Smith Field Bakery: Serving Bread For 137 Years
For most people walking into Smith Field Bakery in the south Indian city of Chennai is like going back in time. The smell of freshly baked bread permeates the air while old-fashioned glass jars showcase the colourful biscuits. Do not be surprised if you find visitors regaling the present owners (father and son Shanker and Venkatesh) about how they have been frequenting the shop for generations.
Established in 1885 by Ponnuswamy Naicker of Sadarasapattinam, it is still a favourite, especially for its slow fermented freshly baked bread, cookies and old-fashioned tea cakes. “Be it the cookie or the bread, there is always a bit of memory that is associated with the food,” said Venkatesh.
Talking of the bakery’s history, Shanker said, “Back in the day, only Anglo-Indians used to come and buy bread as it was their three-time meal. Indians used to buy it only when they had a fever.” The 137-year-old establishment has been a witness to many chapters of Indian history. During the Second World War, when food was rationed, customers would buy food in lieu of coupons given by the government. The shop would later encash the coupons from the government. Later, they introduced door-to-door services, narrated Venkatesh. A salesperson on a bicycle would deliver bread and cookies from one house to another. Each house had a notebook and the salesperson would enter the details there.
Even though new products have been introduced over time, the bakery still retains the old processes and recipes for the traditional products.
Address: 130, Perambur Barracks Road, Vepery, Chennai 60007; tel: 98846 00232
Rayar’s Mess: Serving Food With Extra Care Since 1930
It is not uncommon that first timers find it a tad difficult to locate this eatery tucked away in the Mylapore neighbourhood of Chennai. So either ask around or follow Google Map. And do not be surprised by the large crowd which gathers here every morning during breakfast hours, when they serve idli, pongal, vadai and coffee. Look hard, and you might come across a famous person or two because it has been a favourite with many VIPs and stars of south Indian filmdom.
Started in 1930 by Srinivasa Rao, from Karadipakkam in Villupuram (Tamil Nadu), Rayar Café shot into fame with its homestyle-cooked food. Although the address changed a few times, till it came to settle in its present location, the quality of food has never been compromised vouch many of the old timers.
With time, it even attracted famous actors such as MG Ramachandran (former chief minister of the state), Nagesh, Cho Ramaswamy and others. Sometimes, the actors would drop in unannounced, yet word would get around and there would be a large crowd around the shop, said P. Mohan, one of the present owners. It was renamed Rayar’s Mess in the 1970s. A family run business, the present owners, the Padmanabhan brothers, Kumar and Mohan, both agree that it was word-of-mouth publicity that made their establishment famous.
Manoj, son of P. Kumar, who handles the everyday work, said that they do not intend to expand the shop. For him, Rayar’s Mess focuses more on serving its customers and with expansion, he is afraid that the personal connection might fall flat. He said that at least four to five people walk up to him daily and reminisce about the good old days about how their parents used to bring them and now, they are bringing their children. Not to forget, the staff would still remember your chutney and sambar preferences, he proudly said.
Rayar’s Mess opens only for breakfast (7am to 10am) and late afternoon snacks (4pm to pm; when you will find rava dosas, bondas, etc.).
Address: 31, Arundel Street, Mylapore, Chennai 600004; tel: 9940425551.
MTR: Coasting New Heights At Every Turn
Necessity is the mother of invention and Yagnanarayana Maiya fell back on this adage when shortage of rice during the Second World War was making it difficult to churn out the idlis, a breakfast staple sold at their restaurant. He started making idlis from rava or semolina. It was an instant hit and is now considered as a healthy breakfast food.
The history of Mavalli Tiffin Rooms goes back to the 1920s when the Maiya brothers – Parameshwara, Ganappayya and Yagnanarayana – left their village near Udupi in Karnataka to find work in Bangalore (now Bengaluru). In 1924, Parameshwara, helped by Ganappayya, opened what was then known as Brahmin Coffee Club, serving idlis and coffee. Yagnanarayana or ‘Yagnappa’ joined after Parameshwara’s demise, and was instrumental in bringing fame to the establishment which would later take the name of Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, or MTR. He even introduced many aspects of modern hospitality business following his tour of Europe in 1951. The restaurant moved to its location in Lalbagh in 1960.
Although the MTR Foods division has been hived off, the original family runs the restaurant chain. Today, you will not only find MTR restaurants in Karnataka but also in Singapore, Kuala Lampur, Dubai and London.
Address: 14, Lalbagh Road, Bengaluru 560027; closed on Mondays.