Lately, we’ve grown tired of our familiar dining haunts in Chennai, the Saravanaa Bhavans, the Sangeethas, the Vasantha Bhavans and the Anjappars.
We thirsted and hungered for a change.
And so, when the suggestion came from SI to review Chennai’s famed Murugan Idli Shop, a 100% vegetarian South Indian restaurant, we smacked our lips in anticipation.
After all, these Murugan Idli peddlers are the talk of the town.
And the mere mention of Murugan’s sui generis Idlis has even grown men drooling a mini-puddle into the carpet.
So in the spirit of film-maker Woody Allen’s famous quip that 80 percent of success is just showing up, we showed up at Murugan Idli Shop at Besant Nagar (Elliots Beach, Chennai) for breakfast today.
Crowded Place, Poor Ambiance, Lazy Staff
We did not set our expectations high given our past unpleasant experiences at some well known South Indian restaurants in Chennai like Saravana Bhavan and Anjappar.
Besant Nagar Outpost of Murugan’s, Chennai
As we entered Murugan Idli Shop, our first thought was whether we’d mistakenly stepped into a college mess hall. You see, there were long rows of tables formed by joining them together.
Including an inner room (that was closed for service during our visit), there are about 50-60 seats at the Besant Nagar outpost of Murugan Idli Shop.
In a resounding testament to the restaurant’s immense popularity, almost all the seats were occupied with people blissfully oblivious to anything but the food in front of them.
The diners looked to be mostly from the South with a small sprinkling of North Indians. There was even a lady from the North-east with a kid who placed her order in Tamil!
Luckily, we quickly found a corner with seats that had just been vacated.
The lazy bozos at Murugan Idli Shop did not care to clean the table or take down our order. They showed no inclination of doing so until we got hold of one of them and asked them to do it. And when they did it, it was accomplished so indifferently and inadequately.
Cheapo yet Clever Way of Serving Food & Water
We were excited to see plantain leaves being used to serve the food, transporting us into a fond reverie of childhood days in our native towns.
As we were on our plantain-leaves nostalgia trip, our eyes fell upon an unusual item that was similar to water ‘tumblers’ (as water-glasses are known in Tamil Nadu) but with holes in its body making it incapable of holding any water.
Tricky Tumblers and Plantain Leaves
Soon we realized the ‘implementation’ of the Murugan ‘tumbler’ methodology. We noticed that they had put disposable water cups into the holed tumblers.
Those containers were meant to provide you with a better grip to hold the water-filled disposable cups and trick you with the feel of drinking from the ‘tumbler’ itself.
Well, we haven’t encountered such a novel way of serving water anywhere else.
Murugan Idlis – Delicate Darlings
Idlis occupy pride of place in the Tamils’ dietary pantheon and are a regular sight at breakfast and/or dinner.
We’ve had Idlis of all kinds in our life time. Some so soft and light that they need paperweights to keep ’em from flying. Others so hard that they could easily double as paperweights or be used in lieu of jelly-stones in road construction projects.
Thankfully, we did not end up with the latter variety at Murugan Idli Shop.
Murugan Idlis – Ah, Yummy Delicate Darlings
It took a little over five minutes for our Idlis to arrive.
The dazzling Idlis at Murugan Idli Shop came accompanied by pretty bridesmaids in the form of various Chutneys and Sambar.
Boy, these Idlis are yummy, soft, tasty and such delicate darlings.
Guys, we ain’t had nothing like these Idlis nowhere.
The French expression nonpareil describes Murugan’s Idlis perfectly.
Yes, they definitely do full justice to the restaurant’s name ‘Idli Shop.’
Murugan serves three Idlis at one go.
Delicious Coconut Chutney, Ginger Chutney and Tomato Chutney along with Sambar quickly materialize without requiring any Babas to magically wave their hands.
The waiters act swiftly to ask if you’d like some Podi with Oil, and you’re all for it with gusto. But in an unnoticeable corner of the restaurant’s walls, there hangs a rude awakening sign – “Extra Charges for Podi and Oil” – giving you a slight hiccup.
Podi must have been so famous in the initial days that Murugan went on to charge for it separately to rein in the gluttonous hordes and simultaneously add to its coffers.
