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The Duniya Look: Chennai

The Duniya Look: Chennai

In this photography project on UrbanDuniya, we explore our four dynamic cities through their colours, faces and fashion. In a series of beautiful images, we capture the iconic look, the stunning locations and the sensual textures of the places we call home. We began last September with The Duniya Look: Lahore, celebrating Pakistan’s cultural capital, and continued in November with the urbane sensibility of The Duniya Look: Melbourne and then the alluring confidence of The Duniya Look: Sydney in January.

Today we complete our journey around the duniya, with the laid-back charm of Chennai, India’s southern metropolis; an overgrown collection of fishing villages strung along the Bay of Bengal. Chennai is a peaceful and friendly city of traders, workers and rickshaw-wallahs; a busy yet leisurely city filled with temples and traditions, with a modern history juxtaposed against one of the world’s oldest living civilisations. And in the end, it all comes back to the the long, languid beach at sunset.

Join us as we experience the subtle joys of this centre of Tamil culture, with Ananthi Rogini, Mazhar Ahamed, Aamir Suhail Khan and Tim Blight.

 

Idly central! Ratna Cafe in Chennai

Ratna Cafe

Idly is a small, fist size fermented rice cake popular with people across south India, but particularly in Chennai. Served with sambhar (mild lentil soup) and some spicy chutneys, it makes the perfect light meal. While they are aren’t easy to make at home, they can thankfully be purchased for a small cost in restaurants across the Tamil capital.

Idly Sambhar at Ratna Cafe (Photo: Mohammed Fazeel)

Idly Sambhar at Ratna Cafe (Photo: Mohammed Fazeel)

While there are many places one can sample the delights of idly sambhar, my personal favourite is Ratna Cafe, on Triplicane Road, Triplicane, new the corner with Pycrofts Road (Whites Road). Ratna’s standing in the Chennai culinary scene is confirmed by an article in Chennai’s The Hindu newspaper, tracing 66 years of culinary tradition.

Idly Sambhar at Ratna Cafe (Image: Happy Trips)

Idly Sambhar at Ratna Cafe (Image: Happy Trips)

The idlys are perfectly steamed, hot and squidgy as they should be. And the zesty sambhar is piping hot too – smothered all over the rice cakes, served on a banana leaf and accompanied by coconut and tomato chutney. The service is prompt but disinterested.

Pongol at Ratna Cafe (Image: Trip Advisor)

Pongol at Ratna Cafe (Image: Trip Advisor)

There are other things on the menu, like dosa, pongal and otthapam (all south Indian, all vegetarian of course), and Chennai-style brewed coffee is served, but people come here for the idly. Downstairs is the communal dining room, while upstairs is an air conditioned area. Make no mistake – this is not an upmarket option, by any stretch of the imagination. But for the true taste of idly sambhar, it’s one of Chennai’s most authentic, and best!

Ratna Cafe on Triplicane Road (Image: The Hindu)

Ratna Cafe on Triplicane Road (Image: The Hindu)

Details

Food: 9/10

Ambience: 5/10

Service: 7/10

Cost: INR 100 mains

255 Triplicane High Road, Triplicane

(044) 28487181

Daily: 7:30am – 10:30pm

Chennai marks ten years since tsunami destruction

Chennai is commemorating ten years since the day a wall of water came ashore at Marina Beach, killing over 130 people.

Memorial services are planned in Chennai, throughout Tamil Nadu, and around the Indian Ocean, including in Sri Lanka and the Maldives which were particularly hard hit.

Around 9:30am on 26th December 2004 waves of up to ten metres high smashed into Marina Beach in India’s fourth largest city. Some reports suggest that the waves were travelling at up to 100 kph. A Sydney Morning Herald report from the time, quoted a Brajita Poulose describing the scene as she strolled along the beach;

“”Behind me, suddenly, we saw a huge wave coming at us,’ Mrs Poulose said… Her husband, one son and four relatives were drowned, among at least 5697 dead in India”

Initial rescue operation after the first tsunami wave (Image: Kotowski, Wikimedia Commons)

Initial rescue operation after the first tsunami wave (Image: Kotowski, Wikimedia Commons)

The waves struck without warning, while fishermen were hauling their nets and locals played cricket on the expanse of sand. In various parts of Chennai the water surged kilometres inland from the coast, with the military called upon to rescue survivors.

