The lowdown: The Madras (Rhymes better with Marghazi than Chennai) Marghazi Music Season is no longer just a cult event; it’s widely recognised as one of the world’s largest music events with over 50 venues featuring top class Carnatic music and Classical dance performances. Till a couple of years ago, the Sabha (The music association/organisation that puts each of these events together) canteens were largely preserve of the rasikas (Carnatic music aficionados). Not any more!
The sabha canteen: until recently perceived to be a sideshow although quite a few rasikas have probably picked the venues not just based on the performance but also on the sappadu (a.k.a. full meals) and tiffin (that sweet spot between lunch and dinner). Most of the big sabhas (like Music Academy or Parthasarthy Sabha) feature canteens that are run by wedding caterers. It’s a win win. The Marghazi (December 16- January 15) month is usually not a season for weddings and the vegetarian caterers also get to showcase their craft to a relevant target audience. The fare is a welcome departure from the standard vegetarian meals that are on offer at most restaurants. This is high quality food that you would normally only sample at a wedding feast.
Where to eat this year:
Mountbatten Mani Iyer @ Parthasarthy Sabha, Mylapore: our pick of the lot. This venue is not easy to locate and parking is a challenge (just like most other sabhas) but it’s more than worth all the effort. Their banana leaf meals (Sappadu) is slightly pricier (compared to the competition); they also serve separate menus for breakfast, tiffin and dinner. The meals are their highlight and their innovations (like an apple pachadi or a carrot kheer) stay within the classical framework. Where: Vidya Bharati, Bheemasena garden . Meals: Rs 350 (From 11:00 am to 2 pm).
Mint Padmanabhan @ Music Academy: the city’s most iconic Carnatic music venue is also one of the best places to dig into a full meals (Cost – Rs 250; they have a few extra dishes compared to the Mountbatten menu). But it’s breakfast that is probably the best time to check in here. The canteen also has a live (audio) feed of the performance which is a cool touch. We enjoyed the aval pongal and their ghee podi dosa. Their ‘sweet of the morning’ is worth checking out to. The aval kesari and white pumpkin (parangikkai) halwa are sinfully delicious.
Sri Sasthalaya @ Narada Gana Sabha, TTK Road: probably the best Sabha canteen for tiffin time. Their menu is quite elaborate; you are bound to be overawed. The Adai Avial with a dollop of butter is a must try; try their potato bondas too. The coffee is invigorating and frothy but do make room for their selection of sweets like their (you could do a take away though) signature badam halwa and frosted jangiris
Most Sabha canteens are open till January 2, 2018.