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Have only one day to soak in the sights, sounds and taste of Chennai? No problem. We have got you covered!
Sunrise: If possible, try to begin your day early and catch daybreak over the Bay of Bengal. Chennai is at its calmest (also coolest) best, and you will not be the only one waking up to this great sight. Walk along the promenade on Marina Beach, and head to one of the many stalls selling a little known Chennai breakfast apart from a bouquet of health elixirs. Koozh is a cold congee made from rice gruel and ragi, served with an optional size of salty butter, chillies, pickle, chutney and raw onions. A jug of koozh is nourishing and gently wakes your digestive system for the day of feasting ahead.
Breakfast: As far culinary stereotypes ago, Chennai shall always be the idli-dosa capital of the world. Well, you bet! You have a wide array of options to experience the incomparable joy of a South Indian vegetarian breakfast. Hardcore foodies should seek out legendary city messes, which are well worth the trek, Rayar’s Mess in Mylapore serves Chennai’s best vada and pongal while Karpagambal Mess nearby is known for it is fenugreek dosas. Geetha Cafe of Triplicane and Welcome Hotel in Purusawalkam are for the sambhar aficionados. If you would rather stick to a Tiffin Centre chain for convenience’ sake, then take your pick from Sarvana Bhavan, Vasantha Bhavan or Sangeetha. However, for idlis, head straight to Murugan Idli. Premium destinations offering a great Chennai breakfast experience include New Woodlands Hotel and the upmarket Madras Pavilion at ITC Grand Chola.
While away from your leisurely morning as you please – shop for silk sarees in Pondy Bazar or browse through the fascinating Egmore Museum. Chennai, whilst not as celebrated as Mumbai or Kolkata, is a history buff’s paradise. Get an insight into inception of the Raj at Fort St. George and feel free to wander through fast evolving landmarks on Mount Road, such as the Higginbotham’s Book Store or Spencer’s Plaza. Step into Verandah at the Taj Connemara for a cup of coffee as the gentry might have done in the 19th Century.
Lunch: This may come as a surprise to some of you, but if there is one dish to warm that will doubtlessly warm cockles of a Madrasi heart – then it is the biryani. Whilst not a culinary ambassador like its Kolkata or Hyderabad cousins, Chennai’s biryanis have tales and legends of their own. Most marketable is perhaps the Dindigul Biryani at Thalpakattu with outlets across the city. Another popular option would be the milder ambur biryani from Star Biryani. What is remarkable about these biryanis is that they use a smaller variety of rice, called the seeraga samba. It is hard to leave out Buhari on any Chennai biryani list, and if you head to their Mount Road branch do partake in chicken 65 at its alleged birthplace.
Nap away the scorching afternoons and wake up before sunset to catch a magnificent view of the city from the Marina Beach lighthouse. Evenings are synonymous with bajjis and sundal in Chennai and you shall find them at every nook and corner. Popular spots include the stalls at Elliots beach in Besant Nagar and Jannal Kadai at Mylapore.
Dinner: Last meal of the day, let us make it memorable! If you are non vegetarian, then a trip to the city’s legendary Chettinad restaurants such as Anjappar or humbler eateries such as Kumaravel Mess is well worth it. A great alternative is the Kongunadu fare, which is what Chennaites prefer, at Junior Kuppanna. For a truly exquisite experience, head to Chennai’s famed South Indian fine dining institutions – Southern Spice at Taj Coromandel and Dakshin at Crowne Plaza and order their thalis.
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.