Mami's Tiffen Stall: This Tiny Eatery in Chennai Serves Fantastic Home-Style Meals

You'd think a tiny eatery that's tough to find and tucked away in one of Chennai's countless alleys is unlikely to be a popular dining venue. Mami Tiffin Stall is here to show you the contrary.

Ashwin Rajagopalan  |  Updated: June 26, 2017 13:03 IST

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Mami's Tiffen Stall: This Tiny Eatery in Chennai Serves Fantastic Home-Style Meals
Highlights
  • The 'Mess' phenomenon is synonymous with early 20th Century Madras
  • These eateries provided home-style meals at affordable prices
  • It's still possible to have a filling meal for about Rs 200 or even less
Mami Tiffen Stall in Mylapore, Chennai. Photo Credits: Ashwini Rajagopalan.

You’d think a tiny eatery that's tough to find and tucked away in one of Chennai’s countless alleys is unlikely to be a popular dining venue. Except this is Mylapore, one of Chennai’s cultural hot spots and an area steeped in history even before it became part of British Madras. Many of the city’s heritage walks crisscross Mylapore’s maze-like grid of alleys, while the Kapaleeswarar temple is one of the city’s spiritual hubs. It’s not unusual to find people around the temple take the presiding deity’s name, G. Kapaleeswaran is among them. He runs Mami’s Tiffen Stall (most locals call it Mami Mess) along with his brother Balasubramaniam and the brothers are very proud of how they have taken their mother’s humble venture forward. 

(Also Read: 5 Best Tiffin Recipes for Breakfast)
 

The ‘Mess’ phenomenon is synonymous with early 20th Century Madras. These eateries provided home-style meals at affordable prices for bachelors and working men (who left their families behind in nearby towns and villages) back then. There were vegetarian and non-vegetarian eateries (many who came to be known as military hotels) and soon you had food joints that served food from different regions (like Kerala and Andhra). Almost a century later this trend continues except today it’s not unusual to find a Bengali eatery or hole in the wall establishments serving ‘gharelu khaana’, clear evidence of the city’s evolving profile. A few years ago, the Tamil Nadu government improvised on the ‘Mess’ phenomenon with its own brand of ‘Amma Canteens’ (Many still call it Amma Mess) that serve affordable meals. It proved to be a political masterstroke, and now other states across India have taken the cue.   
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About 50 years ago, G Vasantha started a savoury shop in the Mylapore area which was an instant success. It soon morphed into an eatery and most people referred to it as Mami or Mami’s Mess (Mami is the Mylapore slang for Aunty). The name stuck and stayed even after her sons – Kapaleeswaran and Balasubramaniam took over the reins. It’s certainly not a unique name - the brothers don’t have exclusive rights to use the name, almost every area and town in Tamil Nadu might boast of its own Mami Mess but regulars and foodies alike know where to find Mylapore’s Mami Mess. 
 
mami tiffen stall chennai

Crispy, fried snacks at Mami's Mess Stall. Photo Credit: Ashwini Rajagopalan
 

Quite often diners are willing to put up with unclean surroundings for a bite of nostalgia or great food. That’s the one thing I like about Mami’s Mess. It’s much cleaner than similar eateries at an affordable price point. But the regulars don’t just come here for the upkeep, it’s the lip-smacking food. Until about a decade ago Mami Mess was only open for one session – tiffin, that long period between lunch and dinner when most of us would like a filling snack. It helped that the Tamil Brahmin (aka Tambram) community – one of the key groups that continue to patronise the eatery, don’t follow a traditional breakfast and lunch routine. The first meal – brunch if you like, of the day is usually between 10 am and 12 noon and then it’s tiffin followed by dinner. 
 
mami tiffen stall chennai

People getting in line for Mami's delightful dishes. Photo Credit: Ashwini Rajagopalan


From Bondas to Dosas dabbed with chilli powder (podi dosa), tiffin time is still rush hour at Mami’s Mess. Their Bondas and Thavala vadai (a vada with assorted dals) are a big hit with their regulars; I love their filter coffee that always hits the spot. It helps that they haven't changed their filter coffee supplier in the longest time. It’s common for many restaurant menus to feature daily specials, that regulars invariably track. Mami Mess’ weekly specials include a savoury Kozhukkatai (dumpling similar to the Modak in Maharashtra), Mysore Pak and sweet Rava Kesari (similar to the sheera). Over the years, Mami Mess went from Tiffin joint to an all-day diner. The restaurant serves a traditional ‘full meals’ for lunch but many regulars also drop in for their wide range of ‘pre-mixed’ rice options that swing from Sambar rice to Rasam rice to their signature Keerai Satham (rice mixed with steamed spinach) and of course the ubiquitous curd rice. 

(Also Read: 7 Side Dishes for Dosa: From Lip-Smacking Chutneys to Meen Curry)

 

The brothers are conscious about their core audience and run a tight ship to keep costs affordable. It’s still possible to have a filling meal or tiffin for about Rs 200 or less (for two). There's no seating, it's only self service and the dishes are delivered in lightning speed. It's the only way that the eatery can accommodate a loyal legion of customers in this compact space. It also helps that the families of both brothers are actively involved in managing the restaurant and their successful catering business. Today it's not just single working professionals or foodies that throng Mami Mess. A large percentage of their customers are senior citizens who don't enjoy the support systems their parents’ generation once enjoyed. It's this customer that Kapaleeswaran is particularly proud of serving. He ought to be. He grants quite a few wishes just like Lord Kapaleeswarar probably does. 

About the Author:

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Ashwin Rajagopalan is a Chennai-based writer who writes on topics related to food, gadgets, trends and travel experiences. He enjoys communicating across cultures and borders in his weekday work avatar as a content and editorial consultant for a global major and one of India's only cross cultural trainers.

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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.

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