Our flight to Chennai was delayed slightly in KLIA. Even with the inflight breakfast of chapatti and curry, I was hungry again, by the time we arrived in Chennai.
Almost 30 minutes en route to Pondicherry, Raj (our driver) asked if we wanted to stop by Kanchipuram, a Tamil Nadu town famous for its hand woven silk saris. In Tamil, he told Vee that we needed to detour slightly and would reach Kanchipuram around 1 pm.
"Hey, we'll have lunch before shopping for saris, right?" I asked Vee anxiously.
"Definitely, lunch before saris...!"
Raj brought us to Saravana Bhavan, a famous vegetarian restaurant chain that specializes in South Indian cuisines.
We got out of the car, and just stood not moving for a few seconds. After hours of being in a plane and then the car, we took some seconds to get acclimatized to being on vacation, and standing on Indian soil.
Our hungry bellies guided us into the restaurant. We ended up in a dining hall swarmed with hungry-looking office workers out for lunch!
Lucky for us, there were 2 empty seats at a 6-seater table already occupied by 4 other people, right at the very end of the hall. As we sat down, none of our neighbors bothered looking up, so engrossed they were with lunch.
We were served our welcome drink - some orange and honey dew concoction. Vee spoke Tamil to our server, a lanky fellow in an all white uniform and spotting the typical thick mustache of a South Indian man.
She then turned to me with a grin and said, "Apparently there is a special thali today. They've got ice cream and stuff. Shall we have that?"
I looked over to the neighbors, "Yeah, sounds good! And hot coffee as well!"
Vee requested for the coffee to be served while we eat. In India, folks generally drink their coffee later, after their meal. Alas, we Malaysians have no such rules. We drink our coffee anytime - before, while and after meals.
In less than 5 minutes, our server came back with 2 trays. I counted the smaller tin bowls of dishes arranged neatly in the round tray. Altogether, there were 12!
Not an expert on thalis, but to take a wild guess (and some quick questions to Vee), I think we had:
Out of nowhere, a woman came and started putting rice on my tray. Luckily, I managed to stop her from putting the third scoop of rice!
As she exited, another server appeared. He had a longish container in one hand, and a ladle in another. Not a word, no eye contact. He scooped some ghee and poured it onto our rice.
And right on cue, our super-server returned with 2 cups of piping hot coffee. With quick ease, he poured the coffee into the bigger bowl to mix it and make it slightly cooler to drink. Services rendered, he left.
With that, the serving relay came to an end. We finally had some "intermission" to marvel over the the impressive showcase of serving efficiency - and laughed at ourselves!
With ghee poured onto rice, and hands washed at the Hand Wash, it was time to savor our South Indian thali of 12 dishes and more...
What a great opening to our Indian adventure!
We sat at the non air-conditioned area of the restaurant. Our "special limited" thali meals and filter coffee for 2 totaled up to Rs. 264.00 - delectable, flavorful, hearty and affordable!
Safiza is a Travel Blogger, Common Reader, Book Hoarder, Art and Nescafe Tarik Lover.