Amma Unavagam Review – Jayalalitha Sure to Win Hearts with Delicious 23-Cents Meal

(By Naveen)

All those who complain that cheap and good stuff don’t go together in life have not had a meal at Amma Unavagam (Amma Canteen).

Hey, if it were up to me, I’d even add Amma Canteens to the Chennai tourist circuit (like they have these Dharavi slum tours in Mumbai, Bronx ‘ghetto’ tours in New York City, Soweto slum tour in Johannesburg, Bangkok Sex tours etc).

Why not sell the poor Brown Black Man’s food choices to curious White folks visiting from the West.

Reality tourism sells!

Jayalalitha’s Initiative

I came across news of Amma Unavagam a few months ago and it was high on my radar during my current visit to Chennai.

I have been hearing from family and friends about the steep increase in the cost of food in India and it fueled my curiosity about Amma’s canteen.

The hotel is named after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha who is referred to affectionately as Amma (Mother) by Tamils.

There are a bunch of Amma Canteens around Chennai and I picked the one in T. Nagar, the most famous area in all of Chennai.

Amma Canteen Chennai © SearchIndia.comAmma Canteen in T. Nagar, Chennai

After driving in circles in Dhandapani Street, Burkit Road, Boag Road, Thanikachalam Street, Venkatnarayana Road and Thyagaraya Road, I almost concluded that Google maps had it wrong but a wiser inner voice counseled me to ask an idle auto driver for directions. I expected him to call me a Saavugraki, Bemani, or Kasmalam but to my utter surprise he was not only polite but he also gave me the directions!

I finally reached Amma Unavagam too late for breakfast and too early for lunch and hence spent some time in the Pondy Bazaar area listening to loud speakers blaring “songs” extolling the virtues of Amma’s arch political rival and nemesis M.Karunanidhi on him turning 90 years old.

The clock struck noon and it was time to return to Amma’s canteen

Facilities & Ambiance

Amma Unavagam is meant for low to very low income people.

As one would expect out of a Government run establishment, the hotel has a very deglamorized appearance and it is structured on the same lines as the local liquor bars called TASMAC. The only difference is that his place serves food and not liquor.

Amma Unavagam is definitely far better than the Kaiyendhi Bhavans and road side mobile restaurants. I would even go as far to say it is cleaner and better maintained than many “Messes” and small restaurants.

The all-woman workforce is a pleasant change from other restaurants which employ mostly male workers.

Amma Canteen Chennai Steel Water Glasses, © SearchIndia.comAmma Canteen Steel Water Glasses

The women who serve food were wearing plastic gloves and all the containers, stainless steel plates and water cups were clean.

The biggest surprise to me was the civic sense of forming a line to buy food tokens and receive the food, a trait which I found missing in the educated baboons at the Chennai airport and most other places.

Amma Canteen Chennai Queue at the Food Counter © SearchIndia.comQueue at the Food Counter

All in all, it was a very pleasant experience under the hot and humid Chennai Sun.

The Food

Now, Amma Unavagam is not your fancy fine dining restaurant offering a 7 course meal or lavish choice of appetizers or desserts.

The only options in the lunch menu were Sambar Rice, Lemon Rice and Curd Rice.

Amma Canteen Chennai Lunch Items - © SearchIndia.comSambar Rice (right), Lemon Rice (top) and Curd Rice (left)

Being a sapad-raman (glutton), I took one of each and headed towards the food.

Sambar Rice

Sambar Rice got me devilishly excited as it surpassed my expectations right from the first scoop.

It was piping hot, aromatic and spiced to perfection.

The Sambar had an assortment of veggies such as Brinjal, Onion, Radish, Drumsticks and tomato. This is more than what I would find in any regular priced hotel.

Three cheers to the Sambar!

Lemon Rice

The Lemon Rice was nowhere in the same league as Sambar but it was very much edible.

It had the right yellowish color and chunky as one expects but it lacked the zesty lemon taste and it was a bit too mild for my taste.

Curd Rice

I had very little hopes from the Curd rice as it had the least appealing appearance.

However, my skepticism soon vanished after I took the first morsel and found it quite adequate. It was garnished and seasoned nicely with mustard and Hing and thick enough to leave a good taste in the mouth.

However, I could not digest that there was no pickle for the curd rice which is a must have in any Chennai home. There was not even one for sale. I did notice a few people carrying pickle sachets in their pockets.

Note: There are other items for breakfast and dinner which I will try to look into another day if time permits.


Amma’s Canteen is a self-service place. You are required to find a place to stand and eat.

Yes! There are no sitting facilities.

Amma Canteen Chennai Tables © SearchIndia.comDining Hall with Standing Room Only

You have to eat using the hand and as far as I can remember there was no spoon / fork etc.

Hence the many wash basins.

