Sunday, July 21, 2024

Try wholesome and pocket-friendly Bengali food at these messes in Chennai

A special thali meal

A special thali meal
| Photo Credit: Srinath M

It is 11am and TS Kolkata Mess is waking up from a slumber that resembles the unhurried countenance of Kolkata. This, however, is Greams Road, Chennai – where a line of humble eateries serving home-style Bengali food dots the sidewalk opposite Apollo Hospital.  

Kailash Chandra Das, the owner of the mess, is from Odisha and speaks to his clients in crisp Bangla. “Many Bengalis come to the nearby hospital for treatment, and there is a demand for home-style meals ,” says Kailash. 

An array of munchies

An array of munchies
| Photo Credit:
Srinath M

As he speaks, one of his clients hollers: “Second batch maach kothay? ” (Where is the second refill of fish?) 

The eatery was started almost 10 years ago. “Bengalis and Odias are the same for me. Like family,” he chuckles. The mess opens at 10am and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is devoid of a physical menu card, Kailash rattles way the names of dishes like a rapper.  

A customer saunters in with a hospital file in hand, asking for the lunch menu. To this, he quickly responds, “Sabzi bhaat (rice and vegetables), mach bhat (fish and rice), dim bhat (egg and rice), mangso (chicken), rui (Rohu fish), bhola (Barramundi fish), telapia (St Peter’s Fish), chingri (prawn), aila (Indian mackerel), pabda (Catfish), and tangra (small catfish).”

Fresh meals being served with unlimited refills

Fresh meals being served with unlimited refills
| Photo Credit:
Srinath M

The fish is sourced from the local market. “We serve freshwater fish because Bengalis relish it. Our fish meals are priced between ₹ 50-100 which makes it budget-friendly too,” says Kailash.  

Kailash’s mess rubs shoulders with SS Anachi Mess – another eatery serving bengali thalis through the day. Saroj Kumar Das, the manager from Odisha, says, “Most of our customers come from Bengal, Assam, Guwahati, Tripura and Bangladesh. Our hot-seller is the vegetarian thali priced at ₹80. It comprises rice, dal, a vegetable-based preparation and chutney. Most customers opt for this with an accompaniment of fish or chicken.” 

Rita Basak, a software professional from Kolkata, is at the mess along with her five-year-old son Dipayan. As they wait for their meal of rice and katla machh, Rita tells us, “Ive come to Chennai for my son’s treatment. Since he is on antibiotics, I want to offer him a homely meal.” 

Sudipto Chattoraj stands outside on the sidewalk, attending calls on his phone. A marketing professional at Apollo, Sudipto has been running New Bengal Mess for the last ten years. He comes to the mess for meals in between his busy schedule. “I noticed the lack of bengali restaurants serving nutritious meals in the region, and hence started this mess,” adds Sudipto.

The rickety tables and the soot mottled walls are not disenchanting. For, they live on like a parenthesis that holds the aroma of the famed  machher jhol (fish gravy), the humble chicken curry and plates overflowing with warm bhaat (rice) within it.  

Ingredients are sourced from Chintadripet, Chingaripet and Vanagram markets. All meals are prepared fresh with little or no wastage – a practice that has enabled the messes to hold on to their steady and growing stream of customers.  

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