Each Idli costs Rs.11 (i.e, a plate of Idlis costs around Rs.33), but they disappeared so fast into our cavernous stomach leaving us with a nagging suspicion whether we really ate something worthy of Rs.33. Yet, we ignored the niggling feeling, given the heavenly taste of the Idlis.
Now, which self-respecting Tamil eats Idli without also partaking of its twin brother Vadai.
But for a change, we opted for Masala Vadai (Rs 15 per piece), instead of the commonplace Medhu Vadai.
The Masala Vadai was on par with the Idlis in terms of quality and taste and left no room for complaint.
Butter Dosai – Coulda Been a Better Dosai
To satiate our gargantuan appetite, we ordered Butter Dosai (Rs 40) following our glorious Idli-Vadai adventure.
Plus, we were also curious to check out how Murugan’s Butter Dosai differed from the Ghee Dosai.
Alas, there’s no difference. 🙁
Murugan Butter Dosai – Can be Better Dosai
Butter Dosai is accompanied by the same variety of Chutneys and side dishes as the Idlis.
Our Dosai was a wee bit over-roasted in some places.
While we’d still place it in the tasty section, Murugan Idli Shop’s Dosai falls into the “needs-improvement” category.
“Murugan Jigarthanda”– Sweet, Sweeter, and Sweetest
What’s a meal without a sweet finale, right?
So we checked up with our server again to find out what desserts were available.
Unfortunately, during our visit Murugan Idli Shop did not offer any sweet temptations except carbonated drinks and “Jigarthanda.”
Jigarthanda – Sweet Delight
While a mention of Jigarthanda (Rs 35) might elicit blank stares from even native Chennaiites, those from the famous temple city of Madurai in southern Tamil Nadu have been slurping it for a long time.
Jigarthanda is a sweet delight that’s said to be made up of Badam Jelly [we have no clue what this item is], Ice Cream and Basandi.
Machi, it sure looks good.
As you drink the Jigarthanda, the sweetness increases toward the middle and reaches its peak toward the end of the glass to such a cloying extreme that some might even consider abandoning it.
Unlike the divine Idlis that had us wet between our legs, the Jigarthanda was just okayish .
No Cards, Only Cash
If you’re heading to Murugan Idli Shop, make sure you go with your wallets loaded with
credit cards cash.
These guys simply refuse to accept any Credit Cards.
Is the rejection of credit cards related to the Income-Tax raids at Murugan Idli Shop? 😉
Go for it, Folks
Overall, we were pretty much delighted with the Idlis at Murugan Idli Shop.
These Idlis live up to their vaunted reputation.
But the other things including Butter Dosai, staff behavior and ambiance need to improve.
By the way, the lunch menu at Murugan Idli Shop is more expansive and includes Full Meals, Lemon Rice, Curd Rice, Sambar Rice and more.
If you’re visiting Chennai, you’d be a schmuck not to keep Murugan Idli Shop on your culinary itinerary.
Idli profile on Wiki
I have visited this shop (Purasaiwalkkam branch) twice on different occasion – breakfast and lunch.
I would argue that their lunch menu offering and taste is better than breakfast (except for the over-cooked rice).
There is an important point about this shop – Unlike other restaurants which offers the side dish and curry by default quantity (a fine example would be Saravana Bhavan where we get sambar to curd in little cups), here we have to ask for (if needed) rice/sambar/rasam/curd, etc. They will serve like it is done in typical Tamil marriage halls. While this is a good way to reduce the wastage of food items, this place will not suit for those who are reserved and who expect things to happen on its own (have to sit with empty plantain leaf forever 😉 ).
You write: There is an important point about this shop – Unlike other restaurants ….
Previously, that was how things worked in most small restaurants in Tamil Nadu (except for maybe, curd) for lunch and dinner.
That is the traditional ‘mess’ way of doing it.
my fav in Chennai ..I make sure that I go here when I visit Chennai ….
There is an outlet at G N Chetty Road which has a much better ambiance ….i think its the Chutney which adds to the overall taste …..butter milk (neer more) / curd is missing in the menu.
