Naattukozhi Unavagam, Mannpaanai Samayal, Chattikkari, these are terms used to refer to roadside South-Indian eateries on the highways in and around Salem, Erode and Namakkal districts in Tamil Nadu, a sort of a Dhaba you may say, but not Punjabi. They have been around for a few years now, but have been getting a lot of attention on various food groups only in the recent past. One of my friends suggested that we try out one such place for dinner, just on the outskirts of Attur.
Myself and three other friends drove down from Chennai to Attur and it looked like we were going to reach only around 10PM. A friend in Salem had been here before, and had the number of the owner, he passed it on to us. We called him around 8:30PM and informed him that we were on the way, headed to their place. Didn’t give him any specification as such, but just told him we needed food for four of us, thats it!
We took the right from GST road at Ulundurpet and headed in the direction of Kallakurichi – Chinna Salem – Thalaivasal – Attur. After you cross the toll (the last one just before Attur), the place is located bang on the Salem-Chennai Bypass, just after the third flyover, on the right hand side. It was easy to locate with the directions they provided. It was almost 10PM by the time we reached, and quite dark all around, except for the lights from this place.
The owner was there at that time and he welcomed us inside, took us into the kitchen and the person who was cooking briefly explained what they were going to serve. The kitchen was a typical village-styled one with a huge mud stove and lot of Mannchattis (mud pots/clay pots) in various sizes around it. He proceeded to explain – as the naattukkozhi would be cooked, first they would take the soup out, then the gravy, and finally the chicken pieces would be tossed for some more time and made semi-dry or dry, according to how we liked it. We were perfectly okay with this. Customizations are possible since it is made-to-order and that’s very convenient when one of them wants it with less salt, another one with more spice and so on. The meal also included white rice, Milagu-jeeragam Rasam (Pepper and Cumin), fresh thick curds tempered with shallots, dry red chillies, etc. It sounded really awesome and we were looking forward to it. The person who was cooking mentioned more than once that they do not use any masalas, ajinomoto and other food colors. The flavor to the food comes primarily from shalots, dry red chillies (milagaai vaththal) and other typical stuff that we see in the anjarai-petti at home. Two reasonably big-sized mann-chattis were already on the mud stove which was fired by wood. The flames were pretty intense and a gravy seemed to be boiling quite fast, with a nice aroma all over the place. It just stopped raining and the weather was very plesant. It was a wonderful feeling overall and we couldn’t wait to start to eat.
As we walked into the restaurant/dining area, it was a basic thatched roof place and had around six tables. It was well-lit and clean. We settled down in one table. First they brought the soup in a mud pot and placed it on the table. They served it in small paper cups. Spicy and hot, it was yummy with a wonderful flavor, all of us liked it. Meanwhile they brought a sample of the dry chicken for us to taste, to check if the salt and spice-levels were ok, and also asked us if we liked it cooked a little more. After a while, dry chicken was brought to the table in a huge mannchatti and was served in Areca plates. The chicken was cooked very well with right spice and salt and we really enjoyed the flavor in it. White rice followed next, along with the chicken gravy, rasam, and curds. I wasn’t very impressed with the gravy, and it could have been a little more flavorsome and think. It was a bit too bland and runny to my liking. Rasam was wonderful, I also drank one cup of it 🙂 Finally the curds, mindblowing! Tempered with lots of shallots and dry red chillies and other stuff, it was so yummy that I had a generous amounts of it mixed with white rice. Overall, we all had a hearty flavorful meal.
Please be informed that BYOB (bring your own booze) works in this place. I’m not sure if it was because it was so late in the night or it was a usual norm at all times, but we were allowed to have our drinks there. Another table was occupied at that time and they were having drinks too. So when you’re travelling with family, please make an informed choice whether or not to try this. I think lunch may be a good option to try when you’re with family. Not that there was any problem, but just giving you a heads up so you’re informed when you make a choice.
We paid 1000 bucks for the food out of which 800 bucks was for 1.6Kg of naattukozhi plus cooking labor, 120 bucks for white rice, 50 bucks for the curds, 20 bucks for 4 Areca plates and finally 10 bucks for 1 beeda.
Absolutely enjoyable and a very unique experience indeed! I would be more than eager to try similar kind of places when I’m in and around this place!