The earthquake and resulting tsunami remains one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, with a toll of dead and missing people of over 230,000 people. The earthquake was the third strongest ever recorded with a seismograph, and the longest in terms of duration. Wikipedia records Indonesia as the hardest hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, then India.

The tsunami's destruction (Image: Wikipedia)

The tsunami’s destruction (Image: Kotoviski, Wikimedia Commons)

(Image: Matthew Mayer, Wikimedia Commons)

(Image: Matthew Mayer, Wikimedia Commons)

The road to recovery for Chennai and the state of Tamil Nadu has been a long and arduous one, and one which still continues today for many victims.

On this solemn day, UrbanDuniya extends our thoughts and prayers to those affected by, and who continue to be affected by, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami both in Chennai and around the world.

A tasteful pause for Japanese in Chennai: Teppan

Teppan Restaurant

(Image: Teppan, Facebook)

(Image: Teppan, Facebook)

The delicate flavours of Japanese cuisine are an acquired taste for many Chennai locals, but for those who dare, Teppan really hits the mark.

Teppan, on TTK Road above Benjarong Thai restaurant, is a delicious, small-scale Japanese retreat from the rat-race happening outside. From the moment you enter, you are in a different world – one where gentle smiles and time-honoured cooking techniques are blended with southern hospitality.

Yakitori at Teppan (Image: Teppan, Facebook)

Yakitori at Teppan (Image: Teppan, Facebook)

The whole gamut of Japanese signature dishes are here, and while you can dine a la carte, it’s really worth taking a seat at one of the Teppanyaki tables to have a banquet cooked in front of you.

Sashimi at Teppan (Image: Teppan, Facebook)

Sashimi at Teppan (Image: Teppan, Facebook)

Think inventive sushi rolls such as niku maki – salmon, avocado, and crabmeat rolled in rice and topped with partially charred beef – as well as the traditional options like shake maki (salmon roll) and of course that hybrid favourite Californian maki.

Niku Maki at Teppan (Image: Teppan, Facebook)

Niku Maki at Teppan (Image: Teppan, Facebook)

As can be expected, lots of fish is on the menu – sashimi, Norwegian salmon, and a seafood miso soup. Additionally, to have cooked at your table and served atop fried rice, the beef teriyaki comes highly recommended.

Dessert at Teppan (Image: Trip Advisor)

Dessert at Teppan (Image: Trip Advisor)

Western style desserts are offered in small bite-size portions – chocolate cake, creme brûlée, mango pudding; and are set out in a buffet for your choosing. Service is helpful but not overbearing or pushy – overall Teppan has a warm convivial atmosphere which feels somewhat like a parallel universe to the chaos unfolding on the street far below.

Traditional Japanese lunchbox or "Bento Box" at Teppan (Image: Teppan, Facebook)

Traditional Japanese lunchbox or “Bento Box” at Teppan (Image: Teppan, Facebook)

Details

Food: 9/10

Ambience: 8/10

Service: 8/10

Cost: Three courses should cost around INR 1,200 per head

Level 1, 146, TTK Road, Alwarpet, Chennai

(044) 3221 6635

www.facebook.com/TeppanGrillAndSushiBar

Daily: 12:15pm – 3pm, 7:15pm – 11pm

With eTramping: Chennai for under $25 a day!

Chennai Marina Beach

Chennai’s Marina Beach 

 

Chennai

What better way to celebrate Chennai’s naming as one of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Cities for 2015!

After our successful post showing the world how to experience Lahore, Pakistan for less than $25 a day, we’re back with another guest post on eTramping.com! This time, we’re exploring the capital of south India, Chennai, for less than $25 a day!

