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Take one bite. Get hooked!
Siddhu Warrier |
February 04, 2005
or the connosieur of good food, Chennai brings to mind steaming idlis and golden brown dosas.
Almost immediately afterwards, the aforementioned connosieur will let his thoughts wander to delectable Chettinad cuisine.
And if you are a Chennaiite with a yen for some authentic Chettinad food, Ponnusamy Hotel is one place you shouldn't miss.
That is because Ponnusamy is one of Chennai's oldest Chettinad restaurants, which has its humble origins as a mess in 1952.
How to get there: Ponnusamy is on Commander-in-Chief Road, right opposite Ethiraj College in Egmore.
It is a landmark in Egmore, and it would be tough to miss it.
First impressions: If you have conjured up images of Ponnusamy as a restaurant with an expensive, rustic look, you could be in for a disappointment when you first look at it, as I was.
Tucked away in the corner of a large building, it is rather unprepossessing.
But before you can step inside, you have to park your vehicle to the satisfaction of the parking attendant (which should take some time).
Inside, Ponnusamy is rather large with multiple levels. And during lunch hours, it almost bursts at the seams.
I was unfortunate enough to have to share a table (!) with a woman who was extremely curious about my antecedents, and kept asking me questions that almost put me off the food.
I suppose I can't possibly blame the hotel for the obsequiousness of their patrons.
What is most interesting about Ponnusamy is that all the food is served on plantain leaves.
If you, like me, are of the firm opinion that the leaves add a special something to the food, you are bound to love it.
What I ordered: On the suggestion of the waiter, I decided to try Fish Fingers (Rs 50) as a starter.
Smug that my order would take a bit of time en route, I settled down to answering the woman's incessant queries as to where I lived.
To my surprise, the fish fingers made their appearance almost immediately.
A hurried cleaning of the plantain leaf later (an ancient ritual that the puritans just love), I plonked all of the fingers on it. It was then that I realised this was no starter. This was about enough to feed a family of five!
Good value for money, isn't it, especially if you have a dominant parsimonious streak?
One bite and I was hooked. Delicious.
For the main course, I decided to order a Chicken Biryani (Rs 69) which the waiter (and the woman who had decided to mother over me!), asserted was the stuff to have at Ponnusamy.
I chewed up each morsel greedily. Though I failed miserably in my attempts to finish the serving, which was once again large enough to fill a man twice my size.
To accompany the biryani, I picked a dish called Rabbit Masala (Rs 54), after a prolonged ethical debate with myself about eating a rabbit.
Convincing myself that when in a Chettinad Restaurant, I was bound to do as the Chettinads do, and that eating a rabbit was definitely less unethical than eating a pigeon (other unique Chettinad food on offer), I placed the order.
My moral dilemma melted right in front of my eyes when I tasted the Rabbit Masala, which was even more delectable than the Fish Fingers.
I asked the waiter for a dessert that was uniquely Chettinad (assuming some such creature existed). He offered Vanilla Ice Cream.
They did not have a single sweet to offer.
This, in addition to a few other gripes that I had occassion to crib about, put a dampener on the culinary joy I had so far experienced.
Gripes, Complaints and such like from a never satisfied pig
The service: The service was faster than a Shoaib Akhtar yorker alright, but lacked the finesse one expects from any half-decent joint.
To start with, the waiter spilled water all over the table.
Thankfully, however, in a unique exception to Murphy's law, not a drop fell on yours truly.
Second, every dish that you order is plonked anywhere on the table that the waiter finds convenient.
Third, when I paid with my credit card, he took an eternity to bill it.
I watched droves of people ask for bills, pay them, collect their change and leave while I waited for my card to return to its rightful owner.
Another bone I have to chew with the Ponnusamy management is they could do with serving the dishes in something classier than steel containers.
Of course, the inevitable question is whether it actually matters when the food tastes as good as it does in Ponnusamy!
The verdict: If you haven't tasted Chettinad food and want to without burning a hole in your pocket, go for it!
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj