Being raised in an Iyengar family, culinary terms such as karumidhu, vadaam, sathumadhu, parimaaral, were quite usual for me but seldom had I heard of them in any fine dining restaurant in the city. So, when I came across this vegetarian eatery called ‘Thaligai’ (food prepared in Iyengar household sans garlic, onion or any strong spices like garam masala), curiosity struck me, invigorating my taste buds. To seek answers, I set out on a culinary quest. Right at the start, the restaurant earned some brownie points well before the food tasting started, with its apt location, the name, which the locales could connect with and mainly because of its mascot — thaiyir saadham.
From Kapaleeshwarar temple and Kancheepuram saree clad ladies to kutcheris, keerthanais and traditional kolam, each aspect of this eatery in Mylapore , takes you on a time travel.
As I entered the restaurant, my senses were aroused with the heavenly whiff of filter coffee and agarbathi.
The 40-seater brightly-lit fine dining area was a delightful marriage of traditional artworks and the dexterous designing. Sitting in any table one could have a wonderful view of the workshop-like kitchen where the chefs are at work. For those who do not book a table and are waiting, there is a cosy lounge with aged leather armchairs and a screen displaying the special dishes of the day on the wall.
The menu offers a wide variety of mouth-watering heirloom dishes. To start with, I had the Kancheevaram idli served on dhonnai (dried baniyan or sal leaf) and mor kalli (rice and buttermilk paste with spices) accompanied by a thick saucy chilli, green brinjal chutney and vathal kuzhambu (tamarind and spice curry) with some chilled paanagam (spiced jaggery drink) to wash all those spices down.
It brought back memories of my childhood where my grandma used to serve us the exact same steaming Kancheepuram idlis and creamy mor kalli garnished with fried chillies, mustard seeds and toor daal during our vacation. As I sat there relishing and reminiscing my childhood, the crisp mudakkathaan (a variety of spinach) dosa arrived at my table, which was out of the world. It is worth a mention that it didn’t have a single trace of oil in it. Thanks to that, I escaped a heartburn.
It all was followed by a delicious hot Kasi halwa, but its characteristic tangerine tinge was missing. Noticing the bemused look on my face, Nalini Kannan, the owner of the eatery approached me and said, “We do not use preservatives or artificial colours here. It is the same pumpkin halwa but sans colour, so you can taste it without any hesitation.”
“Since its inception in 2016, Thaligai has made the community much more closely knit as they see it as an extended home to drop in and enjoy the traditional delicacies any time of the week without any restrictions,” added Nalini, who was prompted by a 95-year old customer to give her some tips to add a new dish to her list.
The main plus of Thaligai is that the cuisine delves on freshly prepared dishes, which are made in several batches throughout the day. They don’t store food or veggies or batter.
The restaurant also caters to all tastes by providing a large selection of the traditional, rare selection of food items that fall within a reasonable price range. Overall, the dining experience was pleasant and quite memorable.
Venue: 60, LuzChurch Road, Kapal Thottam, Mylapore
Contact: 97912 72888
Must have: Curd rice, pongal, podi Idli, filter coffee, potato masala and mor kuzhambu