FOODIES DAY OUT
ONLY TOUR FOR AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE
Madurai is one of the many temple towns in the state which is named after the groves, clusters or forests dominated by a particular variety of a tree or shrub and the same variety of tree or shrub sheltering the presiding deity. The city is referred by various names including "Madurai", "Koodal", "Malligai Maanagar", "Naanmadakoodal" and "Thirualavai". The word Madurai may be derived from Madhura (sweetness), arising out of the divine nectar showered on the city by the Hindu God Siva from his matted hair. Another theory is that Madurai is the derivative of the word Marutham, which refers to the type of landscape of the Sangam age. The city definitely showing modernization in everything is still the fulcrum in terms of Tamil tradition due to the Pandiya Dynasty and their rich heritage and traditional values. The city during my visit showed a lot of drastic changes but still a strong dosage of regional influence due to its rich traditional values.
A city with such rich heritage and traditions to be in awe off should definitely transpire and showcase a rich culinary and gastronomical experience deeply engraved within their culture. Any city that has got such rich history is hard to explore for outsiders unless you are an expert of travel or simple enough, get in touch with the local experts. Well, we took the later easy part and for me it was still easier to reach out to @FoodiesDayOut - a team of dedicated foodie souls running customized food tours in Madurai and one among them is my close college classmate Mr. Athideera Pandian, who also helms a lot of other responsibilities as a businessman, busy father and what not. So he has been insisting me to visit Madurai and they will show around and I was like, why delay it when its got food and that too my own regional one. All we had to do was to reach out to him and the Bossman he is, got it all stitched together with nothing to do from our side.
Foodies Day Out (https://www.foodiesdayout.com/) run by passionate people is customized food tour company who don't believe in just showing places to eat but engulf your whole tour experience with rich information (only locals would know), get you into street stalls (where otherwise you would need to stand for a table), hidden gems in every nook n corner within the city (which otherwise even google maps might betray you). Such is the groundwork they have done and still stay as humble hosts next to you with all smiles all day long. This team encompasses close buddies - Mr. Athideera Pandian, Mrs. Dr. Mythily Pandian, Mr. Mukunthan, Mrs. Praveena Mukunthan, and Mr. Soundar. The Fantastic Five does give you a homely up-close experience than just food and its marvel in this Thoonga Nagaram (The city that never sleeps) well literally. I can say this with utmost conviction post experiencing their tour and experience, Madurai folks out kill anybody in their hospitality Take that!!!!
Day #1, we landed in the airport and reached our hotel late night but the Foodies Day out team in its entirety was present to welcome us and they immediately escorted for dinner to "Madurai Bun Parotta" kadai who are known for their milk-used bun parotta, soft and fluffy, unlike the regular Madurai parottas. We also tried their signatures like bun parotta kothu, Pichu pota kozhi along with their delicious salna and chicken curry. Vadiyal was also available (another form of kalaki with more onions ). If eating and relishing them was one kind of experience, watching master make it was whole another vibe being a foodie. Such are the places you need to visit to appreciate any city's or region's food traditions and making techniques.
Day #2, We started off with their day tour and Mr. Soundar picked us up promptly from our hotel and we headed to the quintessential primo spot, Lord Meenakshi Temple which you can't or shouldn't miss. As we got down and walk past the temple, Soundar explained about the nit-bits of this temple and also how it has evolved to be an identity of the city and also the modernization effects in the last decade. With rich heritage feeding our ears, we headed into "Murugan Idly Shop" which is iconic for their traditional and authentic south Indian tiffins. We started off with their Ghee podi idly served with 4 different types of chutneys (each one was killer) on a traditional banana leaf which makes the whole experience as regional as it gets. Also, we had their signature butter onion uthappam which was pure bliss. Next, we headed to a 70-yr old iconic coffee shop at the premises of the temple called Visalam Cafe. Filter kaapi here is made with their in-house coffee powder and palm jaggery instead of sugar. The whole making process is 2 mins but the first sip engulfs you with their 7-yrs old traditional flavors infused into that single Kaapi glass. Each sip takes through you pure bliss. Words cannot describe and you better taste it. To beat the heat, we then headed to another local favorite spot selling "Ilaneer Sarbath". Nannai Sarbath made with nannari roots which hold a lot of cooling and medicinal values. This is being used in making sarbath throughout the city which people drink a lot to quench their summer thirsts. This one was special with coconut water and chilled tender coconut malai chunks infused within the sarbath essence and served super chill. A summer killer and is a must-have when you are here. The morning tour ends with a summery punch to be precise.