Amma Canteen Chennai Hand Wash BasinsHandwash Basins

You may fill your glass with water as many times as you like and deposit your used plate in a bucket kept for that purpose when you are done.

No tipping required.

No hassles in billing when buying tokens.

Another nice thing is that the lady at the billing counter doesn’t haggle for change or hand you a candy for not having exact change.

Amma Canteen – Rating

As mentioned earlier, Amma Unavagam is not your normal restaurant meant for profiting and hence doesn’t need a recommendation.

The best part about the whole experience was the total price I paid – Rs. 13.00 (approximately 23-cents)!!

Sambar and Lemon Rice were Rs. 5.

Curd Rice was Rs. 3.

Serving size was two large scoops.

It is not for nothing that the poor worship Amma as a goddess.

Amma Unavagam is a wonderful option for low income people.

Where else can one find a clean place in Chennai that serves reasonably good and filling food at such an incredibly low cost.

Without going into the economics of Amma Unavagam I would say that it is a good initiative and I hope the quality is sustained and the initiative stays.

Related Links
Amma Unavagam Branches in Chennai

20 Responses to "Amma Unavagam Review – Jayalalitha Sure to Win Hearts with Delicious 23-Cents Meal"

  1. aylaruya   June 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Is the menu same every day? What do they serve for breakfast? Do they have carry-out?

    From the dining hall picture I don’t see them as low to very-low income group folks.

    What was the general crowd like? Responds

    You write: From the dining hall picture I don’t see them as low to very-low income group folks.

    Do low to very-low income group folks look different from commenters (like yourself) and blog post writers (like myself)? 😉

    Naveen will likely respond to your questions later. He’s now on India time.

    • Naveen   June 6, 2013 at 2:09 pm

      You write: Is the menu same every day?
      From the chatter of people on the day I visited that place I believe Sambar and Curd rice are regular items and lemon rice was a “special” on that day. But I have not visited that place more than once to be able to answer for sure.

      You write: What do they serve for breakfast?
      I know for sure that Idly, Vada and Sambar is served. I may visit them again next week to check out their breakfast. If I do then I will update the info here.

      You write: Do they have carry-out?
      No. I have heard from a few people that carry out is not allowed to prevent re-sale at a higher cost.

      You write: From the dining hall picture I don’t see them as low to very-low income group folks.
      Looks are deceptive. While i obviously don’t know how much they earn or what is their profession, if I have to hazard a guess then they would all be jobless people, drivers, mechanic, cleaner, flower vendor etc.

      You write: What was the general crowd like?
      As mentioned in the review and to my surprise they were very well behaved, quiet and polite. Better than convent educated clowns who don’t know the different between a queue and chaos.

  2. Madmax673   June 4, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Sambhar rice looks very appetizing.

    Btw, wondering what’s the current update on the 14th Leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. Responds

    Captain seems to be lying low!

    • Naveen   June 6, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      He is mostly waiting for the bone that amma or thatha will throw at him at the next election. 🙂

  3. ravich   June 6, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    The yellowish rice is probably curry leaf rice or tamarind rice.

    The menu doesn’t list lemon rice.

    • Naveen   June 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      Since I am the one who bought the token and consumed the food I can tell you for sure that it is lemon rice.

      BTW, tamarind rice is usually brown and curry leaf rice is usually in the dark green range.

  4. Naveen   June 7, 2013 at 1:36 am

    Off Topic: On a road trip away from Chennai, we stopped by a highway Arya Bhavan. We gobbled up 5 plates Idly-Sambar, 3 Masala Dosai, 3 Plain Dosai, 1 Chappathi Kuruma, 1 Aapam, 2 plates Naan with Paneer Butter Masala, 3 Coffees, 1 Aquafina bottle, 2 cups hot milk.

    Total bill including tips was only Rs. 650.

    The same thing may have costed 200 bucks less a few years ago but this is still quite cheap for someone converting it into $$s 🙂

  5. Arjunmk   June 12, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Naveen mandaya dai food was ok only not to the extent of ooh aah ooolalala kind as you describe.

    Dont create a hype over the food.

    There were also several complaints regarding the quality of sambar rice and curd rice.

    Some people say the food is not nice on a consistent basis. One day it tastes extraordinarily, the other day very ordinary.

    Being opened to serve low income people they should also concentrate on the quality even more.

    That would give competition to other tea kadais and dubakoor hotels who cheat people by charging exorbitantly and cite price rise as a reason although the real reason is the greed.

    Good that they expanded the menu as it would cater all the people.

    Since this reviewer went to Tnagar branch it seems good because since Tnagar is the center of city and a major commercial hub the quality of food cannot be compromised over there.

    But to term the overall service as good after visiting one branch is too much.

    Let all other branches quality food then we’ll agree da. Responds:

    Which branches of Amma Unavagam have you visited, if any?