Agness and Cez from eTramping.com are committed to experiencing the world as ‘tramps’; that is, living on the road for less than $25 a day (and, at a stretch, less than $10 a day!). Come along with us to Chennai as we continue our bargain basement tour of the duniya!

Sri Kapleeshwarar Temple

Sri Kapleeshwarar Temple, Chennai

Benjarong Chennai’s authentic Thai flair

Benjarong Chennai

Thai food might be behind Chinese in the popularity stakes in India, but it’s no longer the rarity that it once was. Proof that Thai food has truly arrived in Chennai is to be found at Benjarong, part of a range of restaurants by Oriental Cuisines which also brings Japanese Teppanyaki and a French boulangerie to TTK Road in Alwarpet.

Benjarong Chennai (Image: Facebook)

Benjarong Chennai (Image: Facebook)

Many first timers of Thai cuisine, especially those with no prior knowledge of it, are surprised at its difference from Chinese food. Lighter and livelier in taste, with a wide range of curries, soups and salads, it could instantly become your favourite at Benjarong where the dishes are rendered faithful to the original recipe.

Tom Yum Goong at Benjarong (Image: Facebook)

Tom Yum Goong at Benjarong (Image: Facebook)

The Tom Yum Goong (prawn soup) is tinglingly spicy and thoroughly warming yet coconut cool at the same time. The Kaeng Ped Gai (chicken red curry) is perfectly balanced between savoury vegetable notes and sweet, almost fruity, creamy gravy. Served with rice, the red curry can also be done with prawns or red snapper fish – a mouthwatering dish which well deserves the status of signature dish.

Red Curry at Benjarong (Image: Facebook)

Red Curry at Benjarong (Image: Facebook)

Service is typical of this type of upper mid-range independent restaurant; initially formal but surprisingly (and refreshingly) relaxed as the meal goes on. Stuffy it isn’t, but nor are waiters hovering like they often are in top-end hotel restaurants.

Pad Thai at Benjarong (Image: Facebook)

Pad Thai at Benjarong (Image: Facebook)

Yellow, green and Massaman (Thai Muslim-style) curries are also on offer, along with the stock standard Pad Thai – the best Thai-style fried noodles I’ve tasted in Chennai! The spicy Som Tam (papaya salad) is another one worth trying, while keep an open mind for dessert, because the Khao Niew Mamuang (sweetened sticky rice with fresh sliced mango) is about as Thai as it comes. Wash it all down with coconut water, and you’ll see why people fall in love with this cuisine.

Sticky rice with mango at Benjarong (Image: Facebook)

Sticky rice with mango at Benjarong (Image: Facebook)

If you’re trying Thai food for the first time, come to Benjarong with an open mind and a big appetite. And if you’re a long-time fan of Thai, welcome home.

Papaya Salad at Benjarong (Image: Facebook)

Papaya Salad at Benjarong (Image: Facebook)

 

Details

Food: 8/10

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Cost: Three courses should cost around INR 1,200 per head, depending on what you order

146, TTK Road, Alwarpet, Chennai

(044) 2432 2640

www.facebook.com/BenjarongRestaurants

Daily: 12:15pm – 3pm, 7:15pm – 11pm

Stix offers a change from the Chennai Chinese routine

Stix Chennai (Image: Hyatt)

Stix Chennai (Image: Hyatt)

Stix

Although it has been quite some time since I last visited here, reviews suggest that nothing has changed; Stix offers a different, quality kind of Chinese dinner in India’s southern city.

 

Fried noodles at Stix (Image: Trip Advisor / Hyatt)

Fried noodles at Stix (Image: Trip Advisor / Hyatt)

Opened in 2011 in the then new Hyatt Regency Chennai, the sleek yet warm Asian-inspired decor was instantly impressive. The restaurant is centred around the kitchen, when is open for all to watch the chefs prepare the delicious eastern flavours. It’s reminiscent of a Singaporean hawker market, albeit with a very posh spin.

