy your sweet tooth! Never miss the heartthrob dessert called Jigarthanda. Like the name suggests, it will cool your body in no time! This is one of the best and special Madurai Must Have. Have a taste of it only at the Famous Jigarthanda, near the traffic signal close to Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal. So, if you are out on a shopping spree or just out for a walk with friends, this is one food you must have. The ice cream comes with a variety of toppings. Of course, to suit every stomach size, they have the Mini Jigarthanda, Special Jigarthanda sizes. The restaurant also provides parcel service, but nothing can compare to the taste, only when you have it right then and there.
Kari Dosa and Bun Parotta for Dinner
Coming to dinner, quite a few options to chose from. But the point is, these are not lite for your tummy either :D. Here are 3 options for a scrumptious Dinner while you are in Madurai
- Kari Dosa - Konar Mess: Madurai has many gourmet non-veg dishes to boast of. One such dish is the Kari Dosai at Konar Kadai. It is at Simmakkal and hence it is also fondly called as Simmakkal Konar Kadai. A unique combination of dosai, topped with egg and then with kheema, left to brown and crisp well. One such heavy dish to have and it is a must-try dish. It comes accompanied with mutton or chicken curry. The ground floor shows to be an authentic old restaurant. The first floor is an AC room. The nenju kari which is the breast part of mutton is so soft and yumm.
- Burma Idiyappam Kadai: The best serving of this dish can be had from the tiny shack like outlet, which is close to the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal. The unique variety is the Millet idiyappam varieties. Side dish could be with coconut and sugar or jaggery. Also buy salna if you are looking for spicy version of the idiyappam. There is a non-veg variation available which is the idiyappam with Mutton Paaya curry. Paaya curry is the leg piece of mutton. Absolutely yummy, but Burma Idiyappam does not serve it. Idiyappam is cooked right here and very fresh and hot. Do not miss this.
- Bun Parotta: Any street food description is incomplete without describing the Bun Parotta Kadai at KK Nagar. Right on the route near the Traffic Signal, you will not miss it. Parottas fly around and they have varieties too like plain parotta salna, Kizhi parotta which is cooked in plantain leaf with curry. Bun parotta was pretty heavy for me. It is thick parotta, not a rolled out one. And cooked in deep oil that it makes it crispy.
But the food trail does not stop here. Your dinner might be done, but Madurai is thoonga nagaram, the city that never sleeps. Late-night food walks and trails are an option too. An auto guy mentioned this to me that the food starts buzzing from 1am too. Having soft soft hot hot idly in the middle of the night is a totally different feel. These are all push carts and not proper restaurants. Explore the local Food and hear the delectable stories attached to it as you take the tour of winding streets and roads bustling with people.
Food walk tours are also available to go on an organised walk. One such is the Madurai food walk tour is FoodiesDayOut in Madurai. They look for at least two people to conduct the tour. The details are readily available online. A tour involves getting a mouthful of savory dishes and the accompanying story about the culture and way of life of the Madurai people.
With that winding up the food trail of Madurai. Fill your tummy and explore Madurai. Am waiting to head back to have the yummy ayira meen kuzhambu, jigarthanda and kari dosai.