Of finding heaven in a small town

Picture this:

Two travellers driving back home after a short holiday, tired, with a long journey ahead of them. They have a long journey behind them, too, and have driven a long way in sweltering heat from their holiday destination. They are hungry, bordering on paranoia, since it has been quite a long time since they had a small breakfast. Their legs are aching from sitting in the car for too long, and their water bottle is running dry. Their stomachs have been grumbling for some time now, but they haven’t been able to find any decent place to eat in the small villages they have been passing on the way. They even got lost on the way, and wasted about an hour’s precious driving time, to add to their woes. The fact that it is the day of Diwali and they are so hungry is making them frustrated. Angry at not being fed, their stomachs begin to churn, and just at a point where they cannot take it any more and HAVE to eat whatever they can lay their hands on, they come upon this dusty little town called Aarani. They land in the middle of what seems to be a market, and get out of the car, stretching. Sunlight hits them square in the face, and their hunger and thirst amplifies.

Who are these travellers, you ask? None other than the OH and I, on our way back home from Pondicherry.

We stepped into the market, famished, ready to eat a horse, hoping to find a hotel somewhere. After all, the small town was the biggest place out of all the miniscule villages we had just passed. We walked for about a half hour, asked around, and almost liquefied in the heat, but were unable to find one single hotel! I was on the verge of catching hold of some random stranger and requesting him or her – threatening or coercing him or her, too, if need be – to cook for us. Before I could do that, though, the OH gave a small cry of delight from the depths of his parched and tired throat. I looked in the direction that he pointed to, and saw a small hotel called Vasantha Bhavan. Smiles crossed our faces, but soon faded when we realised that it was 3 PM and we might not get something to eat after all.

However, we decided to go in and find out, and am I glad we did?! The little dining hall inside was packed, and two men were busy carrying trays of food here and there. It wasn’t a place high on decor – very basic, dark and dingy, in fact – but we were really not concerned with that. We seated ourselves on two vacant seats that we found, and were thrilled to learn that they had lemon rice, tamarind rice, tomato rice, curd rice and brinji rice on offer. We asked for a lemon rice, a tomato rice and a curd rice. At that point, all we wanted to do was to eat something substantial, and didn’t care about how it would taste. Imagine our surprise when our plates arrived, and tasted incredibly wonderful! It was then that we looked around and saw villagers all around us heartily tucking into their meals, enjoying every morsel. Der aaye par durust aaye, we told each other.

The food was lovely, and even if it were not, I am sure it would still tasted like the elixir of life to us. We were happily hogging away when a sudden cloud of smoke came from somewhere and enveloped the diners. The cook was working on his wood fire, we were told. How quaint is that?! I don’t recall ever eating food made on a proper, traditional wood fire!

We paid the bill (which was nothing, honestly), thanked the waiter profusely, and set out to leave. That was the exact moment when the immortal Naan Pesa Ninaipathu Ellam Nee Pesa Vendum, and the wonderful voices of the singers washed over us. Both of us love this song, and it is special to us. The song seemed to be perfectly fit to the atmosphere of 1980s Tamil Nadu around us. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the heavenly meal we had just had.

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22 thoughts on “Of finding heaven in a small town

  1. Reminded me of one of our drives from ernakulam to kodaikanal through athirappally, valparai to reach pollachi. After an early morning breakfast we reached athirappally and drove in a leisurely pace getting drunk on the lush scenery around us, but as we reached valparai, our tummies long past the growling stage, and couldn’t find a single place to eat. After a few kilometers down we found a tiny place almost exactly as you have described, like something out of the sixties. The taste of the steaming white and rice sambar are still fresh on my tongue 🙂
    It is simple pleasures like these that remains with us long after the trip is over 🙂

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  2. In our big town lives we get used to looking for places that serve mineral water and have elegant seating, and so tend to miss out on smaller but good eateries. Having visited such places in the southern parts of TN, I have begun to appreciate the simple yet wholesome fare you get there.

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  3. I remember something similar happened to me in Munnar. We were dead tired and searching for a nice restaurant. Then I saw one at a corner and we ran towards it. I ate a Kerela Special Thali there and that was one of the best meals of my life.
    Sometimes average looking restaurants give you a nice surprise.
    Another incident happened when I was going to Munnar with my three friends. Our bus broke down in the morning in the middle of nowhere. We walked some distance to come upon a very small roadside restaurant. The taste of the Aaloo Bhaji and Puri I ate that day still lingers in my mouth.

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    1. @Amit

      Wow! Munnar is on my list of must-visit places. We should plan a trip sometime soon. 🙂

      Coming back to the point of the post, as I said to Bikram, I am slowly and gradually learning to be surprised at the wonderful food that these tiny restaurants dish out. Road trips are relatively new to me, so gradually getting used to them and their accompaniments. 🙂

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  4. Wow! Phew – I was reading with bated breath as to whether the 2 hungry folks would get something or not. Such an awesome end!
    Your post also reminded me of Gandhi, a restaurant here in S’pore that not one of those nice and dandy places decor-wise but the kooTu and the sambhar they serve – impeccable!
    And such a bonus you got to touch tradition and that awesome music too. A lunch to remember , that is 🙂

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  5. Excellent and I can vouch for that small places and often small hotels give the best food.. I use to do a lot of travel in india, often on my bike and I remember similar me and my cousin were somewhere in rajasthan I dont even remember the place , nothing but open gound and space .. there was this small hut , and I had the best Channa massalla with Bajra Roti .. I can still remember the flavour ..

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  6. Sometimes these small places offer such a tasty food that you forget all the high restaurants. I remember we wre coming back from Nanded and were in equally bad shape, found a very average looking dhaba with zero expectations and voila- the food was out of this world.

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    1. @Ashreyamom

      It didn’t look anything like the Vasantha Bhavan hotels that we have in Chennai, so I am really not sure.

      I should try the idli sambar sometime there – but when we went, they only had different types of rice.

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    1. @R’s Mom

      Yes, food does taste extra good when we are very hungry. 🙂 But it was not just that. We stepped in just looking for something to eat, and we got a beautiful glimpse into heritage Tamil Nadu, great food and music to boot. 🙂

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