When in Madurai there are some culinary delights one has to try;
Halwa and jalebi from the Nagapattanam Halwa shop still drawing the crowds 119 years later – Granted it’s an ideal location on the doorstep of the Meenakshi temple. The jalebi is a sweet fried spiral, tasting a little like baklava – but without the nuts. The halwa is like a sticky, gummy, fruity, solid jam with ghee.
We were a little nervous sliding into this hole-in-the-wall. The walls, the floor, the tables, the ceiling, the washbasin, the maître de and the clientele were all well worn. But, fortunately, they had also worn well.
The menu was in tamil but we knew we wanted uttapams. They suggested sambhar as well and we decided not to argue. Gopu Iyengars is famous for its Onion uttapam – and well should they be proud – a lightly-fermented rice lovechild of a fluffy pancake and a crumpet with sweetly caramelized onions embedded within.
Sambhar – a more delicious savoury nigella seed donut served hot with dhal, a spicy hot chutney (they’re not known as the chutney experts for nothing) and coconut sambal.
Everything served on a banana leaf so there’s no washing up.
Gopu Iyengars Tiffin Center North Chitrai St, Madurai Main (corner of the Meenakshi temple)
Next door is a little coffee stand with the best coffee in Madurai. We became regulars.
Jigarthanda condensed milk, hand-churned icecream (kulfi which is like ice cream that has had some sand added for texture), milk and tree gum. Mine wasn’t bad and was rose-flavored.
Amma Mess is famous in Madurai for its crab omelette, bone-marrow omelette, fish roast, brain roast and mutton kola urundai.
I’m as adventurous as the next person and even though Amma Mess is very hygienic we both weren’t so adventurous as to try the brain or bone marrow. Alas the crab omelette was off this day so we settled for the prawn, a delicious spicy onion raita, a melt-in-your-mouth mutton kola urundai (much better than the Lucknow kebab meat rissole), spiced and fragrant, crispy and smooth, tiny fish roast with spices and a bit of oomph. Bill had a fish of the day which was delicious too. Samuel L. Jackson’s Indian cousin was there to smile, and our waiter was excellent. Everyone was extremely friendly, just a little sad we weren’t eating more. Amma Mess 136 Alagar Kovil Rd (10 minutes from the Ghandi Museum) China Chokkikulam
Our regular is the Hotel Amirtha, just 50 yards from the towering, statue laden gopurams of the Temple. Their masala dosa is a thing of starchy, curried, crunchily spiced beauty. Lightly curried veg lies inside the folded crispy pastry. Dipping bowls of delicious dal and curd, chillied chutney and spices. A wonderful meal, all for about $1 AUD.
We damn the expense and order fresh juices. They come in long glasses, are tart, naturally sweet, frothy and pulpy and oh so very good.
And all the while our strangely smiling but sweetly hearted waiter sees to our every whim. We are blessed and pass on our blessings and love to all of you sweet children of this baby new year. Hotel Amirtha 29-30 West Tower Road Madurai.