Have you tried Jigarthanda? Seems like an interesting drink.
The Idlis we get here are often rock-hard. 🙁
BTW, which are the popular South Indian Vegetarian restaurants in Mumbai that you think SI readers must visit?
I’ve only dined at two branches of Murugan Idli shop, T.Nagar and Valasaravakkam.
I prefer T.Nagar any day.
The Jigarthanda at T.Nagar was very good. But the same cannot be said about the Jigarthanda(m) at Valasaravakkam. It was bland and horrible. They have also increased the prices.
Btw, don’t all Murugan Idli shops have a ‘SELF SERVICE’ sign? It’s been some time since I last visited a Murugan Idli shop. As far as I can remember, it had a self service sign hanging near the cash counter.
You write: Btw, don’t all Murugan Idli shops have a ‘SELF SERVICE’ sign?
The Besant Nagar branch Boopalan visited is a full-service restaurant since he’s mentioned the service snafus.
Would you like to Eat for SI and do a review at the place you suggested? 😉
We’ll pay you, of course.
Well, I’d love to, but unfortunately I’m a little busy right now and therefore cannot Eat for SI 🙁
Too bizee to eat, well that’s a first. 😉
Well, do it at your convenience then within the next one month.
No, it’s not that I’m too busy to eat :P.
It’s a bit too far from my place and the heat here hasn’t subsided much. It’s still pretty much hot as a furnace.
Take 2 months. And as we said in our e-mail to you yesterday, we’ll pay you, of course.
Hmm, this seems good. It used to be a regular hangout of ours. But now, it’s been some months since I’ve been there. I can’t give you a guarantee but I’ll give it a try if indeed I get free time. I saw your email only after I came back from Avan Ivan. If I had seen it earlier, I could have tried it today.
Ok, so when is that iPhone 4 shipping, as you promised me in the e-mail? 😉
@Naveen, have you received yours? 😉 [If not, let’s go for a fast unto death, and drink juice on the 7th day following baba]
iPhone 4 is so passe.
Wait for the iPhone 5.
BTW, pl check your e-mail from PayPal. Sent 2 days back.
Hmm.. not a bad idea.
I suspect we may end up like the other baba who died after 70+ days of fasting 😉
We’ve dined at T.Nagar (one of us) and Besant Nagar. We’ve not felt them to be much different. Jigarthanda was very good – until we consumed 3/4th of it. Not after that.
Over-pricing is always an issue with them, but that is not limited to Murugan Idli Shop. Saravana bhavan [at least ambience is good and the place is clean here], Sangeetha, Etc – they all do it. For ex, In Express avenue mall, Sangeetha sells a masala dosa at Rs.100. Insane.
You wouldn’t say the same about the Jigarthanda at Valasaravakkam. It’s just a waste of money. Actually it tasted good(although not as good as in the T.Nagar branch) in the first few weeks since the branch opened but after that it was unbearable.
About over pricing, Saravana Bhavan stands out among them all. But the good thing is that they provide very good quality for the money you pay.
Coming to Express Avenue mall, the prices(right from parking to the shops to the food court) are almost 2 times that of other malls. I asked one of the guys at the counter at Escape Cinemas there about the reason for high price. He said they had no other choice because the rent they had to pay was very high. Because they cannot charge more than Rs.120 for the movie ticket, they had to increase the cost of the snacks.
@SI, If you did not know what Express Avenue is, it’s a recent mall in chennai, owned by the Indian Express group. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Express_Avenue]
We’ve heard lots of interesting stories of what Indian Express founder, the late Ramnath Goenka used to do at the Express building in Chennai back in the old days. 😉 Unfortunately, they can’t be repeated here.
Well.. where we can we find his exploits then? 😉
You write: Well.. where we can we find his exploits then?
Unfortunately, not in any book.
Well, wish we could tell you more. 😉
We heard it from a person who witnesses those ‘exploits’ first-hand.
This same person also told us that Nehru (of Jawaharlal first-name fame) borrowed cigarettes from him/her when visiting Madras in the 1950s. Really!
hmm.. mysterious stuff!
If you dig around with some old-timers, you might hit paydirt.
