Every street and every corner has a story to tell and there’s often a foodie connection…
Madurai has been inhabited continuously for two or three thousand years, so we have a very strong food culture. There are influences from the time of the Pandyas, the Nayaks and the Mughals, which has produced a fascinating mixture of cuisines that you don’t get anywhere else in Tamil Nadu. Exploring the city through its food is an enjoyable way to get to know some of its history and some of its places – every street and every corner has a story to tell and there’s often a foodie connection.
For me, the most important part of the tour is the walk through the heart of the city, to areas such as Vilakuthoon where there’s a small cart selling paruthi paal – cottonseed milk – which is a sweet, spicy hot drink, a bit like porridge, that you get only in Madurai. We wander through the bazaar to see all the spices that are being sold there and check out some of the local food shops, many of which have been owned by the same family for decades. There’s a particularly quaint one that sells adhirasam, a traditional Tamil sweet that we make for all of our festivals, such as Diwali and Pongal. They serve it hot and crispy right from the stove, so it couldn’t be fresher.
One speciality of Madurai is the kari dosa, which is topped with meat and eggs and is super-flavourful – it’s our version of pizza. People are often surprised by it because they have the impression that all South Indian food is vegetarian. For that, we drive to a family-run restaurant on the edge of Madurai called Konar Kadai, which is a local favourite. We don’t just stay on foot in the centre of the city for two-and-a-half, three hours; having the car as well means we can visit some of the more interesting places on the outskirts.
I say the tour is up to three hours, but actually, it’s up to the guests; as long as they keep eating and say they have space for more, we keep going! It’s very relaxed, not like a regular tour with a guide. It feels like you are exploring the city with a friend who knows all the best places. There’s never a time when it’s just us speaking – it’s very much a dialogue between us and the clients.