5 Popular Street Foods Of Chennai

“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” – Forget the way to a man’s heart! A good meal, a sumptuous, lip-smacking meal is the way to anybody’s heart. Forget the days of hailing movie stars and sports personnel as heroes, chefs and food tasters of the world are enjoying no less fame and popularity! Ask ten people around you and the names of Anthony Bourdain, Gordon James Ramsay, Nigella Lawson etc. (and there are many more) would be a favourite among them. So yes, you can safely say that when the right platter is there in your arsenal, victory is not too far away!

Our taste buds, by and large, are conditioned to our native delicacies, but have a natural tendency towards anything delectable. So why not start our journey by exploring some of the magical flavours of street food? As a country, India is budding with plethora of flavours and cuisines across borders. So here’s to looking at the top 5 street foods of Chennai!

1. Idli And Sambhar

Idli And Sambhar

Photo by Soumya dey, CC BY-SA 3.0

Yes, that probably is a cliché but that’s exactly what makes it to the top of our list of 5 common street foods of Chennai! Though consumed across the four south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it is believed that the origin of the idli and sambhar can be traced back to Kannada writings in 920 A.D. It’s a popular fermented black-lentils and rice cake enjoyed mostly for breakfast or as snacks. Complemented by sambhar (a lentil and tamarind based vegetable stew) or coconut paste (chutney if you are more for the local term) this dish is what makes Chennai street food famous. What makes the food popular is that it is healthy (fermentation makes it easier to metabolize), quick to prepare and readily available.

Trivia: Sanna is a popular variant of idli and is readily seen consumed by Goans

2. Atho

With its origin in Burma, Atho is probably the most non-Tamil dish that has made it to our list of top 5 Chennai street foods. Its non-Tamil flavour is probably the reason it enjoys such popularity. Atho is a form of thick noodles tossed together with vegetables, mainly fried onions and cabbage, and some gravy. For additional flavouring special condiments, chilli flakes, salt and tamarind are also added. It is usually eaten as a spicy alternate evening snack!

Trivia: On the streets of Chennai, Atho is usually served with a spicy egg-masala (curry).

3. Dosa


Photo by Jamie, CC BY 2.0

Yet another favourite, the Dosa is fashioned into numerous forms based on preferred taste. These crepes-like pancakes, with and without fillings, are one of the most popular street foods of Chennai. There’s nothing exotic about the Dosa and its simplicity is what gives it its popularity. Made with fermented rice batter and lentils, the dosa has over the years undergone several transformations and varieties of it (rava dosa, plain dosa, paper dosa, masala dosa, onion dosa, cheese dosa, masala dosa etc.) can be seen on the streets of Chennai. The popularity and simplicity of the Dosa is such that its trail has extended to Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and other destinations where the population is marked by the presence of Tamil people.

4. Pani Puri

Pani Puri

Photo by Pete Birkinshaw, CC BY 2.0

The dynamics of Indian street food can be best understood by the penetration of a traditional North Indian food item to the streets of Chennai! Beloved by all and sundry, the Pani (water) – Puri (fried, round, hollow cakes) goes by many names depending on its origin. In Chennai, the Pani Puri is usually served with tangy, sour, tamarind water along with mashed potatoes, chickpeas (commonly called as ragda), onions, chilli flakes and chaat masala.

Trivia: The best way to enjoy Pani Puri is to take all assortments inside the hollow puri, and put it in your mouth at once!

5. Samosa


Photo by Kalyan Kanuri, CC BY-SA 2.0

Deliciously flaky Samosas – that’s something that one shouldn’t miss out when savouring the top street foods of Chennai. There’s nothing more appetizing than spending a warm evening with friends and family, enjoying these friend or baked flour pastries. Though traditionally in the northern states it is filled with diced potatoes and spices, the streets of Chennai will excite you with fillings made of lentils, peas, onions, beef, chicken and even lamb.

So make sure that when you are in Chennai, you can take some time out to treat yourself to the delicacies of Chennai street food. It is often said that if you want to enjoy a city in its prime then make sure you don’t skip the streets. And with the streets of Chennai in full swing to make life more palatable, is there any reason to skip the streets?

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