Of Sambhars and buckets

When Rathna Cafe, the famous Triplicane based eatery, opened a branch in T Nagar several months ago, it created a flutter in my family. Suddenly the usually calm elders of the family all got excited. It appeared that every one of them had a story to share – about fluffy hot idlis served with piping hot sambhar (“fusht klash” theriyuma It was first class you know), delicious vadai dipped in sambhar, pongal dripping in ghee and accompanied by sambhar and so on. I noticed that sambhar kept recurring in all their stories.

Not one to let go of an opportunity to know, I asked the eldest to tell me more. He said that Rathna Cafe used to serve unlimited sambhar, the then equivalent of bottomless Coke, along with every South Indian tiffin item. And then came the icing, “the server walked around with the sambhar bucket and he poured it out on our leaf with a steel mug” added Grandpa. Steel mug and sambhar in a bucket? Since I had never managed a visit to the original Rathna Cafe, I decided that the new one in T Nagar had to be visited and the sight of the bottomless sambhar matched with the one in my imagination.

A few of us went about a week after the new place opened. In all eagerness, I ordered the dish that had the best opportunity for sambhar refills – sambhar vadai. True to its name, the dish arrived with a huge vadai floating in a plate brimming with sambhar, one hasty movement of the plate and you could turn into a South Indian item in sambhar yourself. Curiosity being a strange animal, I ignored the vadai and spooned down enough sambhar to wave at the waiter for a refill. Finally, the waiter marched towards me carrying a steel mug! Not as big as I had imagined, but a mug and a steel one too! No sign of that legendary bucket but yes, the steel mug. It was true after all. Rathna Cafe serves sambhar using a steel mug. The sambhar lived up to its legend too. The heavenly taste of the thick dal and tamarind, suitably enriched by the succulent vadai and the tantalizing dollop of ghee…Mmm..it was a tasty meal.

I returned home after that meal and dutifully updated the excited souls that the legendary restaurant did serve good sambhar. My admission was dismissed with a “Adhudhan theriyume. Fusht klash sambhar” (Obviously. The sambhar is first class). After a few seconds, grandpa did ask, “bucket irukka innum?” (do they still serve it from a bucket?). Ah, what would I give to know that!

16 Comments so far

  1. Sushil J. Cherian (unregistered) on March 28th, 2006 @ 7:56 pm

    Very good post. Am hungry now and want that mouth watering sambhar vadai !!!

  2. Ravages (unregistered) on March 28th, 2006 @ 9:27 pm

    Another place that does the same routine – Udipi Welcome in Purasaiwalkam. They have (or had – been a while now) the best breakfast order

    3 piping hot idlys, buckets and buckets of sambar, one vadai for 15 rupees. And heavenly. Awesome to the power 4

  3. SamY (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 12:25 am

    ha ha no dish on earth can beat sambar-vadai … esp vadai not soaked for too long … just a lil bit more than the crust … but I like it best when seasoned with grated onions * SLURP *

  4. Lazy Geek (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 12:28 am

    Wherever there is sambhar, there is me. I love ratna cafe and yeah CC, I live in purasawalkam for almost 17 years.

    Welcome hotel has probably the second best sambar bucket. first one around the place was Sri Ramas Cafe.

  5. veda (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 1:25 am

    wow….I am already missing these stuff, being away from my home..I used to enjoy this when i stayed in triplicane 5 yrs back.. your post increased my craving…

  6. adityaramani (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 1:34 am

    Interesting blog! Nice to read all this stuff about chennai. I am linking to it!

  7. venkatesh (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 1:52 am

    eventhough i never been at ratna cafe… coimbatore’s annapoorna sambar vadai/idli reminds me now… ur blog makes me hungry but where i can get good sambar here in canada?

  8. Sriram (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 4:49 am

    My brother is a big fan of the Triplicane Rathna Cafe, though I have never had a chance to eat there. Your post reminds me of the Idlis served with 5 different chutneys and sambhar served at Murugan Idli Shop.

  9. bharat (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 5:09 am

    The best part is the way the perusus pronounce “cafe” like kaif. Then the regulars, A-claash, amirdham etc. My Dad is very fond of the place and the few times we’ve gone, i’ve seen him get excited like a 20 year old. memories….

  10. Lavanya (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 7:53 am

    @Ravages & LazyGeek: Talking about Purasawalkam, my favourite place used to be Hotel Silver Star (I think it was renamed Hotel Ramaprabha or something later) opposite the Waikiki Complex. Their speciality was watery coconut chutney. Every table would have a container full of this yummy chutney. Their idlis were very good too.

    @Venkatesh: Coimbatore Annapoorna – in a league of its own! Their Masala Dosas are awesome.

    @Bharat: A whole generation peaked on Rathna Cafe didn’t it? :)

    @Sushil, Samy, Veda, Aditya, Sriram: thanks :)

  11. guruprasad (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 9:17 am

    Me as a born and brought up in Triplicane lad, is traditionally hooked on to Rathna Cafe. At Rathna Cafe, the following items are prominent: idly sambhar, poori sagu, masala dosai. The main idea of rathna cafe is to baffle you in a whole load of sambhar. As a true saapaatturaman, I can certify that rathna cafe sambhar has got a taste that is not seen elsewhere. While Saravana Bhavan sambhar will scale up to taste quality of Rathna Cafe, both are different in their taste. slurpp…lots has been said, let me go to Rathna Cafe on Triplicane HIgh Road, and one vettu vettufy a idly sambhar. bye.

  12. F e r r a r i (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 10:57 am

    Nostalgic :-) 7 years back, I was working in a browsing centre at TP Kovil street. I used to visit Rathna Cafe everyday evening.

    And the T Nagar outlet is a boon for people who cant go all the way till Triplicane.

    BTW, have you tasted the badam halwa at mylai karpagambaL mess?

  13. Lavanya (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 3:24 pm

    @Ferrari: Mylai Karpagambal Mess – now that is again a qualifier for an adjective overdose :) Yeah, like their badam halwa. But prefer their thengai poli.

  14. Raji (unregistered) on April 1st, 2006 @ 5:00 pm

    Talking about Rathna cafe, let me share the interesting incident. I,fil,mil and my husband went to Rathna cafe and I was extremely excited as my fil told me that the idlis and the bottomless sambar would be extremely delicious. I have always been a fan of hotel sambar right from my childhood and I always used to ask for an additional cup whenever i go to the hotel. After we had those idlis with the sambar being served in those big mugs, my fil was having the feeling that the sambar was not tasting the same as the one that used to be served in triplicane. So while paying the bill, he went to the cashier as he was too curious to know the reason. But to our surprise, we came to know that the T.Nagar Rathna Cafe is a franchise and that it gets the sambar from Triplicane Rathna Cafe only. Mil,my husband and I laughed as we thought that whatever be it, people still feel the difference when the place changes. However my fil is still not convinced abt the whole thing and he keeps telling till date that Triplicane Rathna cafe is the best.

  15. babu (unregistered) on April 4th, 2006 @ 6:11 am

    live in manchester england for the last 20 years reading this makes my mouth water :(

  16. Lavanya (unregistered) on April 4th, 2006 @ 9:32 am

    @Raji – ha ha – amazing that your FIL was able to spot a seeming difference in taste!

    @Babu – maybe a trip to Chennai will help :)

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