Friday, April 12, 2013

Chidambaram's New Madras Hotel

Yes, authentic South Indian mouthwatering fare dished out by Chidamabaram’s for over 60 years. This old establishment has it all serving from the usual Idli, Dosa, Uttappam, vada to thali, butter milk, kesari and more. Despite Delhi being flooded with Idli Dosa joints or those serving South Indian food, there are very few which maintain the authenticity and taste. This one does, the coconut chutney is actually made using coconuts and not simply bhuna hua chana dal. The food is not spicy, loaded with chillies variety and tastes quite good. It is a wonderful mix of affordability and more importantly nostalgia for my father. It is ideal for a good dose of near home cooked food at affordable prices when one’s cooking fails. Usually the best South Indian meal for a Tambrahm is invariably at home. But this one does win our hearts for a near substitute when our cooking takes a back seat.

Old Recollections – Chidambaram’s Mess (it was run by the owner - Chidamabaram) as it was known was frequented by my father, a bachelor then in the 1950s. The entire Lodhi Colony was barracks built for the American soldiers during the World War. A set of four rooms had a kitchen and two separate bathrooms and loos. After the war the barracks were vacated by them. Following Indianisation, it was allotted to Government employees. Of course, the number living in each such quarter far exceeded that permissible. It was known as Chamaris. It is in one of these kitchens sublet that Chidamabaram’s mess operated. With plenty of youth and bachelors living in the area, region wise messes were common. So for South Indians there were Chidamabaram’s, Rao’s mess, Mannadiyars and Nair’s Mess. 

Of these as per my father, “Chidambaram existed because the food was good and he maintained the quality and standard.” From the others, one ran away, Mannadiyar moved to Sarojini Nagar and vanished. It was difficult running out of rented space. Having eaten for over five or more years Chidambaram was well known to my father and the last time he met him was when they travelled together to Madras (it was known that way then, most regulars do call it that!) by GT (Grand Trunk) Express. My father proceeding to Kerala via Chennai, that’s how travel was then. Daddy moved on, married and settled in Delhi but nay a nostalgia to revisit that place. Mom was such a fabulous cook. With my longing for South Indian food outside home being limited, there was never an opportunity to revisit.

This nostalgic visit to Chidamabaram was thanks to my father’s recollection of his food. A casual trip to Meher Chand Market was backed with an impulsive, lets go to Chidambarams. After much search, we found it in the Khanna Market street, small reminding one of coffee shops tucked away in a typical South India. It had long moved out of the Chamaris and was a part of the huge market. The establishment was there and in the words of my father, “the food is still good and tastes good like those of yore”. Chidambaram though is no more. The restaurant is now called Chidamabaram’s New Madras Hotel. It is now being run by his son. The Menu now is no longer just lunch and dinner as in a mess but includes a host of dosas and idlis. The range of dosas, uttappams and adai is a decent 28 variety. Apart from South Indian food, there is a variety including Chinese.

Location – Khanna Market – Turn into the bylanes of Lodhi Road flats from Meher Chand Market and simply move down the road of the market. This is a small shop located near the end of the market. Shop No. 7.

Timings – 8 am to 10:45 pm (ideal for a typical South Indian breakfast!)

Highlight – The entire South Indian fare is good. Coconut chutney is made the authentic way, my father vouches for it. It is easy on the tongue and not loaded with spice. Sambar is like home made with a good taste to it. Dosas, idli, uttappam…take your pick. I am told the thali with typical Tamilian vegetables – kootu, curry – is excellent. My father is a finicky perfectionist for food and he vouches for it. We are yet to taste it, I will give a full blown account then!!

Insider Tip – Forget the routine dosa, vada, idli routine, instead go for the snacks. My father narrowed in on the Masala Vada (of course it will be good, Chidambaram was a good cook my father’s verdict). It is served with sambhar and chutney. There is Raw Plaintain bhajji – called vazhakay or kachha kela bhajjis, bonda, onion pakora and onion bhajji. These are typical items made at home and not so easily available in restaurants here in Delhi. Try them and enjoy it. The South Indian filter coffee is par excellent, (my dad’s verdict second to mine – sweet of him!). There is masala mor (firang bikers sip it before zooming away)… The tiny shop outside offers batter and namkeens – the mixture is good.

Go fill up on traditional south Indian food, the ambience, Tamil music does transport one to a typical hotel in Tamil Nadu.  

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