We had a long breakfast before starting, but The Family proposed a short break for a filter coffee. I thought it was a wonderful idea. But 10:30 in the morning turns out to be a little late for coffee in Madurai. Most of the wonderful little holes in the wall declared that it was too late.
Satghiamoorthy was not a person who gave up easily. He found a promising place within a few hundred meters. We crossed the road and went up to the stall to check, and found we were in luck. While we had our long coffee we saw that there was still a trickle of people coming in for their elevenses.
There were plates of pakoras laid out next to the cashier. At a counter inside idlis and vadas were piled high. This is what is called tiffin in Tamil Nadu, the small snacks which you can find all day. The previous night we did not want a large meal for dinner, and found a little shop where we had a serving of idlis. I’m sure most places make competent idlis in Madurai, just as they make competent coffee. We finished our competent coffee and were ready to start the day.
We were delayed getting from Madurai to Rameswaram. The hotel called us and suggested that we have dinner on the way, since their restaurant would be closed by the time we reached. Sathiamoorthy knew just the right place. A market place had grown up at a crossing of highways outside Ramanathapuram, and it had this one special restaurant which was so busy that it had to be good.
We looked at the day’s menu written out on large whiteboards arranged around the restaurant. This was no ordinary short-order kitchen. It had a herbal soup “for stress”. Elsewhere there was a list of utthapas which they make. I’ve always wondered about the fiber content of Tamil food. A misplaced concern, at it turned out. The leaves in the utthapas probably make up a significant portion of it. They looked interesting, but it seems that we had arrived too late for this bit of interesting food. Unfortunately I don’t read Tamil, so I didn’t know what the Tamil words describe. There’s clearly enough traffic here from across the country that a large part of the menu is written in the Roman script.
Sathiamoorthy ordered a “meal”. We looked at the plate: three vegetables, four kinds of lentils, yogurt and a rice and milk sweet! This looked very good, but perhaps it was too large a meal at the end of a day in which we’d spent ten hours sitting in various forms of transport. We loved the presentation, with the banana leaf over the plate. The Family decided that she wanted something much smaller. The waiter rattled off a list of “tiffin items”, and she chose a familiar dosa. That’s the one in the featured photo.
I dithered. The waiter went off to place the other orders, and came back with Sathiamoorthy’s meal. I went for a north Indian style combination of south Indian elements: a porotta and mushroom 65. I have no idea what makes something 65; and it seems that even Wikipedia hedges its bets, although it traces the name back to Chicken 65. TV quiz shows have nailed their colours to one of these stories, and I suspect that it will become the real history by popular choice. “South Indian porotta”, the waiter warned. I nodded assent; I love this variety.The thick, flaky, hot spiral of porotta which you see in the photo above was everything I’d imagined. Stress was thing of the past.