My childhood memories are made of lots of curd rice and mangoes (a kickass combination by the way). Although I grew up in the city, I was born in a small town which greatly influenced my taste buds. Every summer, I would visit my hometown and gorge on the food there.
The restaurant culture of small towns is quite different from what city-bred kids are used to. You’ll have a pretty standard menu no matter where you go, with each restaurant simply presenting its own version of it. For example, if you were to order Singapore fried rice in Rajapalayam (my home town in Tamil Nadu) there is a possibility you might receive a Kashmiri pulao instead! We are a little weak in geography you see but we mean well. But there are some lip-smacking, flavourful delicacies that we do really well. These are deeply rooted in our region and culture with places that specialize in them. One such place is Kannadi Kadai in Thalavaipuram (just a few kms from Rajapalayam) which has become a must-visit whenever I visit my hometown.
We are people who value heritage and tradition and maybe that’s why the people of Kanandi Kadai which translates to ‘glass shop’ decided to retain the space’s old name after they transformed it into a hotel. Or maybe it was an easier option. I’d like to believe the former though. Placed next to a quaint temple, this place serves some drool-worthy versions of meat varieties from chicken, mutton to fish and crab. As Charles Boyle once said, “desserts don’t need to be clever (replace desserts with food), they need to be good,” and damn, the food here is goooood.
As opposed to eating habits in the city, Biriyani might be the least famous main course in towns. You can replace biryani with parotta, now that’s a staple in my town, especially the Virudhunagar parotta which is to die for.
Now coming back to my experience at Kannadi Kadai. You know how there is a perception that everything moves at snail’s pace in a small town? That is untrue when you visit a small-town hotel. From the minute you enter, everything becomes hazy, there is no menu, just a person with a towel on his shoulder listing the things available. And man, their memory is astonishing. But even before they take your order, they spread a banana leaf in front of you and just prep you for what’s coming. Nothing takes more than a couple of minutes. Even though everything happens so fast, the first bite that you take sticks with you, hits the sweet spot on your taste buds and makes you pause. Even if it’s for a brief second, it’s something that stays with you long after you’ve eaten the meal. Sometimes, the staff is kind enough to inform you that the fish might not be of good taste as it’s not fresh and instead suggest an alternative for the day.
The first time I visited Hotel Kannadi Kadai, my favourite dish was the Fish Manchurian which was more like a crispy fish fry and it had this buttery texture that melted in my mouth. Being a seafood lover, I fell in love with it. But I’m not going to recommend a list of things you must have when you visit because honestly, I want you to experience the feeling of being in a place like this. Order whatever you feel like, it will all be good. Now, this is not a restaurant where you sit and talk leisurely, this is a restaurant where even if you go with a crowd, ultimately it is just you and your banana leaf. A time where you achieve a closer relationship with the food on your leaf. And that kind of food is commendable, food that transcends you!
Kamalavinayagam G. calls herself an ‘escapist’. She believes that all blahs may not be great ideas but all great ideas were once blahs.