Chennai’s Iftar Treats: Through the Eyes of a Local
Chef Hussain Shahzad, Executive Chef at Mumbai’s Goan-inspired O Pedro restaurant, has led an interesting life. Chennai-born Shahzad was the first Indian chef to work at Eleven Madison Park in New York (formerly ranked no. 1 in World’s Best Restaurant list) and has been a private chef to tennis maestro Roger Federer, before coming back to India in 2015. This Ramzan, we take him back to his home town for this list of iftar haunts.
1. Bohri Masjid, Parry’s
Outside the Bohri Masjid in Parry’s, bhatiaras (caterers) put up stalls, making the whole lane a mini khau galli. The usual suspects—shammi kebabs (fried mutton cutlets coated in an egg batter), cream tikkas (chicken tikkas with copious amounts of cream and butter, heart attack on a plate), kheema samosas (triangular fried goodness with a minced meat stuffing)—are all there, spread out like a buffet which does not pinch the wallet (the prices start from Rs30). What Chef Hussain loves though are the fruit shakes. All fruits (and dry fruits) must become shakes here, with interesting names like Sharjah Shake for a dry fruit-based one.
2. Burma Bazaar
While you are at Parry’s, go a little further to Burma Bazaar. The Burmese food cart here called ‘Gajendran Atho Kadhai’ is perennial, and is located on Second Line Beach Street. Try the atho (a cold noodle salad) served with bowls of steaming mohinga (a fish-based soup with plantains and coconut). More adventurous folks can try the masala eggs—a boiled egg where a special masala and fried onions is stuffed in the place of yolk. The food will not set you back more than Rs200.
Haleem, a Hyderabadi speciality, is a rich, meat-based porridge much-loved throughout the country. While Chennai has outposts of Hyderabad landmarks like Pista House, Chef Hussain’s mum prefers the haleem served at Fisherman’s Fare in Egmore. During Ramzan, the outlet has a special pop-up selling haleem alongside traditional iftar boxes, and a litre of the enriching dish costs Rs500.
The festivities at Triplicane are what the entire city knows about—here you get typical Ramzan decadence. Think all manner of kebabs, chicken and samosas, alongside masala milk and sweet treats. Definitely make a stop to eat paya (mutton trotters) with idli and idiyappam. For halwa, Basha Halwawala reigns champion, and their speciality is Dum Ka Roat, a milk-and-ghee based halwa which is baked on a coal-fired oven for the perfect crusty on the outside, soft inside consistency (Rs400/kg). Sweet lovers can also try the Ande ka Mitha (an egg-based buttery sweet) at Basha’s or at Haleem Express.
Bonus: For the Love of Biryani
Chennai is known for its many kinds of biryani, and they all differ from the North India version. Biryani here is short-grained, heavy on the dry spices, and made without yoghurt. Connoisseurs can try the Madurai version at Madurai Mess, Dindigul style at Dindigul Thalappakatti and Ambur kind at Ambur Star, to spot the differences.