Triplicane High Road, Chennai.
Meal for two: Rs 350
Since 1946, people have been making a pilgrimage to Triplicane for two reasons: the first, of course, is the Parthasarathy temple, but the other is ‘Triplicane Ratna Cafe’, with its legendary sambar and idlis. It’s located in a crowded gully, opposite ABT Tyres Tubeless Puncher (sic), and its signboard proclaims it to be the ‘Crown of South India’, which is a forgiveable exaggeration. It’s a sprawling two-storey maze of eating and cooking spaces, wafting the fragrance of masalas and drumsticks that make up their famous sambar.
Their fluffy idlis are served with a large, specially designed dabara to pour the sambar. Apparently, they’ve patented this sambar pourer, but they should also patent the sambar itself, so flavoursome that customers are known to drink it by the tumbler-full (it’s rumoured that the secret ingredient is pumpkin). Our idlis were followed by plump vadas, swimming in more of the wonderfully fragrant sambar, and glasses of mandatory sathkudi (sweetlime) juice. And then, to round off the perfect breakfast, tumblers of scalding, high-octane coffee. We pleasantly burped the famous sambar for the rest of the morning. The congested Triplicane location has been a bit of a problem for Ratna Cafe and only die-hard loyalists would make the pilgrimage. That’s why they’ve been opening branches in other parts of Chennai, so that if Munnuswamy can’t come to the mountain, the mountain can now come to Munnuswamy. The original, however, has a charm of its own.