An evening in the heart of Chennai’s temple town, Mylapore. I walk out of the Kapali temple with a friend, cross Rasi (after pausing to admire the gorgeous silks on window display) and head purposefully to Karpagambal Mess. Outside, a blackboard with the day’s ‘specials’ – Ghee Rava Pongal and Ghee Bombay Rasapuri. And several other nei (ghee) dishes that sincerely promise to clog your arteries.
As you enter, first the gleaming packets of badam halwa and palkhoa on the cash counter and to the left, the aforementioned Bombay Rasapuri. The smell of ghee and sugar wafting in the air and the sound of feeble protests from the employees when we whip out our cellphone for photographs. Welcome to the Mylai Sri Karpagambal Mess, established circa 1953 and still patronized by Chennai’s mamas and mamis with a taste for the real stuff – keerai vadai, adai, rava khichdi and the more newfangled rasapuri type sweets. I am told the breakfast, especially the pongal is to die for. Also the thengai poli which appear and disappear within minutes some time in the late morning.
There is now a small AC room which we choose over the more democratic sit-where-you-find-space tables in the mail hall. But then, what do we know? And then, the mini orgy begins, the waiter looking at me disapprovingly when I firmly say, “podi dosai but no nei” ending with lukewarm (the only disappointment) filter coffee in steel tumblers.
But there is no escaping its laidback charm – the large well-lit paintings of the gods and goddesses covering the walls, the colourful displays of sweets, the cheeky waiters who rapidly reel out the menu and the old men in veshtis catching up on the day’s gossip. If you want to experience a slice of old Madras, then go here. Now, while it still exists.