Comfort food, Sunday brunch special, midnight snack. The idli is more than just a breakfast staple in Chennai. The city's idli obsession knows no bounds. But there's more than just one type of idli. Probably no other city offers the sheer variety of idlis that come in myriad forms, textures and flavours. From Madurai style idlis, to grainy Udupi idlis to coin sized idlis that are dunked in Sambar, we've got you covered.
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Here Are 9 Places To Eat Idli In Chennai:
1. Podi Idli at Murugan Idli shop:
The Murugan Idli story might have started in Madurai but it's in Chennai that the brand gained wide recognition. It's now a customary stop for travellers from across India who are keen to explore Chennai's diverse culinary scene. The restaurant's soft almost sticky Madurai-style idlis are its trademark. They're served with four chutneys and sambar. But it's their podi idli slathered with ghee and milaga podi (aka idli powder or gunpowder) that is its piece de resistance.
2. Thatte Idli at Eating Circles:
This restaurant in Abiramapuram is a haven for Chennai folks looking for a taste of Bengaluru. It's also one of Chennai's most popular spots for thatte idli that loosely translates to plate-sized idlis, a dish that first became a phenomenon in Tumkur (near Bengaluru). It's spongy and dusted with idli powder. You can also try the thatte idli at ID at the Departure area of the Chennai Domestic Airport in case you missed the one at Eating Circles.
CP Ramaswamy Road, Abiramapuram
3. Mini idlis at Saravana Bhavan:
It was probably Saravana Bhavan that made these coin-sized idlis a household phenomenon. Now you can buy idli moulds that allow you to make them at home. We're still figuring how Saravana Bhavan arrived at the magic number of 14 for this dish, that's now popularly known as just 14 idlis. These 14 bite-sized idlis are drowned in sambar with ghee; it's almost like idli, soup style.
4. Ramaserri idli at Kappa Chakka Kandhari:
Ramasseri is a tiny village near Palakkad in Kerala that's best known for its unique idlis with a soft texture; these idlis are much thinner than the conventional idli. These idlis will remind you of a thick dosa and melt in your mouth. The trick is in the cooking method - the idli batter is traditionally poured into flat clay steamers and stacked up. The steam from under the pots cooks these idlis to a soft texture While they use aluminium pots as a base now, in the past even these bases were earthen pots. Kappa Chakka Kandhari one of Chennai's finest Kerala cuisine restaurants is probably the only place where you can try the authentic version of this idli.
5. The grainy Udupi style idli:
For decades a trip to Rathna Café meant navigating the busy streets of Triplicane. Over the last few years, this iconic restaurant has transformed into a chain. It's the restaurant's trademark sambar and grainy Udupi-style idlis that have driven its popularity. Other popular spots to try these grainy idlis is Maneka restaurant at Palmgrove hotel and the Welcome hotel in Purasawalkam that's a favourite with sambar connoisseurs.
6. Kozhi Idli:
If you haven't deep dived into Tamil Nadu's culinary scene you might be under the impression that idli is only served with sambar or chutney. In many home across the state the 'go to' Sunday breakfast is idli with a chicken or mutton gravy. Kozhi Idli translates to chicken idli; this eatery offers a choice of chicken gravies including a thick Kozhi thokku and a flavoursome kozhi pepper gravy.
Avvai Shanmugam Salai, Royapettah
7. Rava idli at Krishna restaurant, New Woodlands hotel:
You blink you miss. This restaurant is easily one of the best in Chennai for Udupi-style vegetarian snacks. Tiffin time or evening coffee time is the best time to be here. It's during this short 2-3 hour window that you can sample some of these snacks. The Rava idli batter (rava mixed with curd) doesn't require fermentation - in fact it needs to be cooked immediately, and it tastes very different from the conventional idli. This restaurant does one of the best versions of Rava Idli that is served with a potato gravy and chutney.
8.Kadubbu idli at Mathsya:
These cylindrical idlis are quite common place in and around Udupi. From Kadubbu to Moode (or Mude) to Gunda the locals use quite a few terms to describe this uniquely shaped idli. It's the same batter cooked in a different mould. You can try this at Mathsya a true blue Udupi restaurant or also at Sangeetha Adyar.
Tamil Salai, Egmore
9. Schezwan idli at Guna Bhai Tiffin Centre:
Many of Chennai's colonial-era clubs like the Madras Gymkhana Club and Madras Cricket Club have created deep-fried versions of bite-sized cocktail idlis dusted with idli powder that make the perfect bar snack. This pokey eatery in the bustling Sowcarpet area has added another twist of the coin-sized idli. A Schezwan idli that's tossed in a unique spice mix and fried along with capsicum and onion
Mint Street, Sowcarpet
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.