City beaches offer welcome respite from the toil and worries of life, and there is little that salty sea breeze and a walk on the sand will not uplift. If all else fails, there is always good food around! While Mumbai's Chowpatty has become a street-food legend, Chennai’s unique offerings have remained largely unsung. Which is a pity, because the unending golden sand along the Bay of Bengal offers delights hardly found anywhere else. Read on to find out what to eat on a Chennai beach.
Sundal and bajji on Marina Beach
Think of sundal as Chennai’s answer to the bhel puri. It can be broadly understood as a mix of boiled peas/peanuts, hing, fried mustard seeds, chillis, and freshly grated coconut. When in season, diced raw mango also adds a toothsome tang. It is nutritious and tasty finger food, which is a rare combination as far as snacks go. Best had off the sundal hawkers, with the Bay of Bengal lapping at your heels and curious little crabs giving you company.
It seems wherever you go in India, our love for deep-fried fritters never wanes. Chennai’s favourites are the raw banana and chilli bajji sold at pushcarts that line the entrance to the beach. The fritters here are plump and spongy, and it is a good idea to carry tissue papers along.
Fish fry at Besant Nagar Beach
This is a side of Chennai that many outsiders are seldom privy to – shacks dishing out fresh-from-the-Bay seafood fried to your liking, a stone’s throw away from the waves. Rows of spartan stalls right in the middle of Besant Nagar beach pop up after sunset to do just that. You take your pick from mackerel, snapper, shrimps or ladyfish and choose a masala. I recommend skipping the dodgy oil used for deep frying and getting your catch grilled on a tawa. Plonk yourself on the plastic chairs and devour the freshest seafood at around Rs 50 to 100 for a plate! My personal favourite is the baby soft-shell crab, which has a slight crunch around the sweet crabmeat. The stalls stay open till 10 pm.
Midnight Mor at Kottivakkam Beach
Chennai is known to be a sleepy town, and the beach patrols shoo way visitors after 11 pm. A few hang around on the promenade till midnight – seeking some peace and privacy – but, by and large, the city is asleep. Not at Kottivakkam beach though; a throng of people from all walks of life – students, couples, high rollers in their sleek cars – envelope a dainty old man on a cycle pushcart. He goes by the name Thatha Mor, the Buttermilk Uncle. His refreshing glass of spiced buttermilk (topped with slices of raw mango, toasted peanuts and boondi) is a massive hit, with people driving down from all over the city for a sip. This one-man show starts at 10 pm and goes on till past midnight.
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A self proclaimed food geek and coffee nerd, Amit Patnaik enjoys his time in the kitchen as much as he loves dining out. He runs the food blog Pursuit of Yummyness and contributes to The Hindu in Chennai.
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