 

Sichuan Chilli Chicken at Stix (Image: Trip Advisor / Hyatt)

Sichuan Chilli Chicken at Stix (Image: Trip Advisor / Hyatt)

The food is satisfyingly authentic, and although there are a couple of desi influences, on the whole this is the real deal. In fact, the food might be a bit too authentic for some more conservative palates; don’t come here looking for Chicken Manchurian. Think Sichuan-style chilli chicken, dumplings, stir-fried beef with celery, and Asian-style fruit-based desserts (mango pudding, or steamed pear with date and honey, anyone?). There’s also green tea cheesecake!

 

Prawn dumplings at Stix (Image: Trip Advisor / Hyatt)

Prawn dumplings at Stix (Image: Trip Advisor / Hyatt)

The service is faultless too, and when you’re done, you can take a wander around the lovely lobby at the Hyatt and maybe stop by the coffee shop for a second round of dessert.

 

Sleek decor at Stix (Image: Trip Advisor / Hyatt)

Sleek decor at Stix (Image: Trip Advisor / Hyatt)

Details

Food: 8/10

Ambience: 9/10

Service: 9/10

Cost: Mains INR 450 – 750

Hyatt Regency, 365 Anna Salai, Teynampet, Chennai

(044) 98 44 61001234

chennai.regency.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/Stix.html

Monday – Sunday: 12:30pm – 3pm, 6pm – 11:30pm

Chennai welcomes Tamil New Year

Rangoli at the front of a Chennai house for Puthandu

Rangoli at the front of a Chennai house for Puthandu

Monday 14th April marks the start of a new year in several parts of Asia, as the traditional solar calendar ticks over. Tamil New Year, known in the Tamil language as Puthandu, will be celebrated in Chennai and across the state of Tamil Nadu, as well as by Tamil populations in Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Australia and around the world. The Tamil calendar differs from the Gregorian or Western calendar, in that it recognises 60-year cycles instead of an ongoing ‘counting-up’ of years. As such, today marks the first day of ‘Kaliyuga 5116’.

The first mango crop of the season in Chennai

The first mango crop of the season in Chennai

Tamil Nadu holds a public holiday on Tamil New Year, with citizens celebrating by decorating their houses and hosting large feasts for lunch. The Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, arguably the cultural heart of the Tamil community, hosts a large celebration, while other towns display their first mango crop for the season. Money is often given as a gift from elders to the youth, while others clean their houses to symbolise a fresh start and renewal of family ties. The start of the Tamil Year also coincides with the onset of summer, and rural areas may also celebrate with the first harvest of the new season. Two weeks from now the hottest season will be at its height in India’s hottest state, with the beginning of Kathiri Veyyilor the ‘fire star season’, when temperatures exceed 42°C on a daily basis.

Sri Meenakshi temple towers over Madurai

Sri Meenakshi temple towers over Madurai

Tamil New Year falls at the beginning of the Hindu calendar, and as such it also coincides with the celebration of traditional new years in other cultures which are influenced by Hindu civilisation. In India, the states of Assam, Kerala, Odisha, Punjab, Tripura, Manipur and Rajasthan all celebrate their New Years’ Days today, while Hindus and Muslims from both Poshchim Bongo (West Bengal) and Bangladesh will mark the occasion. Sri Lanka shuts down today for the celebration of the new year, recognised by both the majority Buddhist Sinhalese population and the minority Hindu Tamils. Countries formerly ruled by, or influenced by Indian civilisation also host large celebrations, and the day is a public holiday in Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Nepal.

UrbanDuniya wishes its readers Puthandu Vazthukal (happy new year), with many healthy and prosperous days ahead!

The Chennai Kitchen; Madras Pavilion at ITC Gardenia

Madras Pavilion (Image: ITC Hotels)

Madras Pavilion (Image: ITC Hotels)

Madras Pavilion

The Madras Pavilion in Chennai was a welcome addition to Chennai’s buffet food scene when it opened in late 2012; a range of food from across India, and pleasant, posh, contemporary (but not stuffy) surroundings.

