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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Strictly South Indian...

A lethal concoction of Tamil style ‘mixture’ doused with some spicy, hot sambhar. Back home at Jayalalitha’s state, it’s called Chov Chav ut, at Café Madras—a 1939 South Indian restaurant at King’s Circle, Matunga —you can order for it as Madras Misal.

The owners, surprisingly Kamaths from Karnataka, insist on the menu being strictly South Indian. As Jagdish Kamath, 63, explains,” When we bought this eatery in 1950 from its first owner, one Mr Subramaniam,it came along with a lot of goodwill.

So while the old bamboo chairs did make way for polished surfaces and utility furniture to accommodate the growing crowd, the menu, from the basic Idli-Wada-Sambhar expanded, but only to include dishes from the neighbouring Karnataka, the tangy Bisibele rice, the robust Tuppa dosa made of urad dal and flour bathed in pure ghee, the nutritious Raagi Dosa, the niche Cucumber dosa and, of course, the Kamath’s pride: Mysore Sada Dosa, brushed with green chutney instead of the regular garlic red chilli mix.

Kadi wada and Rasam wada are most popular with the Gujarati families who account for 70 per cent of the cafe’s clientele; the late Dhirubhai Ambani’s driver would pick up idlis for him at 6.30 am. Filmmaker Raj Kapoor often turned up here for a cuppa.

Pongal with Avial and Payasam make Sunday appearances to much attention and no one certainly forgets the Mulga Poodi. “A very senior member of the Birla family member, who is a regular, once got his wife here. She walked in and looking at the plain interiors with no air-conditioning refused to eat here. He suggested that she wait in the car till he finished eating. When the wife finally relented, he said to her, ‘A South Indian joint is where the vessels make the maximum noise, the air smells of coffee and people are always running. Your air conditioned rooms can never beat that.’ I truly felt humbled at that point,” says Kamath.

He’s obviously taking the compliment seriously as he personally supervises the coffee that’s made every day. He says, “That’s usually the last thing people order and its taste lingers on. I can’t let it go wrong.”

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