Too many mysteries to unravel.. I am intrigued by the exploits of MGR at his Ramavaram Thottam too. There is hardly any material around it.
We’ve heard rumors of a Tamil superstar brought to the Ramavaram Thottam and bashed thoroughly over a woman!
Heard that one.. Rajinikanth.. Latha.. and the trashing at Ramavaram. Dunno how much of that is true.
I have been to Murugan Idly shop too, the one at T Nagar.
The place because of the constant clatter of steel tumblers is pretty noisy.
The food is very tasty and priced very exorbitantly by the greedy swines.
Has anyone tried the Nallas Appakadai in Annanagar East, Chennai? Man, they make their appams so soft, that it beats cotton candy. Soft core and crispy corners, their appams are a dish to die for. Try them with chicken chettinad, you likely see heaven on earth. The place is clean, neat and has got reasonable service too.
Someone try that and give out the Nallas Appakadai review.
We have been to Nala’s Appakadai – at Express avenue – tried with Chicken chettinad and Fish curry. Yep, sure, it’s pure heaven!!!
It is a fine place to dine as long as one does not have expectations of “Fine Dining”. Rs. 11 for 1 Idly?? I was in Chennai less than a year ago and I could still get an Idly plate (2 idlies) for Rs. 7 (not at Murugan though)
Jigarthanda is an interesting alternative to the regular fare of juices and sodas (or soft drinks as it is called). I have tried it in Madurai and Murugan’s in Chennai. While there is not much of a difference, I remember liking the Madurai one better. It is quite sweet though.
I remember our friends from madurai saying it too. They feel, it tastes better in Madurai.
If it was a nice review, should actually credit SI for all its ‘re-factoring’ efforts.
Full credit to Boops (SI just added a little makeup to the review).
Boops, you didn’t try the paniyarams?
You don’t seem to have a gargantuan appetite?! It must have been part of SI’s embellishments, I guess. http://www.muruganidlishop.com/imagegallery01.htm They look yummy..
It took Murugan Idli shop to bring all-caps SRINIVAS out of hibernation.
Who says Boopalan lacks a gargantuan appetite. Rumor has it that when Boopalan boards a bus, train or plane, they insist on two tickets even when he travels alone.
Rumors of our anorexia (decreased appetite) have been greatly exaggerated. (Borrowing, reportedly, from Mark Twain) 😉
Two Mark Twain quotes from SI blog:
Oh, SI, Sure I’ve read them, and you can find one of the post has my comment too. I’m one among the few who stick around here for long 😉
Just curious, would you be able to find my first comment (I guess, was made on a post about taj mahal) and its date?
You write: Just curious, would you be able to find my first comment
Any idea, Who she is? Looks like she’s making up the accent on the indian / tamil names!!
You write: Any idea, Who she is?
The Jigarthanda is Vijaya Selvaraju of Toronto (no, not near Tiruvottiyur but in Ontario province of Canada, not far from Niagara Falls).
Want to friend her on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/vijaya.
Want to follow her Twitters – http://twitter.com/#!/vijayaselvaraju
Want to see her web site – http://www.vijayaselvaraju.com/
Anything else you want to know about her, Boopalan?
Vijaya Draping a Saree at Rupkali
Vijaya at Anjappar
Vijaya at Marina Beach
SI, are you running some magical people-finder software? I’m overwhelmed!!!
Next time, you are going to ask her for a review, aren’t you? 😉
1. You write: SI, are you running some magical people-finder software?
It was all there, honey. You just didn’t look behind the curtain.
2. No, we ain’t gonna ask her for nothing. We’re happy with Boopalan! 😉
Ya I know about Toronto, I shoulda been there 🙁
I couldn’t find the thread that had comments about government made Idli’s in Chennai.
But looks like the Government subsidized Idli’s are selling like hot cakes….or should we say Indian rice pan’cakes’.
Looks like each regime tries to top the previous one in terms of handing out doles. From Color TV’s, LPG Gas connections, Laptop computers to Cable TV feed…looks like they have come down to Idli and Sambar now.
What better way to win the Tamil man’s vote than to feed him Idli and Sambar !
What next ? Free concubine for a day ?