Pre-lunch prep at Music Academy (iPhone XS)

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 Thair (Curd) vadai at Pattappa / Music Academy is quite epic

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.

Seriously fluffy at Narada Gana Sabha (iPhone XS)

Where to eat this year:

Pattappa @ Music Academy: the city’s most iconic Carnatic music venue has seen a change of guard in the canteen. Pattappa has taken over from Mint Padmanabhan.  This is our pick of the lot, especially at lunch. (The ‘full’ meals cost Rs 300) Breakfast is a great time to check in too.  The canteen also has a live (audio) feed of the performance which is a cool touch. You could luck out with valet parking on some days for lunch.

Mountbatten Mani Iyer Sappadu (iPhone XS)

Mountbatten Mani Iyer @ Parthasarthy Sabha, Mylapore:  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 with innovations (like a carrot kheer) that stay within the classical framework. Tiffin time is a good Where: Vidya Bharati, Bheemasena garden . Meals: Rs 420 (From 11:00 am to 2 pm).

Tiffin time at Narada Gana Sabha (Huawei Mate 20 Pro)

Sri Sasthalaya @ Narada Gana Sabha, TTK Road: probably the best Sabha canteen for tiffin time. Their menu is overwhelming and also includes Chettinad specialties dished out by a dedicated Chettinad counter. The menu is refreshed constantly. Some of their signatures this year include the Adai Avial with a dollop of butter, vegetable sevai, kuzhi paniyaram and a sinful elaneer payasam. The coffee is invigorating and frothy but do make room for their selection of sweets like a traditional Ashoka halwa (made with moong dal)

Most Sabha canteens are open till January 2, 2019. 

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