While in Madurai, jigarthanda is a lovely drink to have, yes. But then, jigarthanda is not the be-all and end-all of food and drink in Madurai, contrary to what many tourists believe.
Old Madurai has some beautiful old-fashioned restaurants that serve a variety of traditional food stuff. The newer part of Madurai has newer restaurants, which serve loads of varieties of food and drink – everything from Chinese to North Indian to fusion food. The street food scene in the city is vibrant and lovely, too.
On our holiday, we had the opportunity of exploring the streets of Madurai at leisure, trying out this and that. We were literally stunned by the kind of food and drink that is available on the streets! This post is about some of the vegetarian street food and drinks that we tried out on the Madurai streets.
Bovonto and Panneer Soda
Madurai – like elsewhere in Tamilnadu – has panneer soda available in most nooks and corners.
‘Panneer‘ (not ‘paneer‘, mind you!) means ‘the essence of roses’. ‘Panneer soda’ is, thus, soda that smells of roses. I am not a big fan of soda, but I love the mild, beautiful thing that panneer soda is.
While in Madurai, it is a good idea to chug down a chilled bottle of Vibro (A Kalimark product, which is commonly available everywhere in Madurai), to beat the heat! A bottle of panneer soda will cost you about INR 13.
Bottles of Bovonto, the quintessential Tamilnadu grape-flavoured drink, are also quite easy to find in Madurai. They are also great, if you are in Madurai, and looking for a refreshing change from all the filter coffee you are sure to come across there.
Where – Street-side shops around the Meenakshi Amman temple and elsewhere
There are a lot of sweet dishes that you can find on the streets of Madurai – from polis (puranpolis, in North India) and kozhukattais (South Indian rice flour dumplings stuffed with a sweet, coconut filling) to laddoos and buddhhi ka baal (the white version of candy floss, if you may). We fell in love with the little coconut polis that the street vendors seemed to turning out oh-so-deftly, with fast, fast, fast movements of their fingers.
Little rounds of deliciousness these are, for sure! You commonly get two small coconut polis for INR 10.
Where – Street-side shops around the Meenakshi Amman temple and elsewhere
Paruthi Paal or Cottonseed Milk
Paruthi paal – a drink made from the milk extracted from cottonseed – is a typically Madurai thing, as far as I know. I don’t think this drink is available elsewhere.
Doesn’t it sound exotic? But then, it is very commonly available in Madurai, in several street-side shops, and drunk by a whole lot of common people. The drink is stored in copper vessels, which are constantly being heated, and is served hot. It has herbs like chukku (dried ginger) and sitharatai (lesser galangal or kulanjan), and is supposed to possess several health benefits. Paruthi paal is believed to be a good antidote to cold and cough, for one.
I admit I was initially skeptical about trying out paruthi paal – I thought it would have a bland, milky taste that I would probably not like much. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by just how lovely it turned out to be. It was thick and sweet and tasted much like a coconut-based payasam (kheer), with a hint of spices added to it. Don’t miss this drink whenever you are in Madurai, I tell you!
Priced at INR 10 per cup, paruthi paal surely is a steal. It is tasty, healthy and filling, too. What more do you need?
Where – Street-side shops around the Meenakshi Amman temple and elsewhere. I hear Sri Sastha, a little shop a short walk away from the Meenakshi temple, makes the best paruthi paal in Madurai.
Panam Kalkandu Paal
Panam kalkandu paal or milk sweetened with palm sugar crystals is a drink that is popular in certain parts of Tamilnadu, specially Madurai. In Madurai, you will spot quite a few carts selling this sweet milk, usually served warm.
I hear pure cow’s milk is used, and the addition of palm sugar crystals makes it a very healthy drink. If made the right way, this milk is believed to cure several ailments.
On the right: The panam kalkandu paal that we had post dinner, on one of the days we were in Madurai, On the left: The road-side stall we had the milk at
Both the husband and I absolutely loved the taste of this warm milk, priced at INR 15 per glass. It was just the perfect drink to wash down dinner with, something I would love to recreate in my own kitchen.
Where – Street-side stalls around the Meenakshi Amman temple
Believe it or not, I had never tried ‘goli soda’ ever, before this trip to Madurai happened!
Soda water in a glass bottle, with a marble (goli) in the neck to keep the bubbles in – that is ‘goli soda’ for you. The bottle opens with a loud ‘ping’, the soda is poured out into a glass and offered to you. Each bottle is priced at about INR 12.
A chilled bottle of goli soda is good to beat the heat, but I didn’t really like the salty taste of it. I was never a fan of soda water anyway.
Where – Road-side stores all over the city stock these bottles. You can find them in shops around the Meenakshi Amman temple too.
Mullu Murungai Vadai
Vadais made out of the leaves of the prickly amaranth (mullu murungai keerai) are a common sight in street-side carts across Madurai. These greenish vadais are served straight off the stove, on squares of newspaper, liberally doused with paruppu podi (lentil powder).
The mullu murungai keerai that is used in these vadais are believed to possess several medicinal properties, but I am not sure how many of these properties are retained after they become vadais and are fried in hot oil. Well, health benefits or not, these vadais do seem to be popular street food in Madurai!
The vadais don’t have much flavour in them, except for a slightly salty taste, and we didn’t really like them. We tried them out just because they were new to us, and we might not be having them again.
These vadais are commonly priced at INR 10 for four pieces.
Where – Street-side carts near the Meenakshi Amman temple and elsewhere
I tasted the Madurai-special butter bun at Hotel Amirta near the Meenakshi Amman temple, but it is easily available on road-side carts, too. What a simple and homely, but lovely treat this butter bun is! It is an inexpensive treat too – most places in Madurai charge INR 15 for one butter bun.
A sweet bun cut into two, with butter smeared in the middle and sugar sprinkled over it, toasted hot and slightly crisp then with more butter – I can totally imagine a mother making this in a jiffy for her kid who insists on having a little sweet treat.
I am so going to try making this at home!
Where – Hotel Amirta, near the Meenakshi Amman temple, is a good place to try this sweet treat out. You could have the same off street-side carts, too, again around the Meenakshi temple.
You get some really delish sundal off street-side carts in Madurai, particularly around the Meenakshi Amman temple. The sundal comes in many varieties, but we liked the chickpea one best – well-cooked chickpeas with just the right amount of spice, often with grated carrots and coriander added to them. We loved munching on little packets of sundal as we walked around the city!
At most places, you will get a paper cone of sundal for INR 10, a small price to pay for such a lovely treat.
Where – Street-side carts around Madurai
I had never tasted thenna kuruthu – the tender stems of the coconut tree – before this trip to Madurai happened. They are quite a popular delicacy in the city, apparently.
Thenna kuruthu is usually sold on street-side carts, beautifully decorated with shoots of the coconut tree. INR 10 will get you a newspaper parcel with a few slices of the tender stem.
How does it taste like? Raw, earthy and nutty, all at once. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, though – it certainly wasn’t mine. The husband quite liked it, though.
I hear these stems possess a lot of healing properties, and regular consumption can help in reducing body heat and curing internal wounds.
Where – Street-side carts across Madurai
So, that’s all about the street food and drinks that we tried on our holiday in Madurai. Let me tell you, there’s plenty we haven’t tried! For non-vegetarians, too, there is a huge variety of food stuff that the city has to offer.
Which of these street delicacies interests you the most?
Have you tried out any of these? How did you like it?