Dum Biryani at the Madras Pavilion

Dum Biryani at the Madras Pavilion

On offer are northern favourites like real dum biryani and palak gosht, a handful of western continental options like ravioli and grilled chicken, and one or two okay Asian dishes. What’s great about this place is the availability of meat for us carnivores, especially in the southern metropolis. Non-meat eaters aren’t left wanting however, with a tasty collection of vegetarian options both Indian and continental.

The Penta Kitchen bar is a highlight, celebrating the cuisine of the five southern states (Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Andhra Pradesh and of course Tamil Nadu). Chettinad Chicken was available each time we visited, along with interesting prawn dishes from the west coast, and beef choices from Goa.

Bread Station at Madras Pavilion (Image: Zomato, Khishore Selvanathan)

Bread Station at Madras Pavilion (Image: Zomato, Khishore Selvanathan)

Last but not least of course is dessert, and the small but diverse dessert bar is laden with chocolate brownies, mousse, pannacotta and fruity concoctions – the perfect end. Like with all buffets, the Madras Pavilion is about choices, and choices it provides!

 

Dessert Counter at Madras Pavilion during a special Christmas Lunch (Image: Trip Advisor, Dr Ambrose)

Dessert Counter at Madras Pavilion during a special Christmas Lunch (Image: Trip Advisor, Dr Ambrose)

Details

Food: 6/10

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 8/10

Cost: Rs. 1900 – Rs. 2100

ITC Grand Chola, 63 Mount Road, Guindy, Chennai

(044) 49065272

www.itchotels.in/Hotels/itcgrandchola/madras-pavilion-restaurant

Monday – Saturday: 6:30am – 10:30am; 12:30pm – 2:45pm; 7:00pm – 11:30pm

Sunday: As above, but with an extended special lunch buffet 12:30pm – 3:30pm

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Chinese New Year ushers in the year of the horse

Chinese New Year in Beijing (Image: Daily Mail)

Chinese New Year in Beijing (Image: Daily Mail)

Today is the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar year, with Chinese communities welcoming the new year around the world at midnight last night.

In the 12-year cycle, this year is the year of the horse, while last was the year of the snake. According to a report by the ABC, Hudson Chen from the Australian Chinese Charity Foundation called the year of the horse a romantic time. Mr Chen also said that people born in the year of the horse have healthy characteristics, but can be stubborn. Previous years of the horse include 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990 and 2002.

The new year festival is celebrated with gusto in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, along with countries with a significant Chinese population, including Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Crackers and fireworks are popular, creating noise to ward off evil spirits, while red envelopes containing gifts of money are exchanged between family members.

Chinese New Year in Melbourne's Chinatown (Image: The Age)

Chinese New Year in Melbourne’s Chinatown (Image: The Age)

Chinatowns in Melbourne and Sydney will come alive today and across the weekend with lanterns, market stalls, shopping opportunities, delicious banquets and cultural displays. Melbourne will host a 100-metre long dragon in Docklands, while Chinatown will have other cultural displays, and Southbank will host its normal food and craft stalls. Sydney meanwhile will host a two-week festival featuring dragon boat races, and lion dances, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Chinese New Year in Sydney (Image: SydneyChineseNewYear.com)

Chinese New Year in Sydney (Image: SydneyChineseNewYear.com)

The small Chinese community in Lahore is expected to celebrate the lunar new year with private parties or in Chinese restaurants, while in Chennai, Chinese restaurants are predicting a busy day with the city’s large number of Chinese expatriate workers.

For more information about Melbourne and Sydney events, go to ChineseNewYear.com.au. All are welcome to attend and join in the festivities.

UrbanDuniya wishes all our Chinese readers, and anyone else celebrating, a happy, joyous and prosperous new year. 恭喜发财!!