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Apr 19, 2012 03:02 AM

Chennai, India - Chettinad options at Ponnusamy

For the longest time, Ponnusamy was the leader of the pack when it came to Chettinad cooking in Chennai. It started in 1954, and my middle-aged Chennai colleague's eyes will mist over when he talked about the time when he, as a little boy, was taken there for Sunday lunch by his parents. He still came back here, but with his own teenaged boys now.

But the Ponnusamy of today seemed a far cry from its heydays - these days, it had to contend with top restaurants in the "real" hotels, i.e. the Taj, Hyatt, Le Meridien, etc. (in the old days, the word "hotel" in Chennai was used interchangeably with "restaurant" - so Ponnusamy Hotel did not actually *have* any rooms to lease out at all. Restaurants are often called hotels, even today)

Our lunch today at Ponnusamy:
- Mutton Kola: finely-minced, silken-smooth fried mutton balls, scented with masala spices and cardamom;
- Sura Puttu: minced shark-meat stir-fry with eggs & onions;
- Chicken 65: this is a very 'Indian' spiced, fried chicken dish, with many arguments over the origins of its name - marinated with 65 ingredients, marinated for 65 minutes, invented in a hotel with 65 on its address, etc. Irregardless, it was delicious.
- Rabbit biriyani: tasted pretty much the same as any other types of briyanis, butthe rabbit meat was surprisingly tender;
- The spiced lamb's brain fry was something else though - soft globes of brain coated with spicy, peppery, ginger oil.
- the Chettinad chicken here was blanketed in a thick, unctuous, ultra-spicy chilli-curry sauce. Deliciously hot!

All the above for 6 persons costed Rs950, or only about US$20! An oldie that's definitely still worth checking out.

Address details
Ponnusamy Hotel
#55/1 Gowdia Muttu Road
Tel: +91-28130986

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  1. Looks good. Chettinad chicken curry - something in this style is a favorite curry dish of mine that i make on occasion, preferably with lots of kariveppilai (curry leaves; Murraya koenigii) but not too fiery. Did this one have curry leaves in it?

    Rs950 (US$20) - what is that in relation to the cost of things/cost of living there?

    Interesting shot of the dining room. All men, I see. It's not a males-only place, I assume - or is it one in practice or by policy?
    The tables seem communal - or there are only large groups of people eating together? If communal, then I presume people just seat themselves (in pairs, e.g. - following from your post on that Bangalore thread: next to each other at the tables without leaving spaces between each pair? Any single diners?

    9 Replies
    1. re: huiray

      No, there were no curry leaves in the Chettinad curry we had.

      Rs950 for 6 persons seemed to be a typical priceone would pay for a decent lunch place in Chennai. Starting salary for a graduate here in a good company is Rs25,000 per month.

      India still seem to segregate the sexes quite a bit - there were *no* women in the entire restaurant but, later on, when we went over next door forsome coffee & desserts, there ws a table of 4 women having their lunch there.

      Indians seemed to favor communal dining more than other nationalities I'd come across, even the Chinese. You'd rarely see someone dining alone, and most restaurant portions are for at least 2-4 persons.

      1. re: klyeoh


        If a single person *did* walk in to eat, what would be the custom?
        Would he sit by himself, or be seated by the management by himself, or would he join another group (of strangers), or be seated by management with others at a communal table like those shown here? **Could** he sit by himself if he wanted?

        1. re: huiray

          Oh yes, of course, one woud be able to sit by himself. Many mid-range restaurants are heavily-booked at peak meal-times, but the more exclusive ones catering to foreigners and the local Indian big spenders are rarely full.
          It's the portion sizes that would be a problem - way too much for a single order.

          1. re: klyeoh

            What would the native (Indian) solo diner tend to do? Sit by himself or join another party?

            Would a native party invite a solo diner to join them?

            p.s. I'm sure there is no compulsion for a single diner to finish all his food, or is it a high crime to leave ("waste") food?
            [That you have paid for, of course]

            1. re: huiray

              No, I don't think a solo diner will be invited by a group to join in. Indians, by and large, seemed more hostile towards one another compared to, say, the Thais or Filipinos.
              I'd say a solo diner will ask for leftovers to be doggy-bagged (local term is to "pack"). I often do that for my chauffeur here, and he really appreciated that. A bread basket at Shree Mithai, for example, would consist of 6 types of rotis and naans, but my dining companion and I would have been able to consume one each at the most. So, I'll ask for the remainder to be "packed" for takeaway.

              1. re: klyeoh

                P.S. - Sharing of tables seemed pretty rare here, and some would-be patrons would rather leave a restaurant than to sit with strangers. But in cheaper eateries, you do get cafeteria-style, communal long tables.

                1. re: klyeoh

                  Thanks, very informative stuff on the social mores of eating out in India.

                  It wasn't until I came to the USA that "doggy bagging" it was the common phrase one used. I remember using the term "pack it" before then in M'sia &etc (and in Britain, unless my memory is playing tricks with me) Also, I was more used to the service staff taking my leftover food away and bringing it back to me packed up/"doggie bagged", even on the East coast of the US, and was quite startled the first time I asked to take home my leftovers to be simply presented with one of those styrofoam clamshell containers, when I first moved to my present location in the US Mid-West, with the server just walking away. What, I was supposed to do it myself? (Yes, I know the rationales advanced for D-I-Y)

                  Anyway, to bring this back to the food at Ponnusamy - I imagine such a place would also do take-out orders; would this be so? Or deliveries to offices - I envision the solo diner in some cubicle, who has no companion for lunch, ordering some delicious food from them, to eat by himself in his workplace... Are there dabbawalas in Chennai (like those in Mumbai, so I understand) ferrying food to offices from the homes of (married) employees?

                  ETA: Yes, there is widespread tiffin-carrier service in Chennai (of course!) from a Google search. I should have done this first :-D
                  etc etc.

                  Reading further indicates that restaurants in some places also furnish food via tiffin-carrier services. So - does places like Ponnusamy do so?

                  1. re: huiray

                    I think dabbawallahs are common only in Mumbai. As for Ponnusamy, they do provide take-aways, but not large-scale for office workers. Furthermore, the habit of Chennai office workers seemed to indicate that they liked to eat out. The city's full of eateries and bakeries, though Western-style cakes here are way too sweet for our tastes - all seemingly overdosed with sugar-syrup.

                    Anyway, am now in KL :-)

    2. Have you been to Ponnusamy's Singapore branch in Syed Alwi Road? I always wondered if the cooking here in Singapore measures up to its Chennai outlets.

      1 Reply
      1. re: M_Gomez

        No, I'd not been to Ponnusamy's Singapore branch - I rarely venture to the Syed Alwi/Mustafa Centre end of Little India for food, preferring the Tekka Market end as my fave restaurants, Madras New Woodlands at Upper Dickson Rd, Komala Vilas on Serangoon Rd and Jaggi's at Race Course Rd are near there.

        But I do have some Syed Alwi Rd faves which always drew me in: Bharat's, Raj of Kolkata, Sagar's, Copper Chimney, Malgudi's, etc.

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