After a hot and summery morning tour, we went back to the hotel took rest and then got picked up back for their longer evening food tour which I was so excited for many reasons. Read till the end and you will know why :P
First, we went to Prema Vilas to try their signature hot and super fresh "Wheat Halwa", damn crowded in the buzzy area, they are smart to sell a single bite size for just 14 INR and I felt it was totally worth it as we ended up eating between 2 people. The softness and the rich glaze from the ghee and the warmth texture coating your upper mouth and stickiness that you want to linger lifetime, this one is to die for. Try their other halwa and savory offerings which seem to be a quite a local favorite. We then went to another legendary and much talked about "Burma Idiyappa Kadai". This one sells just 3 variants of Idiayappam and nothing else still attracts locals like anything. They do plain idiyappam (served with coconut milk or savory tomato chutney) and ragi variant as well. We tried both sweet and savory variants of the plain Idiyappams and I personally loved the savory one. The tangy tomato chutney was super simple and strong that with the idiyappam it just went in a jiffy in our tummies. The sweet one was regular nothing too fancy about it.
We then had something very very unique street food that you don't get to see in normal walks of life but yet has so many nutritional values - "Thennanguruthu - coconut stem" - Thennai means coconut and Kuruthu mean tender. It has a lot of medicinal value. Thennanguruthu grows on the top of the tree. If not cut from the free, it breaks open to become flowers and then forms tender coconut. This was one of a kind taste more like eating raw coconut in its ripened state but considering health benefits, you might want to try it. Next, we tried adirasam (made with flour, jaggery) my regional favorite and you just got to have it right (warm and fresh). AS it went to be. too vegetarian, the meat guy. in me sounded "Ahem..Ahem". Heeding to it, Sounder took us to this gully type road to "Ashok Mutton Stall" By the crowd waiting for the dishes and the master making kothu parotta in that volume, you could already guess, this is going to be epic and a legendary place already. Praveena from Foodies Day Out joined us for this place and they ordered all the specials. We then got a small table to accommodate ourselves right opposite to the place on priority and food started coming in. Mutton Ceylon Parotta (mutton kheema stuffed inside Ceylon parotta), mutton sukka (dry mutton chunks marinated in gingely and groundnut oil for hours) - almost pickle flavors and the regular parottas with salna. Everything was so soulful and mainly the parottas were simply the best we had on this tour. We gulped almost everything in minutes but then wanted to try more. Alerting of 2 more spots in our tour, Praveena and Soundar kidnapped us to our next stop.
Next was technically our last food stop and then to the Finale of the evening which I was super excited for. We then reached Simmakal famous "KONAR KADAI" who are known for their famous mutton delicacies and bound to make something delicious out of every part of sheep/goat. Deeran, Mythily, and Mukunthan (reminder of Foodies Day out team) also joined us here for dinner. We took a tour inside the kitchen to see the making process. The process is quite simple but the rhythm and the flow by which they make it and the harmony n the kitchen is evident to let you know, its not everyone's cup of tea. We then ordered their famous and signature dish "KARI DOSAI". Normal dosa batter is poured on the stove, pre-made half cooked mutton gravy is tossed into it and mixed well and brought back to uthappam shape and then once its half cooked, shredded mutton chunks are sprinkled over it with a heavy dose of oil. It's then cooked on the toppings side much more to get the crispy muttony texture on it. Finally after 5 mins, tada "KARI DOSA" is ready for you. After one bite, we would relish the hype behind it. DONT MISS IT that's all I got to say. The summer torture was in the evenings as well and so we tried local paneer soda which is made out of rose water and was a perfect thirst quencher for me (try their local brand and it's addictive).
Our last pit stop of the Foodies Day out tour had to be the legendary one which has made Madurai get featured in lots of times in media and one drink that has got its trademark well marked in the city of temples. Yes, we then went to try their ever "JIGARTHANDA". On inquiry, the team said fakes have grown multifold teasing customers that they have got the recipe of the original Jigarthanda from Famous brand and you could see one in every nook and corner of the city which kind of threw me out. But then the original brand "FAMOUS" has claimed copyright of it and has named their drink as "FAMOUS JIGARTHANDA". So we went to their new outlet, where I ordered the special Jigarthanda. Its made in a jiffy as making seems to be just adding 5 ingredients in a sequence. But the whole integration works only from the original and homemade ingredients of theirs. It's not the making but the ingredients that create this unique flavor. They also have normal jigarthanda and seeing their take away options, I could imagine locals may end up eating this every day. I did hear from the foodies day out team that they also frequent this drink many times on a week which made the hype even more to me. I tasted one scoop of it and it frankly was a mixed feeling. Then as I scooped in, I could feel the ingredients - their homemade ice cream, the malai scoop, kadal paasi (more often they now use almond resin) and chia seeds. Its got a very unique taste that even if you ask any local, would be tough to explain or correlate. All I could understand is "JIGARTHANDA IS MORE THAN A DRINK. ITS AN EMOTION FOR MADURAI" and that's about it. My Hyderabad foodie friends weren't much craze of it but I personally can have that drink on a daily basis at just 50 INR. But don't fall for the dups and only try "Famous Jigarthanda" who now have many outlets spanned across the city.