The Discovery of Chennai's Most Unusual Street Food
Chowder Singh | Updated: November 13, 2014 12:47 IST
The Tamil/Indian population in Burma (today's Myanmar) is hardly anything compared to what it was during the rule of the British in the 19th century. Indians then were the backbone of the civil administration and were influential in Burmese society. The Chettiar community from Tamil Nadu had firmly established themselves as prominent businessmen and powerful moneylenders in Burma during the earlier days of the British Raj. It was during the civil unrest of the 60's in Burma that many Indians were forced to leave the country.
Many of the Tamil populace came back to Chennai and settled in and around the north of Chennai. 'Burma Bazaar' consisted mainly of traders who had come from Burma and soon enough this market became known for smuggled electronics. But not everyone was a trader. Some of the Tamilians also brought back interesting street food from Burma and set up shops here.
Atho - An Interesting Street Food Story
The Tamilians from Burma set up their street food stalls near the Burma Bazaar. I was directed to Broadway by my friend Thiagarajan Kumararaja, a Tamil film director who also told me about this street in North Chennai where one can find Burmese style noodles. Kauk Swe Thoke, a popular street food dish in Burma is basically round-thick noodles tossed with cabbage, gravy, fried onion and an assortment of condiments. Aha! That little spark was enough for me. Burmese style noodles in Chennai! I wasn't going to miss that for anything else in this world.I'd never gone to North Chennai before. And it took me a good hour and a half to figure that the Burmese style noodles called 'Atho' are available on a street by the name '2nd Line Beach road' which is parallel to Rajaji Salai. I found a vendor right at the entrance of the lane. My expectations were sky-high as Khao Swe was really popular. Here we have our own Burmese inspired noodles in our own backyard. Of which, so little is known. The first bite of the noodle salad and alas! I didn't know where to spit. The stuff looked really appetizing, but there was just too much cabbage stuffed with the noodles. I was extremely disappointed and politely paid the bill and moved on.
There were quite a few of these stalls. And each of them had 5 to 10 customers standing in front, tucking into a bowl full of hot noodles. I thought to myself there's got to be more to this, right? So I took help from a local person and asked him in my deeply-fractured Tamil "Anna Ingay best Burmese noodle where to find?" The guy took pity on me and pointed me to a noodle stall that wasn't in this lane but just off the parallel Rajaji Salai 'Avalada Best Taste' is what he told me. Hopes were a little higher now and I trudged on. I found this stall, which was slightly away from the rest and eventually I figured out why.
The stall is owned by a certain Abdul Aziz. His noodle preparations weren't particularly bad or particularly good, but they were definitely better that the rest. I still didn't get what the hype was all about though. It did cross my mind at that point, that a wee bit of shrimp paste would do wonders to this dish. But this was Indian street food after all and the dynamics were completely different. So I decided to also try the eggs he was offering. Boiled eggs were stacked one on top of the other with fried onion stuffed in them from the top.
Aziz bhai put an egg into the soup bowl, cut it up and added some flavoured oil to it. To that, he added salt water, tamarind extract and a bit of pounded red chilly. He then filled the bowl with a stew which tasted sort of like mutton or chicken but I couldn't really place the flavour. Then, Aziz bhai told me that it was vegetarian and made from banana stem. This came as a complete surprise and was something I would have never guessed.
So the soup had ginger, pepper, coconut and was flavoured with banana stem stock. I have to admit, the result was quite outstanding. I've never had anything like this on the streets of India. The noodles I thought were okay but the egg stew was very very special. Atho as a dish, grows on you. The locals of North Chennai love it and even queue up to eat this. It is truly unique and exceptional.
Address - Abdul Aziz stall's located in a lane in between Rajaji Salai and 2nd Line Beach road. Next to SBI ATM and opposite to Dass Camera Centre.
If you're worried about hygiene, then you might want to skip these street food joints. But if flavor is what you seek, then they're definitely worth a try.
About The Author:
Chowder Singh started blogging in November 2011 on Indian street food, small restaurants and hole-in-the-wall kind of places that in spite of producing brilliant quality food, are largely unrecognised outside of their localities. He believes that these are the real heroes of Indian food, who have been consistently putting out their family recipes over many years and now will hopefully get more recognition for the superb work that they've been doing.
More articles from Chowder Singh:
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