Madurai shares with cities like Patna, Banaras, Ujjain and Mathura, the distinction of being among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. I use the word city quite deliberately here, because in every era, starting about 2700 to 2500 years ago, when travelers describe these places, they are called cities.
Although I’d spent a while living in Chennai, I’d not explored Tamil Nadu much. The heart of the Tamil cultural landscape, Madurai, was a whole new experience, and one that I realized I could grow to love. Some of the reasons are the food you get in Madurai. I’ve written about Chettinad food already. Here is another example: a signboard that might be hard to find in Chennai, and, increasingly, in the rest of India: “Sri Balaji Evening Mutton Stall”.
The street food of Madurai has to be tasted to be believed. The Family and I have fond memories of idli and vada with sambar and three kinds of chutney in a little hole in the wall in the old town called “Murugan’s Ildi Shop”, laddu and murukku from a stall inside the Meenakshi temple, coffee and biscuits at numerous stalls across the city, not to mention two wonderful lunches at two different “messes”. In the photo above you see a place where Sathiamoorthy took us to taste Tirunalveli halwa, a mildly sweet and oily halwa wrapped in banana leaves. Many blogs advised us not to miss this, and we are happy to pass on the recommendation.
Part of the fun in Madurai was having Sathiamoorthy drive us up to places we would not have thought to try eating in. We have seldom had the luck to travel with a driver like him.