Monday, November 16, 2009

A movie-night dinner caper

[Found this post lying idle in my drafts, so putting it to some use. Wrote it when I was in Chennai, but didn't publish it earlier]

What is the most horrible thing you've done as a human being? My story unfolds thus:

Summer of 2004 in the sultry city of Chennai. Half a dozen of us, unaccustomed to Chennai's entertainment scene and eating joints feel lucky that the Sathyam theatre is just a couple of streets down our office. Lucky because in 2004, Sathyam was the only decent theatre around, and it was pretty much the only one which aired English and Bollywood movies in otherwise Tamil/Telugu dominated Box Office. We had to catch the weeknight shows since getting a weekend show ticket in Sathyam was harder than getting loose change from a Chennai Auto-rickshaw driver at night in monsoons. However dinner posed a huge issue. Working with western clients meant late hours at the office on weekdays and very little time for dinner. Money was tight and tastebuds wanted good non-veg food.

This led us to try out all possible eating joints between our office and Sathyam cinemas. There was Angan - a small but very good place run by a friendly couple, Gyan Vaishnav Dhaba - mouth watering and artery-clogging Punjabi Veg food, and another Aunty's paratha joint just on the corner of the Sathyam cinema road. They all offered hot and sumptuous (and cheap) but strictly veg food. But for some of us whose taste buds longed for non-veg food discovered a small joint Safari.

Safari - a nondescript, barely hygienic road side joint at the corner of Peters Road and West Cott road near Melody theatre welcomes its patrons with dust ridden, old furniture at the ground floor. You can (but normally don't) dare to look inside the kitchen. If the bugs and vermin don't trouble you a lot, it offers an upper air-conditioned floor with slightly cleaner furniture and a laminated one-page menu with a mark-up (and still cheap) version of its ground-floor counterpart.

So why did we go this shady joint? Simple. For its sumptuous large portions of liver biryani offered at a price of Rs 28 on the airconditioned floor. The price was incredible, the taste was good, the portions were copious, the waiting time was less, serving time even lesser. In short, it was a gift from God for us non-vegetarians and it made our early Chennai life good, cheap and worth living.

On any movie night besides weekends, we non-veggies (read dada) always haggled everyone else into going to Safari. And when other minority of veggies of the likes of Chatty and BDK had to accompany us, and they did so with a veg version of biryani and a groggy state of mind. Every time we ate there, we had to work hard to suppress a smile of satisfaction on looking at the paltry bill. On one instance, we even packed some Safari food and sneaked it inside the theatre and ate while watching the movie.

[Warning: Some people might find what is written ahead offensive. Read on at your own risk.] Life went on like this until one day THE incident occurred. We had always rushed in and out of Safari to catch the latest flick in Sathyam. But that day was different - it was broad daylight and no movie to catch when I saw it that afternoon while passing by the place. I saw it from a distance -- a bunch people coming onwards pushing a huge box placed on a gurney with loud, clanking metal wheels, which would have gone unnoticed on any other day. But then -- my eyes caught the board exactly opposite Safari restaurant. An arch in blue letters on a white board read "Royapettah Government Hospital and Mortuary". Those people were carrying on the gurney what looked like an unclaimed corpse into the morgue. The first thoughts that followed the brief brain-freeze and shock were morbidly sick -- morgue opposite Safari, unclaimed corpses, liver is the largest internal organ in humans! Liver biryani for 28 bucks?

Well, if my stomach just fell short of churning that day, later nightmare or two covered up for that.

PS: I never went to Safari again. Ever.

PPS: I still enjoy eating liver. If you happen to go to Urban Tadka in Mumbai, they serve some mean and awesome keema with liver. Goes very well with mutton biryani. It is their unique style -- no one else makes it like them. You will not stop eating it again. And again.

PPPS: I don't know what you think, but I say cannibalism is overrated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


In our Engg college days, a joint served 'mutton' biryani for cheap. Investigations of a few intrepid souls proved that it was actually beef.

For veggies, they served veg biryani which was produced by subtracting chicken and 'mutton' pieces.