    • boopalanj   June 12, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Ah, the consistency!

      As if the Saravana Bhavans, Vasantha Bhavans and Anjappars achieve consistency at six sigma level every day.

      While eating at Venkataramana road feels great, the same food feels like shit at Mylapore.

      They maintain the f**king consistency only in the way they price the items.

      Let us not forget the team that works in each Amma Unavagams (from cooking to serving) are little-trained self-help groups of women who are paid a meager Rs.350 every day.

      The government allocates rice and other relevant things every month.

      This can get better only over a period of time.

    • Naveen   June 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      If you have eyes and you can understand English then you would notice that I heaped praised only the Sambar rice. I have used words such as “Edible” and “Adequate” to describe Lemon Rice and Curd Rice which is hardly creating hype.

      You write: “But to term the overall service as good after visiting one branch is too much.”

      What service do you expect at a self service place?

      When reviewing a restaurant chain it is obvious that there maybe difference in the experience based on which branch was reviewed. It is not practical to try every branch and every item.

      You write: “Being opened to serve low income people they should also concentrate on the quality even more.”

      So, if it is opened to serve high income people they don’t need to concentrate on quality as much?

      You write: “Let all other branches quality food then we’ll agree da.”

      Who gives a f#ck whether you or anyone else agrees or not?

      • Arjunmk   June 12, 2013 at 10:01 pm

        You write: So, if it is opened to serve high income people they don’t need to concentrate on quality as much

        Those greedy rich,why should they come to Amma unavagam when they earn that much…

        You write: Who gives a f#ck whether you or anyone else agrees or not?

        Any shops or restaurant will sustain only if they get a consent from the common people

        who gives the fuck about your reviews?? [Trash Talk]

  6. Arjunmk   June 12, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Plus there is no vada, vadacurry and setdosai and all.

    Don’t exaggerate…. 1 ruppeku ellam kodutha government diwala poidum appuram inga irukka ivanuinga yaarum velaikke poga maatanunga………… Responds:

    You write: Plus there is no vada, vadacurry and setdosai and all.

    Plus there’s no Foie gras, Caviar, Mongolian Long Beans, Crispy Pig Ears, Tea Smoked Chicken etc.

    I’m mad as hell that none of the items on the menu of Mission Chinese NYC is available at Amma Unavagam!

    Worse, they’re giving H2O instead of Scotch.

    Total Cheating!

    • Naveen   June 12, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      The idea is to provide economically backward people an option for decent nourishment at low cost and not for those looking to indulge with variety and choices.

      Why don’t you write to Amma that you will stop eating there until they replicate Saravana Bhavan’s menu? Maybe Amma will give you some personal attention.

      • Arjunmk   June 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm

        You only have written that they served vada, thoda and all when there is no plans even to sere ada

        en peela ittu exaggerate panranu ketten? Ya i will write to amma , thatha, paatio about the menu [deleted because no evidence supported for the charge]….

        • Naveen   June 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm

          Based on your comments it is safe to say that you either didn’t read the review or you urgently need to consult an eye specialist.

          This is what I have mentioned in the review: –
          The only options in the lunch menu were Sambar Rice, Lemon Rice and Curd Rice.

          Nowhere have I mentioned that they serve “vada, thoda and all”

  7. Madmax673   June 21, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Hmmm…there’s something fishy about “mk” in Arjun. Responds:

    The world is crazier than we can imagine. 😉

    • Naveen   June 21, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      I was so tempted to touch on it in my comments but showed great restraint. 🙂 Responds:

      Arjunmk has clashed with Naveen earlier too but under a different avatar (see Billa 2 review).

      • Madmax673   June 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm

        I didn’t watch Billa 2. I was too vexed with Billa (Nayanthara “Tomb Raider” version).

        Just didn’t know what to say with all the abuse for that review. It sucks!

        Personally I had a very unpleasant experience when I watched “Mankatha” during my last visit to India. I severed my ties with a dude who liked the movie. Not because he liked the movie but because he just couldn’t digest me not liking that movie. 🙂

        Ajith Kumar is really lucky to have such a strong fan base despite his low set of skills. Responds:

        1. Ajith Kumar is a curse on the majority of Tamil movie fans, the worse thing to happen to Tamil cinema in over four decades.

        Worse than Nayantara, infinitely worse than Nameetha, zillion times worse than Vishal.

        Shaniyane! That worthless non-actors like Ajith should rise so high is so distressing!

        2. Yes, even the dregs of Tamil cinema has its defendants as you can see in the below review of the 2007 film Billa.

  8. Madmax673   June 22, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    I read it before and I read it again. And my head is spinning again.

    The amount of hero-worship is really nauseating.

  9. sam   December 23, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Good work Amma.

    The latest news is that she is thinking bigger than just Tamil Nadu (PM Ammabition).

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